Neil Harris

Harris, Neil (Foster). Composer, arranger, conductor, critic, producer, b Young, southeast of Saskatoon, 21 Apr 1925, d Winnipeg 29 May 2000; BA (Saskatchewan) 1947, B ARCHITECT (Manitoba) 1968.

Harris, Neil

Harris, Neil (Foster). Composer, arranger, conductor, critic, producer, b Young, southeast of Saskatoon, 21 Apr 1925, d Winnipeg 29 May 2000; BA (Saskatchewan) 1947, B ARCHITECT (Manitoba) 1968. His studies in piano with Josephine Stableford and in composition with Murray Adaskin, both in Saskatoon, were separated by a period of employment 1947-50 in Toronto and Ottawa dance bands. He attended the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts, and worked during the 1950s for CKCK TV, Regina, and produced musical variety programs 1958-61 for CBC TV in Winnipeg. In 1960 he formed the Neil Harris Singers, a 6- to-12-voice ensemble heard 1965-9 on 'Songs of Faith' and other CBC programs, and on the recordings Songs of Faith (1969, CBC LM-63/Cap SN-8001) and Love in a Cold Climate (1974, EmmCee EC-107). Freelancing after 1961, Harris conducted and wrote incidental music for productions at the Manitoba Theatre Centre and conducted musicals at Rainbow Stage. He hosted the weekly CBC radio program Carousel in 1972, and in 1973 he was a guest conductor of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

Harris' compositions include Prairie Cantata (1949); If You Please (1950, University of Saskatchewan student revue); Portrait of a City (1952, a pageant written for Saskatoon's 70th anniversary); Suite of Dances for woodwinds (1953); Saskatchewan, HA! (1955, written while Harris was director of musical production for the province's 50th anniversary); Conversations (1967, commissioned for an Anglican Church conference in Brandon and later heard on CBC TV); Rhapsody for the Disgusted for woodwinds (1973); Holiday String Quartet (1975); and Fantasy on a Sentimental Theme for concert band (1976). 'Saskatoon the Beautiful' and 'The City by a River' are two of his songs that refer to his hometown.

Though he graduated in architecture in 1968 he continued his musical activities. He began teaching at Red River Community College (Winnipeg) in 1970, and became head of the college's Department of Creative Communications in 1976. He was was executive producer 1979-88 of the media branch for the Manitoba Department of Education. Harris continued to compose, including the large-scale choral works Meaningful Conversations and Other Illusions (1982) and Landscape (1984); and the award-winning film scores God is Not a Fish Inspector (1980) and Reunion (1985).

Harris was the classical music reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press from ca 1986, also frequently directing cabaret shows at Winnipeg's International Inn, as well as continuing to work as a freelance architect. He retired in 1996 after being diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). In January 1997, at a tribute to Harris, the City of Winnipeg presented him with a distinguished citizen award and the province admitted him to the Order of the Buffalo Hunt, its highest honour.

Friends and colleagues produced a CD, Neil Harris - His Music, His Friends, of his compositions and arrangements in 1998; profits were assigned to the ALS Society of Manitoba.

Writings

"Manitoba Opera," Opera Canada, spring 1993


Further Reading

  • Varley, Christopher. 'Neil Harris,' MSc, 239, Jan-Feb 1968

    'The Neil Harris Singers,' Manitoba Choral Association (special issue), 1986

    Walker, Morley. 'Laughter, love and respect for Neil,' Winnipeg Free Press, 17 Jan 1997

    Ibid. 'Friends of Neil Harris produce special CD: A tribute to a fine man,' Winnipeg Free Press, 11 Apr 1998