Music in Guelph | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Music in Guelph

Guelph, Ont. Founded 1827 by John Galt in the heart of agricultural Ontario and incorporated in 1879. In 1846 there were 1240 people living in Guelph. By 1988 the population had reached 80,786 including a large

Guelph, Ont

Guelph, Ont. Founded 1827 by John Galt in the heart of agricultural Ontario and incorporated in 1879. In 1846 there were 1240 people living in Guelph. By 1988 the population had reached 80,786 including a large Though the University of Guelph (1964) began to offer a BA with a major in music only in 1967, music in Guelph goes back well over 100 years. Historical records mention Sunley's (brass) Band, which gave public concerts and is reported as playing during a visit (1849) of Lord Elgin, then governor of the Province of Canada. Dyson's Cornet Band (1856), the 30th Battalion Band (1860), and the City Band (1880, becoming the Guelph Musical Society Band in 1898) provided musical entertainment well into the 20th century. William Philp (b Cobourg 1848?, d Guelph 30 Jun 1925) conducted the latter as well as bands in Waterloo and Elmira.

Nineteenth-century church musicians played an enterprising role in the growth of Guelph. John Hockin (b St Trudy, Cornwall, England, 28 Aug 1815, d Guelph 24 Jan 1888), who was music director at the Primitive Methodist Church, carved a cello out of maple and pine to enrich the church's five-or-six-piece orchestra, fashioned a flute to keep his choristers in pitch, and from indigenous black walnut and other available materials built Guelph's first organ ca 1850. William Bell, who came to Guelph in the 1860s to found the Bell Piano and Organ Company (1864-1928), was awed by Hockin's knowledge and persuaded him to take apart and reassemble his organ to show how it was done. In the 1880s the Jesuit Father Theodorus Fleck (b Niederbronn, Alsace, 8 Nov 1827, d Metz, Belgium, 30 Oct 1897) was said to have the best choir in town. He arrived in Guelph in 1877 to teach Latin and direct the choir at the Church of St Bartholomew, which changed its name in 1878 to the Church of Our Lady. Father Fleck adapted Haydn, Mozart, and Gounod masses for the choir's use and prepared Rossini's Stabat mater and Haydn's Third Mass for performances conducted by F.H. Torrington to open the majestic new Church of Our Lady in 1886. Father Fleck left Guelph in 1888 for the Maison Sault-au-Recollet, near Montreal. Roberta Geddes-Harvey, organist-choirmaster at St George's Anglican Church, and Charles Kelly, an early teacher of Edward Johnson, lived in Guelph for many years.

In 1898 the Presto Music Club was formed to present concerts by members and guests. It gave its first concert in 1899, formed its own choral group in 1906, and remained active till 1959. It was succeeded by the Community Concerts Association, and later (1975) the Guelph Music Club which continued in 1991 to present Canadian and international artists. The Guelph Kiwanis Music Competition Festival (1946-57) was revived in 1982 as the Kiwanis Music Festival of Guelph. The Guelph Light Opera Company (1955-71), which also operated (for the performance of oratorios) as the Guelph Opera and Concert Singers (1958-71), and the Guelph Oratorio Choir (1971-4), was succeeded by Royal City Musical productions (founded 1978) to perform music theatre and dance shows. Among their presentations have been Oliver (1978), Carousel (1980), Oklahoma! (1988), Mame (1990), and Camelot (1991). Other noteworthy organizations have been the Guelph Music Festival (1929-31), the Guelph Civic Symphony Orchestra and Chorale (1955-9), and the Edward Johnson Music Foundation (founded in 1958). The foundation has sponsored the Guelph Spring Festival (founded in 1968), and commemorates Guelph's most famous musical son, Edward Johnson (1878-1959) the Metropolitan Opera tenor and general manager. A gift of $25,000 from Johnson in the 1920s helped establish music classes in Guelph schools, and at an early product of these - Guelph's first music festival, 7-8 May 1929 - Johnson himself sang on the final evening assisted by the Vogt Choir of Guelph and the TSO. In 1990 plans for a Guelph Centre for the Performing Arts, which among other things would serve as the Guelph Spring Festival's permanent home, were announced. The building and renovation project centres on the late-19th-century Speed Skating Rink and is intended to provide an 800-seat auditorium and concert hall, a 250-seat theatre, meeting and rehearsal rooms, and a public reception area. The rink was gutted by fire 18 May 1991, but the front and side stone walls were preserved and are intended to be incorporated into the new building as a decorative feature.

Recent musical developments, which have included many opportunities for young people, include the Guelph Chamber Music Society (1980) which has sponsored concerts and workshops, has founded the Guelph Chamber Choir, and has assisted the Guelph Arts Council in founding (1991) the Guelph Children Singers (age 7 to 16); the Guelph Youth Orchestra (begun 1978); the Suzuki String School of Guelph (1972); and the biennial Youth in Performance Concerts (1980). The Hillside Festival has been held in Guelph beginning in 1983. The NYO held its 31st summer session of six weeks in Guelph in 1991 performing at the War Memorial Hall at the University of Guelph.

Notable natives of Guelph are the conductor John Barnum, Ralph Bowen, Jane Fair, Nina Gale, Laura Lemon, Joseph Macerollo, Fred Mills of Canadian Brass, Edith Miller, David Ouchterlony, Bill Phillips, and Tommy Reilly. The best-known Guelph instrument makers were the Bell Piano and Organ Company and Joseph F. Rainer, who made square pianos 1870-85.

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