An examination of the development of the art of singing in Canada from its earliest documented incidences to its flourishing state in the late 20th century. The emphasis is on the exceptional contribution of those singers who, perhaps more than artists in any other field, have contributed in a major way to Canada's reputation abroad after 1850.
The Early Years
Singing, by individuals or groups, was the first musical activity to occur in New France, and subsequently the most widely practised. In the earliest days after their arrival in 1534 Jacques Cartier and his companions must have heard those traditional Aboriginal songs which have so interested historians and ethnologists. The French, who sang the mass and hymns in thanksgiving upon landing, were the first to perform European music on North American soil. They also brought along folksongs from several regions of France. Great numbers of these songs have been collected in the ensuing years - the first ones by Ernest Gagnon in the middle of the 19th century - and bear witness to the importance of singing in the life of the country's earliest settlers (see Folk music, Franco-Canadian). Singing not only held a place of honour in the services and rituals of the church but also flourished as a part of daily life, at social gatherings and benefit concerts, on journeys or during work in the fields, at political meetings and on patriotic feast days, in prize-giving ceremonies at the end of the school year, and in many other social settings. As singing did not require special training or accompaniment by instruments, it lay within everyone's capacity, and any person could practise it according to his ability, even without a knowledge of the rudiments of music. However, from the time of the French Regime, several merchants and high-level civil servants owned the notebooks d'Airs sérieux et à boire, published in great numbers in Paris, and which required a certain level of musical knowledge, as was part of a good education at the time. Meanwhile, the letter-writer Élizabeth Bégon tells us that people would gather and sing around the tables in the salons of Montreal. Although sacred cantiques on opera tunes by Lully and Campra, of which some books have survived, served as recreation in the convents, the same tunes were the object of Bachian parodies.
It was only towards the end of the 18th century that singing came to be regarded in Canada as a means of artistic expression, requiring special study and the development of a technique which included tone projection, placement of the voice, breath control, and interpretation. It was shortly thereafter that the first visits of theatrical companies with singers trained in Europe made amateurs aware that the voice in its natural state left much to be desired and could be improved through study, contrary to the prejudice which held that a fine natural voice could be destroyed if entrusted to a teacher. Nevertheless, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that Canada welcomed its first specialized voice teachers. Until then the study of singing was not distinct from that of music in general, as witness T.F. Molt'sTraité élémentaire de musique vocale (Quebec 1845) which, despite its title, is no more than a work of music theory and ear training, never dealing with the voice itself.
It is astonishing that in spite of this situation Canada in the mid-19th century was able to produce one singer destined quickly to attain the highest pinnacle of international fame. Emma Albani had studied only with her father when she gave her first public performance in 1856, but the excellence of her training was manifest even then; just two more years of study in France and in Italy prepared her for the stardom she was to enjoy from 1870 onward.
During the next hundred years numerous singers born or raised in Canada and trained at least partly (and often entirely) in Canada have attained national or international fame in opera, oratorio, concert, and recital, establishing Canada as a country known for its exceptional singers. Among these are Pierrette Alarie, Milla Andrew, Nancy Argenta, Odette Beaupré, Émile Belcourt, Donald Bell, Colette Boky, Jean Bonhomme, Pierre, Benoît and René Boutet, John Boyden, Cédia Brault, Victor Braun, Kathleen Brett, Donna Brown, Edmund Burke, Christopher Cameron, Yves Cantin, Clarice Carson, Pierre Charbonneau, Fernande Chiocchio, Claude Corbeil, Claudine Côté, Alan Crofoot, Tracy Dahl, Odette de Foras, Rosita del Vecchio, France Dion, Pauline Donalda, Mark DuBois, Paul Dufault, Graziella Dumaine, Céline Dussault, Jeanne Dusseau, Pierre Duval, Louise Edvina, Allan Fast, Gina Fiordaliso, Sarah Fischer, Maureen Forrester, Lyne and Hélène Fortin, Judith Forst, Paul Frey, Don Garrard, Éviola Gauthier, Jacques Gérard, Gaston Germain, Jeanne Gordon, Sandra Graham, Elizabeth Benson Guy, Denis Harbour, Mary Henderson, Ben Heppner, Kathleen Howard, Jean-Pierre Hurteau, Frances James, Raoul Jobin, Edward Johnson, Edward L. Johnson, Marie Laferrière, Béatrice La Palme, Gaétan Laperrière, Gabrielle Lavigne, Suzie LeBlanc, Louise Lebrun, Grégoire Legendre, Christine Lemelin, Daniel Lichti, Nicole Lorange, Germaine Manny, Richard Margison, Lois Marshall, Nicholas Massue, Ermanno Mauro, Kevin McMillan, Katharina Megli, François-Xavier Mercier, Morley Meredith, James Milligan, Norman Mittelmann, Allan Monk, Erik Oland, Cornelis Opthof, Marie-Danielle and Yoland Parent, Mona Paulee, Mariana Paunova, Irene Pavloska, Mark Pedrotti, Claude-Robin Pelletier, Adriane Pieczonka, Rodolphe Plamondon, Albert Quesnel, Louis and Gino Quilico, Sonia Racine, Christiane Riel, Catherine Robbin, Joseph Rouleau, Irene Salemka, Sylvia Saurette, Robert Savoie, Michael Schade, Léopold Simoneau, Teresa Stratas, Lilian Sukis, Janice Taylor, Micheline Tessier, Heather Thomson, Marie Toulinguet, Huguette Tourangeau, Édith Tremblay, Bernard Turgeon, André Turp, Peter van Ginkel, Lyn Vernon, Richard Verreau, Jon Vickers, Irena Welhasch-Baerg, and Edith Wiens. Several of these artists became known also as teachers, many while still at the height of busy performing careers.
In addition to performing the traditional repertoire, some singers have specialized in contemporary works (in particular those by Canadians). Notable among these specialists have been Billie Bridgman, Josèphe Colle, Jocelyne Fleury, Rosemarie Landry, Margo MacKinnon, Phyllis Mailing, Mary Morrison, Marie-Danielle and Yolande Parent, Gary Relyea, Roland Richard, Patricia Rideout, Roxolana Roslak, and Pauline Vaillancourt.
In the early 19th century singing began to be taught as a minor subject in convents, colleges, and seminaries, often by teachers of limited competence. One of Montreal's first distinguished voice teachers was Mme Petipas, who, along with her husband, M d'Anglars, gave private instruction and taught in several institutions from 1868 until 1880, when the couple returned to France. 'These distinguished artists have introduced to this city the serious and logical teaching of voice and French declamation,' wrote Le Canada musical (1 Aug 1880).
At about the same time, priests such as L.-A. Barbarin and J.-J. Perrault taught singing in their own way, from a liturgical point of view. It was this milieu which produced Guillaume Couture, who pursued his studies 1873-87 in Paris with Romain Bussine, a pupil of the celebrated Manuel Garcia. Couture did not take up a singing career, but he had several voice pupils, among them Achille Fortier, Édouard LeBel, Ada Moylan, and Rodolphe Plamondon. Later, Fortier, Marie Contant, Charles Labelle, and Céline Marier (all of whom became teachers) also studied in Paris with Bussine.
In subsequent years, voice teaching in Canada acquired a more solid foundation with the arrival of eminent foreign masters as well as Canadian teachers who had received their apprenticeship in the great schools and conservatories of France, Italy, England, and Germany. This gave rise to several generations of singers who, while possessing remarkable voices, did not identify themselves with particular schools or traditions. The Canadian singer became known for the ability to sing in several languages and various styles.
Among teachers prominent in Montreal in the 20th century have been Louise André, Albert Clerk-Jeannotte, AlbertCornellier, Adelina Czapska, Marie Daveluy, Reine Décarie, José Delaquerrière, Edith and Luciano Della Pergola, Bernard Diamant (also in Toronto), France Dion, Lucille and Robert Evans, Roger Filiatrault, Sarah Fischer, Gaston Germain, Ruzena Herlinger, Salvator Issaurel, Margaret Kalil, Roger Larivière, Arthur Laurendeau, Ria Lenssens, Jacqueline Martel, Jeanne Maubourg, Carmen Mehta, Dina Maria Narici, Alice Raymond, Frank H. Rowe, Albert Roberval, Jan Simons, and Mrs A.C. Wieland. In Quebec City, the most eminent have been Rolande Dion, Adine Fafard-Drolet, Louis Gravel, Émile Larochelle, Guy Lepage, F.-X. Mercier, and Isa Jeynevald-Mercier.
In Toronto and other Ontario cities the main teachers have been Dorothy Allan Park, Dalton Baker (also in Vancouver), Giuseppe Carboni, Bertha Carey Morrow, Gina Cigna, Francesco D'Auria, Eduardo Ferrari-Fontana, Nina Gale, Howell Glynne, Albert Ham, Elliott Haslam, Emmy Heim, Irene Jessner, Weldon Kilburn, George Lambert, Campbell McInnes, Otto Morando, Aksel Schiøtz, Helen Simmie, Rechab Tandy, Adine Tremblay, Bernard Turgeon, Ernesto Vinci (also in Halifax and Banff), and Albert Whitehead.
Among teachers active in Winnipeg have been W.H. Anderson, Nina Dempsey, Thérèse Deniset, Simone Estelle (the last two in St Boniface), John Goss (also in Vancouver), Stanley Hoban, George Kent, May Lawson, Doris Lewis, Victor Martens (also in Kitchener-Waterloo), Frederick Newnham (also in Nova Scotia), Gladys Whitehead (also in Hamilton), and J. Roberto Wood (also in Victoria). In Alberta, Odette de Foras, Glyndwr Jones (also in Vancouver), Jean Létourneau, and Lucien Needham have trained singers, as have Alicia Birkett and Helen Davies Sherry in Saskatchewan. In British Columbia, Nancy Paisley Benn, Donald Brown, Isabelle Burnada, Catharina Hendrikse, Gideon Hicks, Phylis Inglis, Frances James, Phyllis Mailing, Avis Phillips, and William Morton have been among the leading teachers. Teodor Brilts, Audrey Farnell, Gloria Richard, and Mariss Vetra (also in Toronto) have been prominent in the Maritimes, and Eleanor Jerrett in Newfoundland.
Awards And Competitions
In the late 19th century Béatrice La Palme and Ada Moylan were awarded Strathcona scholarships, and in 1916 for the first time the Prix d'Europe was given to a singer, Graziella Dumaine. Lionel Daunais won it in 1926. In the 1950s the radio competitions 'Singing Stars of Tomorrow', 'Nos Futures Étoiles', and 'Opportunity Knocks' stimulated the discovery of many young singers, among them several who have pursued international careers. The Montreal International Music Competition was devoted to singing in 1967, 1970, 1973, 1977, 1981, 1985 and 1989. During the 1977 competition, a 'Colloque sur le chant' featured such eminent personalities of the singers' world as Rose Bampton, Clarice Carson, Maureen Forrester, Don Garrard, and Bidú Sayão, the accompanist Gerald Moore, and the opera directors Lotfi Mansouri and Terry McEwen. The National Vocal Competition has been held in Guelph, Ont, in 1967, 1977, 1982 and 1987.
See also Art song; Choir schools; Choral singing; Hymns and hymn tunes; McGill Opera Studio; Opera performance; Oratorio composition; Oratorio performance; Regina Conservatory Opera; Singing schools; University of Toronto Opera Division.