Keith Bissell | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Keith Bissell

Keith (Warren) Bissell. Composer, educator, conductor, b Meaford, near Owen Sound, Ont, 12 Feb 1912, d Newmarket, near Toronto, 9 May 1992; B MUS (Toronto) 1942. While teaching 1934-48 in Toronto schools he studied composition at the University of Toronto with Leo Smith.

Bissell, Keith

Keith (Warren) Bissell. Composer, educator, conductor, b Meaford, near Owen Sound, Ont, 12 Feb 1912, d Newmarket, near Toronto, 9 May 1992; B MUS (Toronto) 1942. While teaching 1934-48 in Toronto schools he studied composition at the University of Toronto with Leo Smith. He was assistant supervisor in 1948 and supervisor 1949-55 of school music in Edmonton, where he was organist-choirmaster at Christ Church and founder ca 1952 of the Edmonton Junior Symphony Orchestra. In 1955 he was appointed supervisor of school music in Scarborough (part of Metropolitan Toronto). After studies in 1960 in Munich with Gunild Keetman and Carl Orff he introduced the Orff-Schulwerk method to the Scarborough school system. Using Canadian folk music and his own compositions Bissell effected the transition from the German idiom to the English, thereby increasing the method's usefulness to music educators across the country. He lectured at universities in Canada and the USA. He also founded and conducted the Scarborough Teachers' Chorus (1956-70) and the Scarborough Orff Ensemble (1960-73). He encouraged educators to use music by Canadian composers. With John Adaskin he organized the first Canadian composers' seminar in music education, held in Toronto in 1963. He was president of the OMEA 1957-8, the NYO 1970-1, and the Canadian Music Centre 1975-7, and a vice-president of the Canadian Music Council.

Bissell received composition commissions from individuals and organizations, among them Lois Marshall, Charles Peaker, the American Orff-Schulwerk Association, the Boys' Choir of Toronto, CAMMAC, the CBC, ISME, the Kingston Symphony Association, and the NACO. His compositions bring to traditional forms a modest but graceful sense of renewal and many reflect his interest in music for young people and his belief that writing for amateurs can be more rewarding than writing for professionals. His folksong arrangements for voice and piano and for choir are among the simplest and subtlest by a Canadian, recalling those of Britten in a nearness to artsong that would be risky in a treatment less appreciative of the natural contours and honest expression of the original material. After a concert 1 Jun 1976 of Bissell's works when he retired from the Scarborough Board of Education, John Kraglund wrote in the Globe and Mail: 'There were startling dissonances in the Mass, particularly in treble lines and in the fortissimo climax of the Sanctus. And, as in the setting of the Psalm 90, there was a strong emotional undercurrent - too rare in new Canadian music - as well as a feeling that the music was a personal response to the text'. In 1976 a trust fund was established in Bissell's name to commission annually a Canadian choral work written for school use. In 1978 he was awarded the Canadian Music Council Medal. In retirement Bissell continued to compose. His status as an associate is maintained by the CMCentre.

Selected Compositions

His Majesty's Pie, operetta (K. Bissell). 1964. Wat 1966

Incidental Music to 'The Centennial Play' (Davies, Mitchell, Murphy, Thériault). 1967 (Ott 1967). Ms

A Musical Play, operetta (Warner). 1977. Ms

The Miraculous Turnip, children's opera (Brothers Grimm). 1980 (Kingston 1983). Ms


Keith Bissell - ed. Twenty-Two Songs for SAB (Wat 1957)

'A visit to Carl Orff,' CME, vol 2, Dec 1960

- ed Festival of Songs for SAB (Wat 1961)

'The Canadian composer and the public,' PfAC, vol 1, Oct 1961

'What is Orff?' PfAC, vol 1, Jan 1962

- ed O Come Let Us Sing (Wat 1962)

- ed Singing in Schools (Don Mills 1962)

'What's wrong with music educators,' Music Across Canada, Mar 1963

- ed Songs For Schools (B. Schott's Söhne 1963)

- ed The SAB Choir (B&H 1965)

'School music to-day and tomorrow,' MSc, 238, Nov-Dec 1967

'The Canadian Music Council - a symposium,' CME, vol 10, Nov- Dec 1968

- ed Singing and Playing/Chantons et jouons (Wat 1968)

- and Schabas, Ezra. Choral Music in Ontario (Toronto 1970)

'R.M. Schafer's books,' CMB, 2, Spring-Summer 1971

- ed Let's Sing and Play, 3 vols (Wat 1973, 1976, 1978)

- ed Sayings (Caveat 1973)

- ed Songs For Singing and Playing (Wat 1980)

- ed Carols For Singing and Playing (Wat 1980)

'Orff, Song and Tradition,' Ostinato, 43, Sep 1989


Three Pieces. 1960 (Toronto 1961). Str. Kerby 1972

Under the Apple Boughs. 1961. Hn. Str. Ber (rental)

Concertino for Piano and Strings. 1962. Ber

Adagio for Small Orchestra. 1963. Ber (rental)

Little Suite for Trumpet and Strings. 1963. Tpt, string (piano). Ber 1968

Divertimento. 1964 (Hal 1965). Str orch. Kerby 1972

Andante e Scherzo. 1971. Chamb orch. Kerby 1972. 1972. Silver Crest Mid-72-2 (New Trier East SO, Ackerman conductor)

Three Commentaries on Canadian Folk Songs. 1973. Str orch. Ms

Variations on a Canadian Folk Song. 1972 (Toronto 1973). Str. Ms. CBC SM-289 (Chamber Players of Toronto)

Choir with Orchestra

Canada, Dear Home/Canada douce patrie. 1966. SATB (SAB), orch (band or piano). Wat 1966 (piano version). NB Choral Federation NCF-002 (Hillsborough School Choir)

A Bluebird in March. 1967 (St Catharines 1967). SATB, orch (piano). Wat 1969 (piano version)

The Passion According to St Luke. 1971 (Toronto 1971). Soli, SATB, orch. Wat 1973. See also Oratorio composition1

Anniversary Cantata (Psalm 98). 1978. SATB, orch, SATB recorder, Orff instr. Ms

A Celebration of the Nativity (Milton, Hardy, M.E. Coleridge, anonymous). 1978, Sop, bar, SATB chorus, chamber orch. Ms

Christmas in Canada (Buckler). 1978. SATB soli, SATB, orch. Ms

Great Little One: Music for the Nativity (Bible, anonymous, R. Crashaw). 1983 (Kingston 1983). SATB, orch. Ms


Ballad 1947. Vn, piano. BMIC 1950

A Folk Song Suite for Woodwinds. 1960. B&H 1963

People Look East, cantata (Farjeon). 1965. Sop, tenor, bass, SATB, trumpet, trombone, organ, timpani. Wat 1966

Let There Be Joy, cantata (traditional). 1965. Sop, tenor, SATB, fl, violoncello, glockenspiel, xylophone, organ (piano). GVT 1968

Little Suite. 1962. Tpt, piano. BMIC 1968

How the Loon Got Its Necklace. 1971. Narr, string quintet, percussion. Ms. RCI 388 (Czech Quar, R. Coneybeare narrator)

Cantate Domino. 1977. SSA, chamber orch. Ms. Ensemble Productions EPN-7275 (Quesnel Junior Choir)

In the Modes. 1981. Rec, percussion. Wat 1982

Canzona for Four Recorders and Three Pieces for Four Recorders. 1986. Avondale 1986

Also other works. All manuscript


'In April' (Wetherald). 1956. SSA, piano. Wat. Souvenir Sounds 26421 (Anne Campbell Singers)/NB Choral Federation NCF-002 (Hillsborough School Choir)

'The Shepherd' (Blake). SSA. Wat. Fantasy Sound FS-23461 (King Lear Singers)

Two Christmas Songs 'Mary and Joseph'; 'O' My Dear Heart' (anonymous). 1957. Unison, piano. GVT 1957. TCC WRC1-1456/('Mary and Joseph') TCC 009 (CD) (Toronto Children's Chorus)

'Rejoice Today with One Accord' (Baker). 1960. Unison, organ (piano). Harmuse. 1978. Audat WRC1-415 (Brough organ)

Two Songs From Shakespeare. 1965. SATB. Ber 1965. 1979. 2-Audat WRC6-696 (University of Alberta Concert Choir)

'When I Set Out for Lyonesse' and 'Weathers' (Hardy). 1978. SA, piano. GVT 1985. Centrediscs CMC-2285 (Toronto Children's Chorus)

Publ by Wat: 'I Was Glad When They Said unto Me' (1959); 'Christ Is Risen from the Dead' (1961); 'God Be Merciful unto Us' (1961); 'Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending' (1961); 'Puer Nobis Nascitur' (1961); 'Laudate Dominum' (1962); 'O Holy Spirit' (1962); 'Old Adam, the Carrion Crow' (1962); 'The Three Princes' (1962); 'None Other Lamb (1964)'; 'Requiem' (1967); 'A Summer Evening' (1967); 'Gloria in Excelsis Deo' (1968); 'Behold the Tabernacle of God' (1969); 'Welcome Yule' (1970); 'Song for Fine Weather' (1976); Missa Brevis III (1984)

Publ by GVT: 'Lullaby' (1957); 'Christ Being Raised from the Dead' (1958); 'Hear Thou My Prayer' (1958); 'The Ballad of Rawalpindi' (1959); 'Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies' (1959); 'Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing' (1960); 'O By The By' (1977)

Publ by BMIC: 'The Earth Is the Lord's' (1957); 'The Dark Hills' (1958); 'Dream River' (1959); 'The Plowman' (1959);

Also works published by West, FH, and Kerby, including The Gracious Time (1972, Kerby 1979), recorded 1973 on J Mar Electronics J13153 (Choir of St Simon's Church, Hanson conductor); also some in manuscript

Choral Arrangements

'In Bethlehem'. 1960. Unison, piano. Wat 1960. World Records WRC1-3686 (Oriana Singers)

'Nous étions trois capitaines' and 'Adieu de la mariée à ses parents'. 1968. SATB. GVT 1968

A Canadian Folk Song Suite. 1976. SSA, piano. Ms. ('Mary Ann' ) Imperial unnumbered (Powell River Boys' Choir)

Publ by Wat: 'Cindy' (1958); 'God Save The Queen' (1958); 'Sunday, Sunday' (1958); 'Cape St. Mary's' (1959); 'Shepherds in the Field Abiding' (1960); 'Old Joe Clark' (1961); 'The Red Rosebud' (1961); 'Ah, Holy Jesu' (1962); 'Click! Go the Shears' (1962); 'Summer's Queen' (1962); 'Baloo, Baleerie' (1966); 'Sweet Nightingale' (1968); 'The Turtle Dove' (1968); 'Early Spring' (1969); 'In Canso Strait' (1971)

Publ by GVT: Two Canadian Folk Songs (1961); 'A Maid I Am in Love' (1965); 'Go and Leave Me if You Wish, Love' (1966); 'A Song of Longing' (1978); 'Harbour Grace' (1983); 'Mary Ann' (1983)

Also 'At The Gate of Heaven' (Peer 1960); 'All Around My Heart' (Kerby 1981); and others in manuscript


Two Songs of Farewell (C. Bissell). 1961. V, piano. Wat 1963. CBC SM-79 (Forst)

Six Maritime Folk Songs arr, two sets (traditional) 1969. V, piano. Ber 1970. (selections) CBC SM168 (D. Bell)/(selections) RCI 419 (Korjus)/('Geordie') Marquis ERA-113 (Robbin)

Overheard on a Saltmarsh (H. Monro). 1970. Mezzo, fl, piano. Kerby 1972

Six Folk Songs from Eastern Canada arr (traditional). 1970. V, piano. B&H 1971. (selections) CBC SM144 (Forrester)/('Quand j'étais fille de quinze ans') Marquis ERA-113 (Robbin)

Ten Folk Songs of Canada, arr (traditional). 1970. V, piano. Wat 1972. CBC SM168 (D. Bell)

Plus others published by Wat, Manitou, and Avondale

Also 4 works for piano published by Wat and Harmuse; 4 works for organ published by BMIC, GVT, and Wat

Further Reading