John Adaskin | The Canadian Encyclopedia


John Adaskin

John Adaskin, conductor, radio producer, administrator, cellist (born 4 June 1908 in Toronto, ON; died 4 March 1964 in Toronto).

John Adaskin, conductor, radio producer, administrator, cellist (born 4 June 1908 in Toronto, ON; died 4 March 1964 in Toronto). An accomplished cellist from a musical family, John Adaskin became the first program director of the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission in 1934. By 1940, he had compiled the first extensive list of Canadian composers. He was an enthusiastic supporter of young musicians, and his CBC Radio productions Opportunity Knocks and Singing Stars of Tomorrow helped many aspiring artists establish careers. He was appointed executive secretary of the Canadian Music Centre in 1961, and promoted the use of Canadian music in schools by commissioning composers to write music suitable for student performers. The John Adaskin Project continues this endeavour, offering music and repertoire evaluations online.

Early Years and Education

The younger brother of Harry and Murray Adaskin, John studied cello at the Hambourg Conservatory with George Bruce and Boris Hambourg (1924–29) before studying cello and theory with Leo Smith and conducting with Luigi von Kunits (1930–33) at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (now the Royal Conservatory of Music).

Career Highlights

Adaskin played cello in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (1926–38) and in radio orchestras (1926–35). From 1934–43, he was a producer for the CRBC (see Founding of the CBC) and its successor, the CBC. With his own company, John Adaskin Productions, he continued to produce CBC programs until 1961, including the popular series Singing Stars of Tomorrow and Opportunity Knocks; he also conducted the orchestra for the latter. On behalf of the CBC, he commissioned Benjamin Britten's The Young Apollo (1939) and Healey Willan's Transit through Fire (1942), as well as 132 original compositions for Opportunity Knocks.

Teaching and Administration

For a brief period ca. 1950, he organized and taught courses in radio and TV production at Toronto's Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University). In 1961, he succeeded Jean-Marie Beaudet as executive secretary of the Canadian Music Centre, an office he held until his sudden death in 1964.


A tireless promoter of Canadian music, Adaskin developed the Canadian Music Centre's library, edited the magazine Music across Canada in 1963 and commissioned several composers to write works for school use. The John Adaskin Project continues his work in promoting Canadian educational composition and preserving Canada’s concert music heritage. In 1961, he was made a Fellow in the Royal Society of Arts. The John Adaskin Memorial Fund, established in 1979, continues to support projects that promote and develop Canadian music in Canadian schools. He was married to Naomi Granatstein.

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.


"Radio Production in Relation to Symphony Broadcasting," CRMA, vol. 1 (April 1942).

"MacMillan as Conductor," Music Across Canada (July-August 1963).