Music in Kingston

City at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, founded by Frontenac as Fort Cataraqui in 1673 and later renamed Fort Frontenac. It was captured by the British in 1758 and named Kingston in 1783 by Loyalists fleeing from New York.

Kingston, Ont

Kingston, Ont. City at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, founded by Frontenac as Fort Cataraqui in 1673 and later renamed Fort Frontenac. It was captured by the British in 1758 and named Kingston in 1783 by Loyalists fleeing from New York. In 1991 there were over 61,000 people in the city and 116,000 in the greater Kingston area.

The first focal point of music in Kingston was St George's (Anglican) Church, which had received a barrel organ before 1800. The barrels were limited in number, however, a fact which caused the minister to comment that the congregation never found it necessary to complain about new hymns (Anderson, p 15). About 1802 a choir of 30 began to sing at the Sunday services, and in 1818 a keyboard organ was donated by the Kingston Patriotic Society. Cultural life revolved around the officers of the garrison; as early as 1812 the Gazette reported a performance of The Doctor's Courtship, 'interspersed with vocal and instrumental music,' by the Theatrical Amateur Society of the Gentlemen of the Army and Navy. The regimental band entertained the citizens at parades and concerts and supplied a quadrille section to provide music for balls, dinners, picnics, and charities.

From 1841 to 1844, when its population was about 8000, Kingston was the seat of the Canadian government; in 1841 Queen's University was founded. During these years the 'limestone city' experienced a building boom, and musical life blossomed. On 13 Sep 1841 the English tenor John Braham gave a 'Grand Concert'; in 1842 the Kingston Vocal Sacred Music Society was active; in 1843 the Kingston Amateur Band gave concerts. Several merchants advertised pianos and other musical wares; one of them was Abraham Nordheimer, who arrived in 1842 to teach music and who may have been an organizer of the Kingston Harmonic Society in 1844, the year he moved to Toronto. A Philharmonic Society was founded in 1846 by Charles Ambrose Jr. There were two theatres and two public halls, and music was taught at several ladies' schools. The growth period was followed by a brief decline, however, and in 1849 the editor of the British Whig was lamenting the demise of the Philharmonic Society (it disbanded when Ambrose moved to Toronto in 1848) and the cancellation of the promised Promenade Concerts by the 20th regimental band. However, the visit in 1850 by the Germanians, an orchestra of Berliners, provided some relief.

In 1862 John C. Fox, from New York, established a piano factory which soon gained a reputation as the largest in Canada at the time. Fox died in 1868, and in the 1870s Weber & Co (Weber Piano Co) became the city's main instrument manufacturer. Other companies in the 19th century included J. Reyner (reed organs and melodeons) and Wm Wormwith (pianos).

In 1879, three years after the founding of the Royal Military College, Martin's Opera House opened. It was here, in 1889, that one of 19th-century Canada's most successful light operas, Leo, the Royal Cadet, a 'Canadian military opera' set in the military college, had its first production. The theatre burned down 6 Dec 1898, but three years later the Grand Opera House (Kingston, Ont) (later Grand Theatre) was erected on its site and became host to such celebrities as Nellie Melba and Ernestine Schumann-Heink and to the D'Oyly Carte Co.

Oscar Telgmann, the composer of Leo, contributed to musical life in Kingston for over 50 years. He and his wife, Alida Jackson, founded the Kingston Conservatory of Music and School of Elocution in 1892 and continued teaching until the late 1930s. The Telgmann Concert Party, formed in the early 1880s, developed into the Kingston SO (1914-36) (see Kingston Symphony Association). The orchestra was revived by Graham George in 1953.

St George's, which became a cathedral in 1862, developed a sterling musical reputation, especially after the establishment of its choir of boys and men in 1892. Successive choirmasters have been J.O. Martin (1892-7), Robert Harvey (1897-1935), Frank Harrison (1935-41), George Maybee (1941-73), and John Gallienne (1974-90). Kingston native Mark Sirett succeeded Gallienne in 1990. The choir has sung across Canada and in the USA and England, and has made several recordings. A choir of girls and a mixed-adult choir were created at St George's in 1986.

Smaller church choirs active in 1991 included those of Chalmers United under David Cameron, Sydenham United under F.R.C. Clarke, and St Mary's under Norman Brown. The 100-voice Kingston Choral Society was founded in 1953 by Graham George, whose contribution to music in Kingston, begun in 1946, has ranged over many fields - university teaching, church music, conducting, and composition.

Other vocal groups have included the Parr Christie Singers, the Gadabouts, Melos, and the Sweet Adelines. The Meistersingers and the Kinsmen's Club have produced an annual succession of Broadway musicals, and in 1990 Northern Opera Theatre began to mount an annual opera production. The Pro Arte Singers, a 28-voice chamber choir, was founded by David Cameron in 1974 and turned professional in 1980. The conductors have been Cameron 1974-83 and Brian Jackson 1983-7, succeeded by Thomas Baker. The choir has premiered works by local composers David Barber, Richard Bronskill, John Burge, and David Keane. In addition to composing, David (William) Barber - b Ottawa 25 Mar 1958; B MUS (Queen's) 1980 - has sung in the Pro Arte Singers and as a counter-tenor soloist, and has been a music critic (from 1981) and the entertainment editor (from 1991) for the Kingston Whig-Standard. He is the author of A Musician's Dictionary (Kingston 1983, repr Toronto 1985), Bach, Beethoven and the Boys (Toronto 1986), and When the Fat Lady Sings (Toronto 1990), three books of musical humour which collectively had sold nearly 100,000 copies by 1991.

Queen's University, which started a music degree program in 1969 and opened a music building in 1974, encouraged instrumental music by appointing the Vághy String Quartet as artists-in-residence in 1968. The quartet occupied first desk positions in the Kingston Symphony until 1988. In 1968 the Kingston Youth Orchestra was founded; in 1991 it was directed by James (Arthur) Coles - b Toronto 23 Apr 1930; ARCT 1954, B MUS (Toronto) 1954 - a music educator, violinist and conductor. The NYO held summer sessions in Kingston at Queen's University 1977-90. Pianist Valery Lloyd-Watts (a pupil of Glen Geary in Vancouver, Pierre Souvairan at the RCMT, and Lamar Crowson in England) has organized an international gathering for teachers and pupils of the Suzuki method in Kingston each July, beginning in 1977. She has performed as a soloist in recital and with orchestras in Canada and has also recorded pedagogical material for the Suzuki method and the Alfred Publishing Co.

Concurrent with the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Kingston (the site of the Olympic sailing competitions) held an Arts and Culture Festival the musical portion of which featured the Kingston Symphony, the Kingston Camerata, the Vághy String Quartet, the Canadian Wind Quintet, and, as visitors, Camerata, Canadian Brass, and the Paul Horn Quintet. Among those resident in Kingston in 1991 were the composers Kristi Allik, István Anhalt, John Burge, F.R.C. Clarke, Clifford Crawley, Graham George, and David Keane, and the jazz musicians Chris McCann and Dave Barton. Kingston is the birthplace of Bryan Adams, the teacher Katherine Burrowes, Marc David, the baritone George MacFarlane, Gordon Monahan, Walter Murdoch, Billy O'Connor, and all five members of the rock group The Tragically Hip.


Further Reading

  • Anderson, Allan J. The Anglican Churches of Kingston (Kingston 1963)

    Spurr, John W. 'Fortress Kingston 1810-1818,' Historic Kingston, 17, 1969

    Whittingham, Tony. 'Kingston choirs: it's a long story,' Kingston Whig-Standard, 22 Mar 1974

    Trent, Bill. 'Happy days: keeping out of the rocking chair,' Weekend Magazine, 8 Nov 1975

    Finnigan, Joan. Kingston: Celebrate This City (Toronto 1976)

    George, Graham. 'Frontenac County music,' County of a Thousand Lakes: The History of the County of Frontenac 1673-1973, ed Bryan Rollason (Kingston 1982)