Music at McGill University | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Music at McGill University

McGill University. Founded in Montreal in 1821 as the University of McGill College. McGill University is the chief English-language university in the province of Quebec and houses one of Canada's most established music programs.

Music at McGill University

McGill University. Founded in Montreal in 1821 as the University of McGill College. McGill University is the chief English-language university in the province of Quebec and houses one of Canada's most established music programs.

In 1813 James McGill, a prominent Montreal citizen and merchant, bequeathed £10,000 and a 18.4-hectare plot of land to the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning (established in 1801 to promote education in Lower Canada) to found a college or university. In 1821 George IV granted a charter establishing the University of McGill College, a non-denominational institution. A reorganization of the college was ratified by an 1852 charter, signed by Queen Victoria, and in 1885 the name was changed to McGill University. Courses began in 1829 in the Faculty of Medicine and in 1843 in the Faculty of Arts, the campus gradually expanding from its original location on the southeast side of Mount Royal. By 2010 McGill University comprised 11 faculties, a faculty of graduate and post-graduate studies and research, 10 schools, and more than 35 000 students.

Music Faculty History

Music instruction began at McGill in 1884 but was reserved for women until 1904. In 1896 Donald A. Smith (Lord Strathcona) founded the Royal Victoria College for girls, and when it opened in September 1899 he brought Clara Lichtenstein from Europe to be in charge of its music department. Lichtenstein's remarkable work at the Royal Victoria College, the financial support of Lord Strathcona, and the moral encouragement of the principal, William Peterson, resulted in the establishment of the McGill Conservatorium in 1904. The introduction in 1902 of the examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music of London (AB of the RSM), accomplished through the efforts of Charles A.E. Harriss, also established music's place at McGill University.

Harriss was appointed director of the board of examinations as well as director of the conservatorium, which began classes 21 Sep 1904 in Workman House (a gift of Lord Strathcona). Lichtenstein was named vice-director, a position she held until 1929. At the official inauguration 14 Oct 1904, in the presence of the Governor-General, Lord Minto, a recital was given by two young artists, the pianist Ellen Ballon and the violinist Albert Chamberland. The first school session was attended by 462 students from Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and New York State, and 26 instructors were hired on an hourly basis. During these early years the teaching body included Frederick H. Blair, Albert Clerk-Jeannotte, Guillaume Couture, Alfred De Sève, Jean-Baptiste Dubois, J.-J. Goulet, Percival J. Illsley, Arthur Letondal, Romain-Octave Pelletier, and Horace Reyner, and instruction was offered in composition, theory, and performance. When Harriss resigned during the summer of 1907, he recommended reducing the number of instructors in favour of a chair in music, whose incumbent would enjoy the same status as other professors at the university. This request was granted by the university council, which, through a gift from Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffrey H. Burland, engaged as professor and director Harry Crane Perrin, the organist of Canterbury Cathedral. Lichtenstein filled the post 1907-8 on an interim basis and in 1908 Perrin began a career at McGill University that was to span 21 years. He formed McGill's first university symphonic ensemble and in 1909 set up McGill University's own system of music examinations in 56 centres spread across Canada. By dissociating itself from the AB of the RSM, the institution reinforced its autonomy and established the originality of its contribution in teaching and examinations.

A substantial endowment from Sir William MacDonald in 1917 permitted the establishment 26 Apr 1920 of a Faculty of Music. For the next 10 years Perrin combined the duties of director of the conservatorium and dean of the faculty. Premises, professors, and budget were shared.

Having laid the foundations for the teaching of music at the university level, Perrin resigned in 1930. He was succeeded as dean of the faculty by Douglas Clarke, who had been appointed director of the conservatorium in 1929. There followed a marked increase in musical activities of interest to the public. Clarke established a series of concerts (Sunday Evening Series) which featured such renowned musicians as Ernest Ansermet, Georges Enesco, Gustav Holst, Nicolas Medtner, Ignaz Jan Paderewski, Serge Prokofiev, Leopold Stokowski, and the London String Quartet, and such lecturers as Edmund Fellowes, Percy Scholes, and Charles Sanford Terry. On the academic side, the programs began to be revised in 1930. The composer Claude Champagne was a member of the teaching staff 1932-41. Clarke's main achievement undoubtedly remains the Montreal Orchestra (1930-41), which included in its ranks the more advanced McGill students.

After 1945
Growth of the faculty was impeded, however, by the fact that the position of dean still constituted the only full-time job, by meagre financial resources, and by the effects of World War II. In addition the school did not have suitable premises. Between 1948 and 1971 the conservatorium and the faculty moved several times. This did not deter the conservatorium from celebrating its 50th anniversary with a series of concerts (November-December 1954), the last of which was presented on 8 December with the participation of Ellen Ballon and Douglas Clarke. At this time the teaching staff consisted of 34 instructors, most of them part-time.

Following Clarke's retirement in 1955, Marvin Duchow became acting dean. The conservatorium and the faculty were reorganized, and three departments were created within the faculty: theoretical music (chaired by Duchow), keyboard instruments and voice with Helmut Blume as chair, and instrumental music with Alexander Brott as chair. The conservatorium was divided into a senior department and a junior department, the courses of the former leading to diplomas and those of the latter confined to basic musical training. Duchow was confirmed as dean in 1957 and remained in the post until 1963 while continuing to direct the theoretical music department.

Under Helmut Blume (acting dean, 1963-4, dean 1964-76), the faculty of music and the conservatorium underwent considerable changes. In 1966 the McGill Preparatory School of Music replaced the McGill Conservatorium; the budget and teaching staff of the school initially were shared with the faculty, but the two institutions were separated in 1970. The faculty of music, having grown until it occupied all or part of half-a-dozen different buildings, finally received adequate and permanent premises, moving in 1971 into Royal Victoria College on Sherbrooke St West, which was renovated and renamed the Strathcona Music Building in 1972. Through a bequest from the Maurice Pollack Foundation in 1966 the ground floor cafeteria was renovated and the Assembly Hall on the floor above was converted into a modern 600-seat concert hall. Through careful planning excellent control of the acoustics was achieved. The stage could be reduced by using movable reflecting wall panels, and for opera performances or certain stage productions the orchestra pit could be concealed from view by extending the stage floor. The Pollack Concert Hall was inaugurated 10 Apr 1975 with a concert including works by Beethoven, Liebermann, Kelsey Jones (The Prophecy of Micah), and Bengt Hambraeus (Intrada). This concert was followed by the McGill Music Month, a festival of 32 events, in which former and present teachers and students participated. That year 75 teachers gave courses to 469 students.

The dean continued to be in charge of the faculty of music and the preparatory school until 1978, when the preparatory school became the McGill Conservatory of Music. Oleg Telizyn was the conservatory's first director, succeeded by Kenneth Woodman 1980-7, Peter Freeman 1987-91, Michael Isador 1991-4, Carl Urquhart 1994-2001, Peter Freeman 2001-2, Dean Jobin-Bevans 2002-5, and Clément Joubert (beginning ca 2005).

In the 1970s and 1980s, many of the music programs introduced at McGill University were realized through the efforts of Paul Pedersen, who was dean 1976-86. He also had the idea for McGill University Records, a series to which composers, soloists, and ensembles of the faculty have contributed. Dean Pedersen was succeeded by John Rea 1986-91, John Grew 1991-6, Richard Lawton 1996-2001, and Don McLean beginning in 2001.

In 2010, the academic staff of the music school was made up of 60 full-time and 90 part-time teachers, and there were approximately 875 students.

Music Degrees and Diplomas

The McGill Conservatorium introduced in 1904 the licentiate diploma (L MUS) for instrumentalists who had completed three years of study. The associate diploma after one year was also granted 1939-66. The Faculty of Music began awarding the concert diploma at the post-graduate level in 1966, and the Quebec Ministry of Education's Diplôme d'études collégiales (DEC) was awarded 1969-74. The B MUS degree, first offered in 1904, was subdivided into three options in 1956 (composition, performance, music education) and was enriched by the addition of the B MUS in theory (honours) and B MUS in history in 1966. A B MUS (honours) in performance (orchestra conducting) was offered between 1966 and 1976. MMA degrees were offered in composition in 1968, musicology in 1968, theory in 1970, and performance in 1975; in 1976-7 these became respectively the M MUS in composition, the MA in musicology, the MA in theory, and the M MUS in performance. A general B MUS and an MA in school music (later music education) were introduced in 1978. The first B MUS in jazz performance in Canada was offered at McGill in 1981. An M MUS in sound recording was introduced in 1979, which was directed by Wieslaw Woszczyk, and a modern recording studio opened in January 1980. The D MUS in composition, offered 1904-55, reappeared in 1974; Charles Henry Mills was the first to earn it, in 1911. PhD programs in musicology, theory, and music education were introduced in 1987.

Music degrees include the B MUS (performance, composition, theory, history, music education, and computer applications); the Licentiate in Music, an advanced three-year performance program; and the Artist Diploma, designed for performers with exceptional professional promise. Performance students may specialize in keyboard instruments, guitar, strings, harp, voice, woodwinds, brass, percussion, church music, early music, and jazz. At the graduate level, the MA is offered in education, technology, musicology and theory, while the M MUS is offered in composition, performance, and sound recording. The D MUS is offered in composition and performance studies, and the PhD is offered in music technology, sound recording, theory, musicology, and music education.

Performing Groups

Various instrumental and vocal groups for students have flourished at McGill University, including the McGill Symphony Orchestra (see Youth Orchestras), the Sinfonietta, the Concert Choir, the Collegium Musicum, the University Chorus, the jazz bands, as well as various ensembles of early and contemporary music, jazz improvisation, brass, guitars, voices and woodwinds. The first McGill String Quartet was formed in 1904 and a second was set up circa 1930, but both had only a brief existence. Alexander Brott reorganized the quartet in 1939 and gave several series of concerts under various auspices before the McGill Chamber Society took over and served as sponsor until 1947. An independent body unaffiliated with the university, the society later sponsored the concerts of the McGill Chamber Orchestra, which Brott founded.

The McGill Opera Studio, founded by Luciano and Edith Della Pergola in 1956, was renamed Opera McGill in 1989 with Bernard Turgeon as director and Timothy Vernon as conductor. It has staged more than 40 different operas and numerous excerpts, ranging from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1956) to Weill's Street Scene (1991). Benjamin Butterfield, Gina Fiordaliso, Mariana Paunova, and Joan Patenaude-Yarnell are among its alumni.

The McGill Jazz Band, set up in 1967 by Gerald Danovitch, had to be divided into three groups to accommodate the numbers of interested pupils. Kelsey Jones wrote his Jazzum Opus Unum for it in 1977. The ensemble received the Down Beat Award in 1990.

The McGill Percussion Ensemble was founded by Pierre Béluse in 1969. The Mount Royal Brass Quintet 1977-80, quintet-in-residence from 1977-8, was composed of members of the teaching staff (James Thompson and Robert Gibson, trumpets; Nona Talamantes, french horn; Richard Lawton, trombone; and Ellis Wean, tuba). It gave its first concert at Pollack Hall in February 1977 and recorded Kelsey Jones's Passacaglia and Fugue (McGill University Records 77004).

The McGill University Contemporary Music Ensemble was founded in 1970 and has been directed by Richard Lawton, Eugene Plawutsky, Bruce Mather, and Denys Bouliane (beginning 1996). Under Bouliane, the ensemble gained widespread recognition, premiering more than 100 works and establishing McGill's new music festival, MusiMarch.

The main ensemble has been the McGill Symphony Orchestra (divided into junior and senior groups in 2009). The orchestra has performed at Carnegie Hall, Roy Thomson Hall, the National Arts Centre, and the Grand Théâtre in Quebec City. It has received a Juno award, and was acknowledged by the Grand Prix du Disque of Canada. The McGill Contemporary Music Ensemble and the Wind Symphony exist alongside the McGill Symphony, and as a group, have formed the basis of the university's orchestral training program.

Facilities and Resources

Digital Composition Studios (formerly Electronic Music Studio)
One of the first electronic music concerts in Canada was presented at McGill in 1959. The Electronic Music Studio (EMS) was established in 1964 with the help of the National Research Council, which supplied equipment on a long-term loan basis. The studio was fitted not only with standard items such as recorders, filters, mixers, a Moog synthesizer, and a spectrogram unit, but also with specific instruments (designed by Hugh Le Caine) such as a waveform control, a multitrack recorder, 24 sinewave generators with keyboard control, and a serial structure generator. The studio then consisted essentially of three voltage-controlled laboratories with provision for quadraphonic recording and playback, a montage studio, and listening facilities. EMS obtained the Synclavier II in 1980, and a comprehensive MIDI computer-music system (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Each year about 30 students, in addition to staff composers from McGill and elsewhere, worked in the studio, one of the most complete in Canada. The Group of the Electronic Music Studio (GEMS) was founded in 1983 to perform works created at the studio. Ensembles which originated in the EMS have included MetaMusic (1972-77) and the Musical Design Group (MUD; later Sonde). Directors have been István Anhalt 1964-71, Paul Pedersen 1971-4, and Alcides Lanza 1974-2004, assisted by Eric Johnstone. The Electronic Music Studio was renamed the Digital Composition Studios in 2004, with Sean Ferguson as its director and Lanza as director emeritus. The studios offer courses and concerts, and participate in research projects with the university's Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT). Works have been produced there by composers Anhalt, Ginette Bellavance, Ted Dawson, Bengt Hambraeus, Lanza, Michel Longtin, Denis Lorrain, Pierre Mercure, Pedersen, R. Murray Schafer, David Sutherland, and Alain Thibault, among others. A history of the studios and their contribution to new music in Canada is provided in the anthology Compositional Crossroads: Music, McGill, Montreal (2008, Eleanor Stubley, editor).

Instrument Collections
In September 1977 the faculty received an anonymous gift of $200 000 for the acquisition of an organ for Redpath Hall. Hellmuth Wolff built the instrument, a French classical model with mechanical action, inaugurated in June 1981. A positif organ built by Gerhard Brunzema and donated by Mrs. Arthur Henderson was inaugurated in Pollack Hall in 1980. The campus already owned two Casavant organs of 7 and 10 stops respectively and two Karl Wilhelm organs of 3 and 7 stops (positifs), and a collection of early instruments.

The Schulich Music Building
Discussions over the much-needed expansion of the music facilities began in the late 1980s. Student population had grown substantially, and the Strathcona Music Building was found to be increasingly inadequate. In 1994, there were tentative plans to build new quarters for the Marvin Duchow Music Library, but this project ultimately escalated into one considerably more ambitious.

In 1995 the faculty approached the Quebec Ministry of Education for funding; the school was granted $1 million to commence preliminary drawings. Five years later, the proposed new building had still not been presented in the provincial government's budget. In 2001, following student protests and an ambitious letter-writing campaign, the provincial government pledged $17.7 million. Corporate and private funding for the music building amounted to $12 million. Construction began in 2003, and in 2005 the faculty of music received a $20-million donation from Seymour Schulich. The Schulich Music Building, designed by architects Menkès, Shooner, Dagenais, LeTourneux, and Saucier & Perrotte, opened 30 Sep 2005 at a cost of $70 million. Housed in the 10-floor building are the Wirth Opera Studio, the Music Multimedia Room (MMR), Tanna Schulich Hall (a small venue seating 187 people), the Marvin Duchow Library, the Gertrude Whitley Performance Library, and a student computer room.

The music library holds thousands of books, periodicals, musical scores, and microfilms. The large collection also includes LPs, CDs, videos and DVDs. The Performance Library, formerly in the basement of the Strathcona's east wing, is also housed in this area.

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT), a cutting-edge facility for the study of musical cognition, combines the faculties of music, science, education, and medicine at McGill, l'Université de Montréal, and l'Université de Sherbrooke. The centre, founded in 2000, was established through a $6.5-million grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI); this research grant was the largest ever awarded to a school of the humanities.

The music building also houses the scoring stage, an area used exclusively for recording. Designed by acousticians Artec Consultants, the soundproof stage can accommodate more than 300 people, and has attracted international leaders in recording and acoustical research.

The Strathcona Music Building has also remained in use. Pollack Hall, still the largest performance venue in the music school, seats 600 patrons. There is also a smaller hall (the Clara Lichtenstein Recital Hall), teaching studios, classrooms, and ensemble rehearsal spaces.

Conferences and Events

The McGill music faculty has hosted numerous conferences and events. To mark the centenary of Canada's confederation (1967), works by István Anhalt, Alexander Brott, Claude Champagne, Douglas Clarke, Kelsey Jones, and Robert Turner were presented at the Place des Arts in a special concert entitled "McGill and its Music." Other major events have included the international symposium "The Organ in Our Time," to mark the inauguration of the organ at Redpath Hall (1981); the Electronic Music Festival (1990), celebrating the 25th anniversary of the McGill Electronic Music Studio (EMS); the international conference on New Interfaces in Musical Expression (2004); and the Future of Music Policy Summit (2006).

Honorary Degrees, Alumni and Notable Faculty

Honorary degrees have been granted to such musical luminaries as Hugh Le Caine and Violet Archer, Oliver Jones, Ben Heppner, and Joni Mitchell. Distinguished alumni include Burt Bacharach, Benjamin Butterfield, Richard Eaton, Amanda Forsyth, Suzie LeBlanc, Michael McMahon, Wayne Riddell, Robert Silverman, Jacob Siskind, Daniel Taylor, and Alfred Whitehead.

The high quality of a McGill training has been maintained through the efforts of such teachers as István Anhalt, Theodore Baskin, Helmut Blume, Alexander Brott, Brian Cherney, Edward Culbreath, Mary Cyr, Gisela Depkat, Marvin Duchow, Kenneth Gilbert, John Grew, Matt Haimovitz, Bengt Hambraeus, Paul Helmer, Steven Huebner, Timothy Hutchins, Walter Joachim, Kelsey Jones, Lubka Kolessa, Stephen Kondaks, Alcides Lanza, Donald Mackey, Bruce Mather, Dorothy Morton, Joel Quarrington, John Rea, Charles Reiner, Jan Simons and Donald Steven.

Further Reading