Profession of music

Profession of music. Music as a full-time occupation. To earn a livelihood as a musician - particularly in a single discipline such as composing or singing or playing an instrument - has not been possible in Canada for any considerable number of people until relatively recently.

Profession of music

Profession of music. Music as a full-time occupation. To earn a livelihood as a musician - particularly in a single discipline such as composing or singing or playing an instrument - has not been possible in Canada for any considerable number of people until relatively recently. More so than in Europe, the musician in Canada has had to depend on a combination of activities, some of them non-musical, to support himself.

The earliest paid musicians were the tambours and pipers in the French regiments in 17th-century Canada and the organists in the cathedrals of Quebec City and Montreal, but their engagements were only part-time. The full-time musician, who appeared late in the 18th century, was nearly always from Europe, since the colony lacked the training facilities to produce its own. To survive he had to be a jack-of-all-trades, and indeed the careers of such men as Frederick Glackemeyer and J.-C. Brauneis I, are fascinating in the mixture of activities as bandmasters, church organists, music-storekeepers, piano tuners, occasional composers, teachers, and leaders of musical societies.

The church, the regimental band, and the private teaching studio remained the backbone of the profession throughout the 19th century, and although the music trade and the building of keyboard instruments provided more and more jobs, many of the publisher-dealers (eg, A.J. Boucher, Peter Grossman, Edmond Hardy, Arthur and Ernest Lavigne, and Henry Prince) were practising musicians as well.

Among the earliest Canadian-born professionals were Charles Sauvageau (1804?-49) and J.-C. Brauneis II (1814-71), the latter perhaps the first to receive a European education, though such foreign training became almost the rule, among gifted musicians who could afford it, from the late 19th century onwards (see Education, professional).

In Europe the 'compleat musician' of the 18th century (Haydn, Mozart, and most of their contemporaries were composer-virtuoso-conductor-teachers as a matter of course) gave way to the mainly-composer, the conductor-only, or the performer-sometime-teacher of the 20th century. Similarly, Canadian musicians in the late 19th and the 20th centuries tended more and more towards specialization, especially in the larger cities, where many teachers (but very few organist-choirmasters) could make a living.

New (for Canada) specializations arose, such as music journalism and school teaching and, in the 20th century, orchestra and choir conducting, orchestra playing, opera singing, university teaching, scholarship, librarianship, concert and artist management, arranging, jingle writing, copyright, and music administration. New technologies have produced further professional specializations, eg, the broadcast producer, the program director, the commentator, the recording engineer and the electronic music laboratory technician.

Much of the credit for progress towards the establishment of music as a profession must be given to the unions - first established in 1887 and responsible especially for the improvement of the instrumental ensemble player's lot (orchestra, band, pop band). But credit must go also to the professional organizations for teachers, organists, composers, and others. Conditions, even by 1990, could not be described as ideal, however; for example, until the late 1960s no Canadian orchestra could offer full-time year-round (52-week contract) employment.

Employment conditions in the early decades of the 20th century are vividly described by Maurice Solway in his Recollections of a Violinist (Oakville, Ont 1983, p 23): 'The... professional life offered by post-war Toronto to the graduating student... was liable to put a dint into their aspirations. There was no symphony, no opera, no ballet, and little serious chamber work, particularly for the average rather than stellar musician... Live music and restaurants flourished during the period 1920-1950. At the Royal York Hotel, music was conducted by Rex Battle and his Orchestra for lunches and dinners; at the King Edward Hotel, Luigi Romanelli and his Orchestra played during lunch and dinner... Theatre and hotel stints were the only real sources of income, aside from teaching. Playing standards, even among the older von Kunits students, were deteriorating because theatre work was easy and secure but technically debilitating'.

In the early 20th century the theatre and movie orchestra formed the orchestra players' main support; in the 1930s this role passed to the private radio stations and to the CBC, which became the main support, or at least provided a decisive supplementary income, not only for the players but also for singers, arrangers, solo performers, and composers. (It should be added, however, that unlike European broadcasting systems, eg, the BBC or Radio France, the CBC has not established salaried full-time employment for orchestral musicians or choral singers.) To some extent the recording studios and the universities (as employers of teachers and as sponsors of performing ensembles) had taken over as guarantors of professional musical life by 1980, though in the 1970s in at least Halifax, Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver the major symphony orchestras were the most significant employers of practising instrumental musicians.

Most musicians, fortunately, have preferred to combine a variety of activities not only because of economic necessity but also because of inclination. The designation of musicians' major areas of activity in EMC biographies gives evidence of an amazing versatility even today. There have been only a few Canadian musicians whose exclusive (or nearly so) activity is composition (Somers, Louie), or choral conducting (Iseler, Laurencelle). Opera singers, orchestra players, school teachers, and several successful orchestra conductors provide more numerous instances of single-activity concentration. Yet others have combined music with a related field, eg, singing and acting, church music and church ministry, teaching and school administration. The recession years of the early and late 1980s have forced some musicians, especially those entering the profession, into unemployment or a switch of careers. In reaction, arts organizations such as the CCA and many of its member organizations have agitated for an examination of the status of the artist in Canada (see Funding, patronage, and volunteerism 4/Status of the artist).

The economic aspect is one side of professionalism; training and qualification are the other. (There are hundreds of amateurs earning 'professional' wages because as, for instance, part-time drummers or trumpeters in bands they belong to unions.) One reason for the slow growth of professionalism has been the small size of the market; for many years the only avenue for real success was the one which led abroad (see Emigration). Another reason was the lack of facilities for post-conservatory training until after World War II. Those who could not afford to go abroad for advanced study were at a great disadvantage although there are examples of fine musicians trained almost exclusively in Canada - Contant, Deslauriers, J.-J. Gagnier, Morel, Ridout, Amédée Tremblay, Vézina, and such stars of the performer's art as Maureen Forrester, Don Garrard, Glenn Gould, Lois Marshall, Teresa Stratas, Huguette Tourangeau, and Jon Vickers. Nevertheless, immigrants maintained an advantage over Canadians in claiming key positions (and in 1990 continued to do so in the fields of conducting, master teaching, and musicology). This has made it difficult to establish Canadian traditions in various branches of music. By the last quarter of the century, however, high professional standards were prevalent in all areas of music in Canada.


Further Reading

  • Walter, Arnold. 'Music in a technological age,' CMJ, vol 1, Spring 1957

    Payzant, Geoffrey B. 'The actual need,' ibid

    'The status of the professional musician in Saskatchewan: memorandum on a music conference,' unpublished report, Saskatchewan Arts Board, Regina 1969

    Vachon, Marie. 'Survey on the socio-economic status of Canadian composers of serious music,' MA thesis, Carlton U 1975

    Swan, Susan, and White, Nancy. 'The woman as musicmaker: classical music: popular music,' Communiqué, May 1975

    Van Daele, Christa. 'From pedestal to podium: women in serious music,' Miss Chatelaine, Fall 1977

    Whittaker, Herbert. 'Ten years later - a history of Contact,' Canada Council Touring Office Bulletin, Jan 1980

    Lacroix, Jean-Guy, et al. Le Statut socioéconomique des musiciens membres de la Guilde des musiciens de Montréal (Quebec City, 1985)

    Green, Thomas, et al, eds. Careers in Music: A Guide for Canadian Students (Oakville, Ont 1986)

    Rousseau, Claudette. Vivre de la musique, conseils pratiques à l'intention des professionnels de la musique (Quebec City 1986)

    The Status of the Artist/Le Statut de l'artiste: Report of the Task Force on the Status of the Artist in Canada (Ottawa 1986)

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