Music in Calgary

Alberta city founded on or near the site of Fort la Jonquière which was built in 1751 at the junction of the Bow and Elbow rivers and was abandoned after 1785. Fort Brisebois, established there by the Northwest Mounted Police in 1875, was renamed Fort Calgary a year later.

Calgary, Alta

Calgary, Alta. Alberta city founded on or near the site of Fort la Jonquière which was built in 1751 at the junction of the Bow and Elbow rivers and was abandoned after 1785. Fort Brisebois, established there by the Northwest Mounted Police in 1875, was renamed Fort Calgary a year later. Calgary, with a population of 500, was incorporated as a town in 1884 (a year after it had been reached by the Canadian Pacific Railway) and as a city in 1893. By the 1970s, with a population of more than 500,000 and an economy founded particularly on oil, ranching, and tourism, Calgary had become a major Canadian financial centre. Its population in 1990 was 723,300.

Mrs John McDougall's recollections of the early days, noted in Norman John Kennedy's thesis on music in Calgary, include references to the incessant drumming of tom-toms and chanting by the Indians, the playing of fiddles by métis traders at the fort, and the singing at the mission - the Indians listening to 'Nearer My God to Thee,' 'All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name,' and other hymns. The McDougall family presented a portable organ to the mission church in 1873. Governor General the Marquess of Lorne is said to have written the words for the hymn 'Unto the Hills around Do I Lift up My Longing Eyes' in 1881 while leading a surveying party on the site of Calgary. By 1883 the Calgary Weekly Herald (first issued in August of that year) began to document local musical activity. One item described a program which consisted of 'instrumental music, dialogues, comic and sentimental songs... and a dance after the concert'; another, a piano recital by a Mrs Millward.

Bands provided most of Calgary's instrumental music in the pioneer years. The first band of the Northwest Mounted Police 'F' Division was formed in 1877 and performed until 1881; the second, led by Fred A. Bagley from 1886 until his retirement in 1899, participated in many community events. The first civilian band, the Calgary Brass Band, was formed in 1885. The Salvation Army Band followed in 1887, and the Calgary Fire Brigade Band in 1890. In 1907 the Fifteenth Light Horse Band, conducted by Bagley, became the first Canadian regimental band to tour the British Isles.

Church choirs, directed by such enthusiasts as J.J. Young (leader of the Methodist Church Choir 1894-1908), were the focus of early choral activity, with accompaniment by vocalions, harmoniums, or reed organs. By the turn of the century churches began to appoint trained organists and choirmasters (eg, Wilfred V. Oaten, F.B. Cooper, Mme Ellis Browne, Annie Glen Broder, who later taught Odette de Foras, and Frank Wrigley) and to install pipe organs: a Karn in 1905, followed by a Casavant in 1917 in Central Methodist Church, a Casavant in Knox Presbyterian in 1905, and an organ built by the Canadian Pipe Organ Co in Wesley Methodist in 1912.

Church choirs formed a basis for amateur choral societies. Col J.S. Dennis conducted Gaul's Holy City in the early 1890s and later (26 Apr 1904), aided by Annie Glen Broder, presented the Canadian premiere of Coleridge-Taylor's oratorio The Atonement. As a result the Calgary Philharmonic Society was founded. The society was the first attempt to establish a permanent choral organization, but it functioned only until 1908.

The Apollo Choir (1908-18) made its debut 7 Apr 1908 under P.L. Newcombe in Haydn's The Creation. The Calgary SO, assembled for the choir's performance of Stanford's choral ballad The Battle of the Baltic, also played Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 under A.P. Howells. In its 1911-12 season, the Apollo Choir sponsored a visit by the St Paul SO. Max Weil, a violinist with that orchestra, became the conductor of a second Calgary Symphony Orchestra (1912-14) which, along with other concerts at the Sherman Grand Theatre, presented a school children's matinee series featuring local artists. Though secular choral music was less popular than oratorio, the local Methodist church choir gave a Wagner centennial concert in 1913.

String playing owed much to the pioneering of Elaine Dudley Smith (b Griffin), b near Staines, Middlesex (later Surrey), England 1877, d 1938, ARCM, who came to Canada in 1905 and played in chamber groups, taught violin and viola, and 1920-7 led a string orchestra which played in the Palliser Hotel.

In 1928 Gregori Garbovitsky, who had led the Palace Theatre Orchestra, became conductor of the third Calgary SO, sponsored by the Calgary Choral and Orchestral Society, which flourished until 1939. In 1947 Clayton Hare founded the Mount Royal College Orchestra, renamed the Calgary SO, and in 1955 Henry Plukker amalgamated it with the recently formed Alberta Philharmonic to create the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, which remained the city's major orchestra in 1991. The (Southern) Alberta Jubilee Auditorium was the orchestra's home from 1957 until 1985, when the new Calgary Centre for Performing Arts opened (now EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts).

Musical theatre in Calgary dates back to the 1890 production of Trial by Jury at the Calgary Opera House. J.S. Dennis was active in operetta production as was Mrs W. Roland Winter, who both directed and acted. Mrs Winter was influential in the Calgary Operatic Society which, in addition to its many productions of Gilbert & Sullivan, in 1899 presented Sidney Jones' The Geisha. The society continued annual operetta productions until 1920. Operettas were produced at Hull's Opera House, erected in 1893, remodelled in 1905, and reopened under the new name Sherman's Opera House. The Sherman Grand Theatre, which opened in 1912, had at the time the largest stage in Canada and attracted such touring ensembles as the San Carlo Opera Company and the D'Oyly Carte Co.

Calgary became the headquarters of the Chautauqua in 1917. In 1972 Alexander Gray and several Calgary citizens founded the Southern Alberta Opera Association (Calgary Opera Association) to bring Calgary regular grand opera productions of professional calibre.

Clifford Higgin (organist, choirmaster, b Bacup, Lancashire 1873, d Calgary 1951) arrived from Brantford, Ont, in 1920 and was active in the city's musical life for three decades. He conducted the Knox United Church choir, the Calgary Light Opera Society, and the Institute of Technology Chorale and in 1931 was instrumental in founding the Calgary Music Competition Festival which later became the Calgary Kiwanis Music Festival. Calgary's involvement in competition festivals began in 1918, when it became active in the Alberta Music Festival Association and took its turn as the site of the rotating provincial festivals. Higgin's daughter-in-law Eileen (d Calgary 1989) taught singing, founded (1959) and directed the annual musical productions of Calgary Theatre Singers, and was instrumental in founding the singing and opera division of the Banff SFA. Allan Monk was one of her pupils.

Under the sponsorship of the Calgary Women's Musical Club (1904-64), the Calgary branch of the Canadian Concert Association (1938), the Calgary Chamber Music Society (1964-8), Celebrity Concerts, and Community Concerts, many performing artists have visited Calgary, among them Emma Albani (who first sang there in 1897), Clara Butt, Amelita Galli-Curci, Fritz Kreisler, Nellie Melba, and the Calgary-born violinist Kathleen Parlow.

Informal music instruction began at the Calgary public school under Ada Dowling Costigan in 1887. (Gladys Egbert later was one of her pupils.) The first full-time music teacher, Frank B. Fenwick, was appointed in 1892. Shortly after 1900 A.O. MacRae became the local representative of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, whose examiners visited the city annually.

The short-lived Calgary Conservatory of Music (1909-10) was succeeded by the Mount Royal College Cons, established in 1910 by the Methodist Church. (In 1972 Mount Royal named a hall in honour of one of its outstanding teachers - Leonard Leacock.)

The University of Calgary, founded in 1945 and offering graduate programs in music in the 1990s, has sponsored numerous concerts and symposia. In 1969, with the local RCCO branch, it established the Cecilian organ recital series.

The Canadian Music Centre established an office at the university in 1980. The New Works of Art Calgary Society was incorporated in 1984 to present performances of contemporary music. The Glenbow-Alberta Institute is located in Calgary (see Archives; Instrument collections; Libraries). Leif Karlsson of Calgary has specialized in building and repairing string instruments.

Among the city's musicians and performing groups in the 1980s have been One Third Ninth, the Lyric Chamber Players (1982-91), the Calgary Chamber Ensemble, the Calgary Concert Band (which has presented free summer concerts), the Foothills Concert Band (formed in 1969), the Calgary Fiddlers (a touring group of children aged 11 to 18 founded in 1978 by Caroline Hatch), and the Calgary Boys' Choir. The last-named group was founded in 1973 by principal conductor Douglas Parnham and consists of three choirs of 40 boys each. It has toured in Alberta, Europe, and the USA, has won awards, and appeared in Japan at the opening of the new Canadian Embassy in 1991. In 1991 Parnham was succeeded by Gerald Wirth, former chorus master of the Vienna Boys Choir. Other Calgary choirs include the Festival Chorus founded in 1959 by Gerald Bales and John Searchfield, the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus (see Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra), and the Calgary Choral Society of mixed voices founded in 1952 principally to perform oratorios. The popular rock band the Stampeders was formed in Calgary in 1964.

A popular attraction at the annual Calgary Stampede is the nightly grandstand show which has traditionally drawn large audiences and has featured international pop and country entertainers, including Rod Stewart, and Randy Travis, and such Canadian groups as The Young Canadians (a choral group first directed by Lloyd Erickson which has toured in the USA), the Calgary Barbershop Ensemble, and the Stampede Chorus, and also Indigenous groups. The show has also featured Band Fanfare (a competition for marching bands), a parade with many of the city's bands (eg, the Cavalier Drum and Bugle Corps, the Calgary School Patrol Band), and outdoor performances by the Rhythm Pals, the fiddler Al Cherny, and others. The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Band, stationed in Calgary in 1968, took part in the 1975 Century Calgary celebrations and also has appeared in the Stampede parade. Calgary is home to several festivals: the Calgary Jazz Festival and the Calgary Folk Festival (both begun in 1980), the Olympic Arts Festival in association with the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, and the Calgary International Organ Festival (1990). The First Annual Calgary Festival of Canadian Music (CFCM) to highlight Canadian composers was held 19-26 Nov 1989, featuring New Works of Art Calgary, an electroacoustic concert, and a concert honouring Malcolm Forsyth. (See also Festivals.) In 1986 'A Song for Calgary,' a national songwriting contest, was held. The winning composition, 'Neighbours of the World' by Tom Loney and Barry Bowman, has been recorded by Kelita Haverland and Duncan Meiklejohn (CBS 7CDN-41).

Besides Parlow, other musicians born in Calgary include Tommy Banks, Allan Bell, Donna-Faye Carr, Constance Channon-Douglass, Arthur Crighton, Marilyn Engle, Jerry Fuller, Clyde Gilmour, Frances Ginzer, Sylvia Grant, Minuetta Kessler, Ian McDougall, Diana McIntosh, Cyril Mossop, Alexandra Munn, the composer Stephen Pedersen, P.J. Perry, Doug Randle, John Reid, Eugene Rittich, Jamie Sayer, Frederick Schipizky, Dick Todd, and the noted US accompanist Yehudi Wyner.

Composers who have resided in Calgary include Gerald Bales, Quenten Doolittle, David Eagle, Clifford Higgin, William Jordan, Richard Johnston, Hope Lee, Gregory Levin, and Alan Rae.


Further Reading

  • Kennedy, Norman. 'The growth and development of music in Calgary,' 1875-1920, MA thesis, University of Alberta 1952

    Draper, Norman. Bands by the Bow: A History of Band Music in Calgary (Calgary 1975)

    Ward, Tom. Cowtown: An Album of Early Calgary (Calgary 1975)

    Belyea, Allan. 'Unsung heroes: the Calgary Philharmonic Chorus,' Prelude, vol 8, 1986

    Hyde, John. 'Direct line: Calgary,' Jazz Report, vol 2, Oct 1988

    Veitch, David. 'Stampede: rockers, cowboys confirmed,' Calgary Sun, 6 Jun 1989

    'Calgary Festival of Canadian Music,' Prairie Sound, Jan 1990

    Mayes, Allison. 'Rock, pop and country set to fill Saddledome,' Calgary Herald, 5 Jul 1990

    'Profile: Douglas Parnham,' Quires, vol 20, Jun 1991

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