Music in Hamilton

City on Lake Ontario with a natural bay as harbour. Taking its name from George H. Hamilton (1787-1835), who laid it out in 1813, the town was incorporated as a city in 1846 when, with a population of 10,000, it was the second-largest city in Upper Canada.

Hamilton, Ont

Hamilton, Ont. City on Lake Ontario with a natural bay as harbour. Taking its name from George H. Hamilton (1787-1835), who laid it out in 1813, the town was incorporated as a city in 1846 when, with a population of 10,000, it was the second-largest city in Upper Canada. The population of greater Hamilton had passed 425,000 by 1988. Hamilton's major industry is steel.

The first known documented musical activity in Hamilton is that of an amateur band which in 1837 received permission from the Police Board to rehearse weekly. The Sons of Temperance Band, founded in 1851, was reorganized ca 1856 and became attached to the Artillery Militia under the direction of Peter Grossman (b Karlsruhe, Germany, d Hamilton 1901). A music and instrument dealer who also published music, Grossman had settled in Hamilton in the middle of the 19th century. He formed the 13th Regiment Band in 1866 (see Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Band), but soon was succeeded by George R. Robinson who conducted the band for 40 years. During the 1880s the Independent Band also was active.

Concerts were held 1850-80 in the second-floor auditorium of the Mechanics Hall (Hamilton, Ont), which could accommodate some 1000 people, and in several of the larger churches. Sigismund Thalberg played in Hamilton in 1857 and Haydn's The Creation was given its first complete Canadian performance 26 May 1858, as was the same composer's The Seasons in 1860, by the 90 choristers and 25 orchestral musicians of the Hamilton Philharmonic Society under Edward Hilton. This group, which continued to give oratorio performances throughout the 1870s, relied heavily on bandsmen to complete its wind section. During the same years the Mendelssohn Society, the Handel Society (Hamilton), and the Sacred Harmonic Society performed Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, Barnby's Rebekah, Rossini's Stabat mater, and other works. The Cecilian Glee Club was active 1860-6. G.W. Johnson's lyrics for 'When You and I Were Young, Maggie' were written in Hamilton ca 1864, and Robert Ambrose's song 'One Sweetly Solemn Thought' was composed there in 1867.

According to the Canadian census, there were 36 musicians in Hamilton in 1851 but only 18 in 1861. By 1856 Hamilton had five music teachers, two music-store proprietors, four piano dealers, and one organ builder. According to the Hamilton and Wentworth Directory 1868-9, four businesses offered musical supplies. A. & S. Nordheimer operated a branch store for the sale of pianos, and three factories produced instruments. The first of these, founded by Thomas W. White in 1853, employed 30 workers and in 1868 and 1869 made 400 cabinet organs and melodeons. 'The organ in the Centenary Methodist Church lately completed was built by Mr. White and cost about 4000 dollars,' reported the Directory. The Western Pianoforte Manufactory of Canada, established in 1856 by Charles L. Thomas employed 30 men in 1869 and turned out 75 pianos annually. Thornton & Green, which had commenced business in 1867, had nine employees and produced keys, reed boards, and other parts required in the construction of melodeons and cabinet organs. A 1902 business directory lists one organ builder, eight instrument and sheet music dealers, and the piano builders Ennis & Co and Charles Knott.

The Grand Opera House (Hamilton, Ont) on James St North, which seated 1100 and opened 29 Nov 1880, provided the city with a proper auditorium for theatrical and musical presentations and attracted North American touring companies. In December 1880 the Boston Ideal Opera Co brought to Hamilton Planquette's Chimes of Normandy and von Suppé's Fatinitza. Around 1890 this same company reappeared with several operettas, including Offenbach's The Brigands.

After 1880 not only touring activity but also local choral, orchestral, and operatic music-making increased in Hamilton. In 1883 the Hamilton Choral Society, later known as the Hamilton Philharmonic Society, was formed. Under F.H. Torrington, the society's conductor for four years, it became one of the city's most successful ensembles, performing Romberg's Lay of the Bell, Mendelssohn's Elijah, Michael Costa's Naaman, Handel's Samson, and the Canadian premiere of A.C. Mackenzie's The Rose of Sharon. Clarence Lucas revived and conducted the society 1889-90. In 1885 J.E.P. Aldous organized an orchestra, and in 1887, the year of the Queen's Jubilee Music Festival in Hamilton, C.L.M. Harris founded the Harris Orchestral Club, which he directed until 1901. A 43-piece ensemble, the club performed in the Grand Opera House and in churches.

Despite the increasing number of instrumentalists in Hamilton, major choral concerts of this period still depended for wind players on such groups as the Argyll and Sutherland Band, formed in 1903 under Harry Stares as the band of the 91st Highlanders (later 91st Regiment Canadian Highlanders), and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Band, successor to the 13th Regiment Band. In 1905 Bruce Carey founded the Elgar Choir, which at first presented programs of unaccompanied works and short choral pieces with piano accompaniment. By 1910, however, it was performing works as large as Verdi's Requiem, and in the 1920s it presented Mendelssohn's Elijah and a concert version of Aida. W.H. Hewlett, the conductor 1922-35, brought in the Cleveland and Detroit SOs for appearances with the choir. Graham Godfrey's Bach Choir, formed in 1932 for the performance of large choral works with orchestra, disbanded during the early years of the war. The Stelco Male Chorus was formed in 1941 by Cyril Hampshire, who conducted it until 1948 when he was succeeded by Rod Shepherd. Every spring the choir, some 25-45 Stelco employees, gave a concert in Centenary United Church and travelled to nearby towns. The director and accompanist, though paid by Stelco, were not employees in the steel works. The choir gave its last concert 7 Dec 1953. The Dofasco Male Chorus, another steel company protégé, was established in 1945 under the conductorship of Edward Stewart; subsequent conductors have been G. Murray Hall 1972-88, succeeded in 1989 by Geoffrey W.B. Bullivant. Most of the 68 singers are Dofasco employees. Under Stewart's direction the choir recorded the LPs Men of Steel (RCA PCS-1011) and A Festival of Christmas Carols (1969-70, Warner WSC-9010). The 55-member Dofasco Ladies Ensemble was established in 1989. Charles Peaker became conductor in 1946 of the Bach-Elgar Choir, an amalgamation of the former Bach and Elgar choirs.

New orchestras appeared after 1900. One such was the Ladies' String Orchestra formed in 1908 and conducted until 1926 by Jean Hunter. The addition of woodwinds swelled its ranks to 35. In 1915 F.J. Domville founded the Hamilton Orchestral Club. At its first concert, at the Odd Fellows Temple, the orchestra gave a program of short pieces and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Percy Waddington, then I.W. Lomas, conducted a Hamilton SO for several seasons in the mid-1920s. Graham Godfrey reorganized it in 1930 with a membership of 73, and the orchestra made its debut in January of 1931 with Dvořák's 'New World' Symphony and Wagner overtures. This orchestra was succeeded in 1949 by the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, which played in high school auditoriums and then at the Palace Theatre before gaining a permanent home when Hamilton Place opened in 1973. Other orchestras active in Hamilton in 1991 included the Ensemble Sir Ernest MacMillan and Symphony Hamilton. The Hamilton Chamber Music Society was founded in 1951, and by its last performance in 1972 had presented more than 90 concerts.

For opera Hamilton depended in the early days upon visiting companies and its own amateurs. Nevertheless, on 15 Feb 1895 J.E.P. Aldous' patriotic allegorical opera Ptarmigan was premiered there. The Hamilton Opera Company was founded in 1898, and the Hamilton Operatic Society in 1926, but little is known of their repertoires or their histories. Many travelling productions visited Hamilton, eg, Massenet's Salomé (an adaptation of Hérodiade?) in 1913, and several Victor Herbert operettas and Balfe's The Bohemian Girl in 1916. In the space of seven days at the Grand Opera House in 1922 the De Feo Opera Company presented Aida, Carmen, and Madama Butterfly. The Russian Grand Opera Company brought Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov, Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden, and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin during the 1922-3 season. Another Hamilton Opera Company (see also June Kowalchuk) active 1961-72, merged with the Mohawk College Opera Workshop (which began in 1970) and became the Mohawk College Theatre in 1976. The theatre presented Quesnel'sColas et Colinette, Lavallée's The Widow, and Verdi's Rigoletto that year. Opera Hamilton, formed in 1980, has offered mainly the standard Italian operatic repertoire.

In 1889 Ellen Ambrose, intending to improve her students' sight reading through performance of duet arrangements of Haydn symphonies, formed the Duet Club. Gradually the club grew into a society which encouraged promising students through scholarships and sponsored solo and chamber recitals by local and visiting artists. Among notable singers and instrumentalists who have performed in Hamilton in the 20th century are Edward Johnson, Clara Butt, Jeanne Dusseau, Amelita Galli-Curci, Nellie Melba, Robert Merrill, Marcel Dupré, Mischa Elman, Isaac Stern, Healey Willan, Murray Perahia, Vladimir Horowitz, Philippe Entremont, and Alexis Weissenberg. The Hamilton Community Concerts Association, formed in 1932, was still active in 1991 sponsoring four concerts annually.

Richard Birney-Smith (b Detroit 29 Jan 1941, naturalized Canadian 1971, organist-choirmaster in Dundas, Ont, established the Te Deum Concerts Series in 1968 which continued to present performances of baroque and other music in 1991.

In 1985 Hamilton Artists Inc, founded 1975, headed by Elma Miller began an innovative concert series called ArtSound to present experimental works by Canadian composers. Concerts, held in St Cuthbert's Church, have included works by John Weinzweig, Ruth Loman, Elma Miller, Bengt Hambraeus, Malcolm Forsyth, and others. The Canadian Orpheus Male Chorus (founded 1977 as the Hamilton Orpheus Male Choir with 8 members), comprised 100 voices in 1990 under director Lyn Harry, and the Hamilton Children's Choir under David Davis has performed in the Hamilton region and toured the Maritimes. The Boris Brott Summer Music Festival was begun in 1988 and has been held annually in the Hamilton region. In 1991 the Tivoli Theatre was bought by Sam Sniderman and subsequently renovated for a projected reopening as a venue for musical and theatrical performances.

The Festival of Friends, organized by Hamilton Wentworth Creative Arts, has been a popular weekend event on the summer folk festival circuit beginning in 1976. The album Music From the Armpit of Canada (1988, Problem Child PCWA-002) is a compilation of Hamilton area rock bands.

Musical education in Hamilton goes back to the 1840s when the Burlington Academy offered to ladies instruction in piano, harp, guitar, and voice. In the 1860s musical tuition was provided by 10 independent teachers and a few private schools, one of which was the Wesleyan Ladies College, established in December 1863 to offer courses in arts, music, and sciences. Robert Ambrose was music director 1864-89. Music also was taught at Loretto College, founded in 1866 (Norah Clench studied there). As early as 1869 Hamilton public schools offered some instruction in music, usually voice training. The first school orchestra was formed in 1887.

In 1888 D.J. O'Brien founded the Hamilton Musical Institute (Hamilton College of Music 1889-98). The Hamilton School of Music, under the direction of J.E.P. Aldous, flourished 1889-1908. C.L.M. Harris in 1897 founded the Hamilton Conservatory of Music, which in 1965 became the Royal Hamilton College of Music. Music courses at McMaster University were begun in 1953 and the Music Dept was established in 1965. Hamilton's Cathedral of Christ the King possesses one of the 11 carillons in Canada. Its 23 bells were installed in 1933.

Among noted musicians born in or near Hamilton have been 'Puff' Addison, the Ambrose, Carey, and Littlehales families, Mona Bates, Mabel Beddoe, Hector Charlesworth, the noted pianist and teacher Kate Sara Chittenden, Ralph Cruickshank (see Berandol), W.E. and G.H. Fairclough, Roy and John Fenwick, Constance Fisher, Sonny Greenwich, Cyril Hampshire, C.F. Harrison, Hugh Hartwell, Gary Hayes, Clifford Hunt, King Biscuit Boy (Richard Newell), Gene Lees, Clarence Lucas, Harry MacDonough, Robert May, Thelma Johannes O'Neill, Arthur Poynter, Ernest Seitz, Adrienne Shannon, Jon Siddall, T.R. Sloan, Ian Thomas, Jackie Washington, and Rick Wilkins.

Some noted musicians and groups who have been active in the Hamilton area are the Bartmann family, J.W. Baumann, Reginald Bedford and Evelyn Eby, Lorne Betts, Boris Brott, Canadian Brass, the Czech Quartet, Reginald Godden, Lee Hepner, Marta Hidy, Jack Lorne Hodd, Harold Jerome, Udo Kasemets, Ada Twohy Kent, Daniel Lanois, Jean Macleod, Frank Thorolfson, Alan Walker, Gladys Whitehead, and Jan Wolanek.

Despite the proximity and lure of Toronto with its many and tempting alternatives for Hamilton music lovers, Hamilton has maintained and developed over the years a rich and independent musical life, typified in the 1990s by the established position of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra as one of Canada's major orchestras, and the continued development and activity of the city's many concert series and ensembles.


Further Reading

  • Reynold, Ella Julia. 'Days before yesterday, music, art, drama and literature,' Hamilton Centennial 1846-1946 (Hamilton 1946)

    'One hundred years of Hamilton music,' Hamilton Spectator, 11, 18 Jun 1946

    Hall, Fred A. 'Hamilton: 1846-1946: a century of music,' CAUSM J, vol 4, Autumn 1974

    Quigley, Michael. 'A lively century of music in Hamilton,' Music, vol 7, Sep/Oct 1984