Profession of Music | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Profession of Music

The earliest professional musicians in this country, in the 17th and 18th centuries, were military bandsmen with the French and British regiments which were posted to Canada during the colonial era.
John Weinzweig, composer, teacher, administrator
Canadian composer John Weinzweig (courtesy Ruth Kaplan).
Dessane, Antoine
Antoine Dessane (portrait by Théophile Hamel courtesy Musée du Québec). The music is an excerpt from his Ouverture of 1863 with the Orchestre Métropolitain, Gilles Auger conducting (courtesy CBC).

Music, Profession of

  The music profession encompasses a wide range of full-time careers related directly and indirectly to music-making. Besides musicians who make their living performing music, this field includes professional composers, arrangers and song writers; conductors, music teachers and coaches; impresarios, agents, artist managers and music administrators; music librarians and archivists; musicologists, music critics, journalists, editors and publishers; audio technicians, engineers and music producers for radio, television, record and video companies; instrument builders, repairers and tuners; music therapists, and more. Distinct areas of expertise or specialization within the music profession include classical, popular, military and sacred music. The word "classical" is widely used for concert or "art music" from all periods of music history while "popular" refers here to the complete range of non-classical music, including JAZZ, blues, folk (seeFOLK MUSIC, ANGLO-CANADIAN and FOLK MUSIC, FRANCO-CANADIAN), rock and roll, pop (seePOPULAR MUSIC), fusion, COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC, world music and so on, as well as their many sub-categories.

The earliest professional musicians in this country, in the 17th and 18th centuries, were military bandsmen with the French and British regiments which were posted to Canada during the colonial era. Some of them elected to remain in Canada after their tours of duty but were hard pressed to make a living from music alone. They had to combine such activities as freelance musician or bandmaster, music entrepreneur or instrument dealer, and private instructor, for example, and in many cases took on non-musical activities to ensure an adequate income. Church organists also count among the earliest professional musicians in Canada. As their musical duties required only a few hours of their time per week, they too had to fulfil such mixed occupations as organist-choirmaster-tutor-composer to pursue musical careers. This situation persisted, with gradual improvement, through the 19th century and into the 20th, with the result that Canada lost good musicians to the lure of better opportunities abroad. For example, Calixa LAVALLÉE, the composer of O CANADA, left and returned to Canada several times before settling permanently in the United States, where he was able to establish himself as a professional musician and, in fact, became a nationally known musical figure in the late 19th century.

 Up to about the mid-point of the 20th century, it was still impossible for many professional musicians in Canada to earn a living wage from their musical activities. However, opportunities for professional musicians expanded dramatically following the establishment of the CANADA COUNCIL in 1957 and, subsequently, of various provincial, regional and municipal arts councils across the country. In the second half of the 20th century, it was possible for increasing numbers of Canadian musicians to earn a livelihood solely from their music, and many were able to do so on the basis of one specific activity, such as teaching at the elementary, secondary or college/university levels, performing as singers in operas or broadway-type musicals, or performing in symphony, ballet, opera or theatre orchestras, in recording studios, or in jazz combos or rock bands.

Though it was no longer a necessity in order to earn a living wage, some Canadian musicians in the latter part of the 20th century were by choice active in more than one musical occupation simultaneously. For example, Robert AITKEN is a Canadian composer, conductor and classical flutist who tours internationally as a soloist specializing in avant-garde music, is a Professor of Flute at the Staatliche Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, and is the Artistic Director of New Music Concerts in Toronto. Daniel LANOIS, a well-known Canadian rock musician/songwriter now based in New Orleans, is also an acclaimed record producer, having worked in that capacity with such international stars as Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno and Bob Dylan. Numerous Canadian symphonic and jazz musicians pass on their musical knowledge and expertise by teaching or coaching students part-time at conservatories or college/university music schools across the country.

Teaching music, especially if associated with an institution or a school board, has provided some of the most stable incomes and working conditions for Canadian musicians since the 1950s. Performing for a living, even with symphony orchestras but especially freelance or with rock groups or jazz combos, is often less stable, and both working conditions and fringe benefits for musicians can leave much to be desired except for those working full-time for well-established Canadian orchestras. Until the mid-1960s, even the TORONTO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA (TSO), one of the largest and best-funded professional orchestras in Canada, guaranteed its musicians only 30 weeks of employment per year. While the annual length of employment rose to 48 weeks in the next decade for the TSO, this proved unsustainable and in 1995-96 the TSO contract stipulated 42 weeks at a base rate of $1167 per week. Along with Canada's other large musical organizations (orchestras, ballet and opera companies) in the 1990s, the TSO suffered serious budgetary compressions as grants decreased from all levels of government and their audience base was being eroded by a combination of economic and demographic factors.

 Despite the many challenges which exist for aspiring musicians as well as for those already in the profession, talented Canadians continue to be attracted to the life of music. A musical career has the potential for immense personal growth and satisfaction if one is willing to make the necessary commitment and sacrifices to achieve excellence. Undertaking a musical career can be both expensive and time-consuming. Besides the outlay of money necessary for instruments, equipment and music lessons, which are usually but not always begun in the pre-teen years, a commitment of many years of study is required to perfect one's skills and knowledge, and to gain the necessary experience. In many instances it is necessary to pursue studies towards a degree or a diploma in an institution such as a conservatory, college or university. For example, to teach music in primary and secondary schools in most places in Canada now requires at least one degree or diploma from a college or university.

Being a performer or a creator in any of the musical disciplines can be extremely satisfying to those who achieve success, but the dream of touring internationally and creating or performing music for large, appreciative audiences is achieved by few. The reality for many professional musicians, including those who achieve some measure of stardom or financial prosperity, is that even limited or short-term success depends on hard work, sell-discipline and good luck. To maintain peak form, most professional musicians must spend many hours per week practising alone in addition to rehearsing and performing with others. Even when not combined with touring, this can leave little time for leisure interests or family life. Poor health or the loss of the ability to perform, even temporarily, can have serious consequences. Some areas of the profession are highly stressful and can lead to burnout and/or incapacitating physical problems (eg., tendonitis, repetitive stress syndrome).

Musicians can also be subject to arbitrary and unfair decisions by employers, though most types of exploitation have been reduced over time through the efforts of labour unions and professional associations representing musicians, teachers and composers. The American Federation of Musicians of the US and Canada (AF of M) negotiates union contracts with major employers such as the CBC, CTV, NFB, the recording industry, and companies producing radio and television commercials in which music is used. Local branches of the AF of M negotiate with individual symphony orchestras, concert halls, theatres, nightclubs and other establishments where concerts or musical entertainment is presented, to ensure appropriate levels of pay and working conditions for their members. The Union des Artistes (UDA: French language) and the Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA: English language) protect their members' rights and fees for radio, TV and recordings; Canadian Actors' Equity Association protects theatre performers; and SOCAN oversees the collection and distribution of royalties to composers, song writers and lyricists from the public performance of their music, both "live" and via recordings.

Although these and other agencies exist to ensure that many of Canada's musical artists and creators are appropriately remunerated for their hard work and creativity, there remain nightclubs and other places of entertainment in Canada which are outside the sphere of union agreements and where musicians do not enjoy the wages or benefits offered by unionized establishments. In addition, the long-awaited second phase of reforms to the Canadian Copyright Act, which was expected to entrench for the first time in Canada the notion of royalties payable to musicians whose recordings are played on radio and TV (in addition to the existing royalties for composers and lyricists), had still not been passed into law in early 1997 and professional musicians continued to be denied income which many of them felt should rightfully be theirs. And while the federal government passed a Status of the Artist Act in 1992, a law which recognized Canadian artists for the first time as self-employed professionals with the same rights and privileges as other professions, and gave them access to federal social programs such as pensions, and disability and employment insurance, only Québec has passed similar legislation among the provinces. Since many cultural and artistic matters fall outside federal jurisdiction, the 1992 law has had limited impact and professional musicians will have to await further developments on the provincial front. However, the long-awaited second phase of reforms to the Canadian Copyright Act, which was expected to entrench for the first time in Canada the notion of royalties payable to musicians whose recordings are played on radio and TV (in addition to the existing royalties for composers and lyricists), was passed into law in early 1998.

For young musicians pursuing musical studies in Canada, it is increasingly possible to obtain excellent training and to prepare adequately here for a professional career in music. Canadian colleges and universities now offer a wide range of programmes leading to a baccalaureate degree in music, including the study of jazz, pop or classical performance, music theory and composition, music education, musicology, music criticism and music therapy. The larger Canadian universities offer some of these music programs at the master's and doctoral levels. Most of those seeking to pursue a career at the highest levels of the profession still pursue advanced training and/or professional experience and exposure abroad, with the US being the destination of choice for many in the popular-music field and for many anglophone Canadians pursuing studies in classical music, while Europe is often preferred for classical training by francophone Canadians. Returning musicians who seek jobs in the major professional orchestras and universities in Canada continued to find in the last decade of the 20th century that the rosters of these institutions remained largely foreign, with American musicians representing the single largest group. Still, the fact that fully one-third of the musicians in the TSO in the early 1990s were Canadian-born showed that the tide was slowly turning.

Canadian women have been active in the music profession since at least the middle of the 19th century. While they carved out a place for themselves over 100 years ago in professional opera companies and as music teachers, particularly in private studios and in primary schools, it took longer for them to be accepted as composers or as professional instrumentalists. Since Canadian orchestras were essentially closed to women in 1940, the violinist Ethel Stark co-founded and conducted the Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra, a professional ensemble which remained in operation until the late 1960s, by which time women had begun to crack the ranks of the major orchestras. The first women composers to be appointed to a Canadian university were Jean COULTHARD and Barbara PENTLAND at UBC in 1947 and 1949, respectively. Other women were eventually appointed to teach at Canadian music schools, although they had not yet approached parity of numbers with their male counterparts in Canadian universities or professional orchestras as the end of the century approached. In 1999, for example, 27 of 92 musicians in the TSO were women.

There were at least 3 female concert-masters in Canadian orchestras in the 1990s, however: Gwen Hoebig in the WINNIPEG SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, Chantal Juillet (co-concert master) in the MONTREAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, and Jean Lamon continued to direct the TAFELMUSIK BAROQUE ORCHESTRA in Toronto from the first-violin chair. In addition, the internationally renowned opera singer Maureen FORRESTER was Chair of the Canada Council, a prestigious administrative position, 1983-88. Meanwhile, several generations of Canadian women had made important contributions in the domain of popular music. Beginning with Québec's La BOLDUC in the 1920s and 1930s and continuing with Joni MITCHELL, Anne MURRAY, Céline DION, k.d. LANG and Shania TWAIN, to name but 5 singing stars active in the 1990s, increasing numbers of Canadian women have earned musical acclaim at home and abroad.

Judging by the growing number of international success stories late in the 20th century, including the rock singers Bryan ADAMS and Alanis MORISSETTE, the CANADIAN BRASS and the classical pianist Louie LORTIE, the opera singers Nancy Argenta and Ben HEPPNER, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Tafelmusik in Toronto, Canadian musicians and musical ensembles are presenting to the world a new artistic maturity and confidence which bodes extremely well for the future of the music profession in Canada as the millennium begins.