Music in St. Catharines | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Music in St. Catharines

St. Catharines. Ontario city, incorporated 1876, situated on the south shore of Lake Ontario. Known informally as "the Garden City," it was centred on the earliest of the four Welland canals. The present canal runs along the city's eastern limits.

Music in St. Catharines

St. Catharines. Ontario city, incorporated 1876, situated on the south shore of Lake Ontario. Known informally as "the Garden City," it was centred on the earliest of the four Welland canals. The present canal runs along the city's eastern limits.

The earliest documented musical events in St Catharines took place in the second-floor room of the town hall (the County Building), built in 1848. Fowler's Hall (1864), seating 500, and Runchey's Hall in nearby Port Dalhousie (later part of St Catharines) were also widely used. The Grand Opera House, seating 1200, opened in 1877 and two years later boasted an orchestra formed by John H. Hyde. The house presented concerts, musical productions (eg, H.M.S. Pinafore), vaudeville (eg, the Marks Brothers Co), and plays until 1926.

James Sugden, the organist for many years (after 1860) at St George's Anglican Church, and the organist Angelo M. Read, a native of the city and a teacher at Bishop Ridley College (later Ridley College), were among those who promoted music in early St Catharines. Subsequent music directors at the college were William T. Thompson 1900-12, A.C. Gore-Sellon 1913-18, and Sydney George Bett 1923-64 (b Grimsby, England 1896, d St Catharines 1964; D. MUS [Toronto] 1933). Bett was followed by Peter Partridge 1964-9, Peter Orme 1969-71, John Butler 1971-2, Michael Tansley 1972-80 and 1990-9, George Dunkley 1980-7, Tom Mitchell 1987-8, Barry Devereux 1988-90, and Paul Maynard since 2000. The composer Eric Dowling was organist-choirmaster 1928-42 at St Paul's United Church (following Charles Peaker) and 1942-80 at St George's Anglican Church. He was president 1947-9 of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.

The Lincoln County Music Association, which in 1933 established the Lincoln County Music Festival (later the Garden City Kiwanis Music Festival), was founded in 1922. The St Catharines Community Concerts Association was established in 1930 and offered a regular concert series until 1999. The earliest band in the area, the Thorold Reed Band (1851), still performs.

The St Catharines Philharmonic was formed in 1857, the St Catharines Brass Band in 1860, and a choral group in 1864. The Lincoln and Welland Regimental Band (1863) continues to give regular concerts at downtown Montebello Park, a site of various musical events throughout the summer. The Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band (1953) consistently won in band competitions in Canada and the US until it disbanded in 1993. The Braemar Pipe Band of St Catharines, founded in the 1970s, is the largest pipe band in the Niagara Region.

The Niagara Symphony (established in 1948 as the St Catharines Civic Orchestra) appointed James Fusco as composer-in-residence in 1981-93. Among its music directors were Leonard Atherton, Uri Mayer, Ermanno Florio, Michael Reason. In 1999 the orchestra appointed Daniel Swift as music director, a post he still holds. The orchestra, in addition to a regular masters and pops series during the fall to spring concert season, offers children aged four to 14 a summer music camp held on the campus of Ridley College.

Niagara Symphony Chorus (later Chorus Niagara) was formed in 1963 as part of the St Catharines Symphony (later Niagara Symphony). It was first under the direction of conductors of the symphony. Ian Grundy was its first chorus master. Robert Cooper was made conductor and artistic director in 1989, a position he still holds. Under his direction the chorus became an independent institution in 1997. The St Catharines (later Niagara) Madrigal Singers formed in 1973 by conductor Leonard Atherton, disbanded in 1980. The Johann Sebastian Bach Society of St Catharines, a choral group of about 25 voices, gave regular concerts 1979-84 under the direction of Tom McGary. The group also sponsored organ recitals.

The Rodman Hall Arts Centre, opened in 1960, includes a recital hall for chamber music. Elektra Concerts, founded in 1982 by Ronald Tremain and Fusco, presented contemporary music there until 1989. The group also fostered composers of the Niagara Region. In 1989 Rodman Hall began its own concert series of classical music and jazz. Brock University acquired Rodman Hall in 2003. Concerts feature the Gallery Players of Niagara (1994) under music director Margaret Gay and the Niagara Vocal Ensemble (an adult female chamber choir) under conductor Harris Loewen (associate professor of music, Brock).

Brock University, where a music department was established in 1970 under Tremain, has two theatres where it offered an annual concert series until 1998. In 1999 the Niagara Symphony was named orchestra-in-residence with a full season of concerts. Brock's music department offers a regular Tuesday noon series featuring faculty and students. The University Wind Ensemble, the University Women's Chorus, the University Chamber Choir, and the University Choral Series also hold performances.

The Brock University Philosophical Society presented annual recitals from 1982 to the late 1990s with guests such as Janusz Stechley and Anton Kuerti (piano), and Ofra Harnoy (cello) to raise scholarship funds for students majoring in philosophy. The city's main public library and the refurbished (1989) St Thomas' Anglican Church are additional concert venues.

The Niagara Youth Orchestra was founded by Paul van Dongen in 1965 as an arm of the St Catharines Civic Orchestra (Niagara Symphony). It subsequently became an independent organization with conductor Tak-Ng Lai (1972-92). Stan Kopac succeeded as music director, followed by Michael Newnham in 2000. The youth orchestra frequently travels abroad. In 1998 a three-week tour took it to Holland, Germany, Belgium, and France; concerts were given in France, Switzerland, and Italy in 1994. In 2002 it performed in Western Canada; a 2005 tour of Nova Scotia covered Halifax, Fort Louisbourg, Antigonish, and participation in the PEI Indian River concert series. The Junior Niagara Youth Orchestra is under the direction of Laura Thomas, who is also associate conductor of the Niagara Symphony.

Concordia Chamber Concerts (1984), founded by Roger Humann, presents concerts in the chapel of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary. The Niagara Chamber Choir (45 voices), formed in 1988 by Tom Mitchell, performs throughout the Niagara Region, New York State, and in Toronto. The Chapel Singers (1976), founded by Henry Goerzen, then music director for the Lincoln County Board of Education, regularly gives concerts in St Catharines and throughout the Niagara Region. Goerzen held the post of choir director for 22 years; Joyce Rempel now holds the position.

Notable musicians born or raised in St Catharines include pianist Anahid Alexanian; the fiddler Abbie Andrews (b St Catharines 1920, d there 1991), composer of the classic Lord Alexander's Reel and leader of the Canadian Ranch Boys, a popular country group in the Niagara region during the 1940s and the 1950s); the organist-teacher Robert Hunter Bell; opera singer Countess Laura de Turczynowicz (b Laura Blackwell, St Catharines ca 1877, d California ca 1953; an opera singer in Europe and US; an opera director in San Diego, Cal, and Victoria, BC, in the 1920s; and head of the Conservatory Opera Company established at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, now Royal Conservatory of Music, in 1928); the pianist and bandleader Billy Bissett; Clayton Hare; cellist David Hetherington; James Hiscott; Gene Lees; soprano Kathryn Newman (Canadian Opera Company 1960-71); Walter Ostanek; trumpeters Joseph Umbrico (Toronto Symphony), Kenny Wheeler, and Stuart Laughton (member of La Scala Opera orchestra, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Toronto Philharmonic, the Laughton-Humphreys Duo, and since 2003 the Canadian Brass, of which he was a founding member); soprano Connie Novis (an opera singer in England and member of the Garrick Street Collegium); and Rush drummer Neil Peart. The Maritimes group, The Trews, now calls St Catharines home.

St Catharines was the site of the founding meeting in 1954 of Ontario Federation of Symphony Orchestras and was the location until 1986 of the Canadian Music Educators' Association Resource Centre, directed by Wallace Laughton until his retirement.

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