Music in Windsor

Southern Ontario city across the Detroit River from Detroit, Mich. First settled in 1834, it was established as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway in 1854 and was incorporated as a town in 1858 and as a city in 1892.

Windsor, Ont

Windsor, Ont. Southern Ontario city across the Detroit River from Detroit, Mich. First settled in 1834, it was established as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway in 1854 and was incorporated as a town in 1858 and as a city in 1892. It became an automobile manufacturing centre after the Ford Motor Co established a plant in Windsor in 1904. The population of metropolitan Windsor was 194,000 in 1990.

For musical entertainment Windsor residents have greatly benefited from the proximity of Detroit. This convenience has sometimes inhibited the growth and maintenance of Windsor's ensembles but nevertheless, the city has developed strong resources of its own.

Throughout Windsor's history, choral music has been important. A typical program at All Saints Anglican Church, 12 Mar 1875, offered excerpts from Haydn's The Creation, a Mozart mass, Spohr's Last Judgement, and Handel's Messiah. H. Whorlow Bull (b England 1872, d Windsor 1938) conducted the 100-150-voice Windsor and Walkerville Choral Society 1905-19, during which time it performed Messiah (twice), Elijah (twice), Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise, Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, Gounod's Faust (concert performance), Elgar's For the Fallen, and other works. The society usually was accompanied by organ, but sometimes by organ and piano, and occasionally by small orchestra. Oratorios later were performed by the Border Scottish Choir of Windsor, formed in 1924 and conducted by Bull, the Schubert Choir of Windsor, formed in 1926, the Windsor Choral Union, formed in 1940, the Windsor Choral Society, established in 1956, and many church choirs. The Classic Chorale, founded by Richard Householder in 1977, was Windsor's premier choral ensemble through the 1980s. A select group of 30 to 35 singers, mostly amateurs but not students, it gave a subscription series of three to four concerts per year and performed regularly with the Windsor Symphony Orchestra. A larger group, the Windsor Community Choir (founded in 1974) is open to everyone without restriction.

Before 1920 some 13 Windsor bands performed in light opera, presentations of sacred music, minstrel shows, and military functions. Among the light operas were Richard Stahl's Said Pascha in 1900 and Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore in 1901. Henry Philp was the leader, ca 1925, of the Ford City Brass Band and of the Windsor Battalion Band. Phil Murphy (1902-75) settled in Windsor in 1927 and formed a service club band for boys. After active service as a bandmaster in World War II he returned to the city, and in 1948 he formed the Windsor Federation of Musicians Concert Band (later the 'Music Under the Stars' concert band). In addition Murphy served 1961-74 as conductor of the Detroit Fire Dept Band and was music director of the Windsor Light Opera. Another Windsor bandmaster, prominent in the 1940s and 1950s, was Peter C. Allan, president of the CBA (CBDA) 1953-4 and a composer of works for band and solo band instruments, many published by Waterloo. Among local bands active in the 1980s were the Windsor Community Concert Band, the Senior Citizens' Band, and the Windsor Police Pipe Band. Three student organizations of note were the Optimist Band, the Scarlet Brigade, and the Spirit of Windsor.

Attempts to train an amateur orchestra were begun in the early 1920s by the violin teacher Henry McCaw and continued by H.P.C.S. Stewart, organist at St Andrew's Church. The Border Cities Amateur Orchestral Society, said to have been formed in 1923, may have been McCaw's orchestra or a separate ensemble. The Windsor SO, founded in 1947 under Matti Holli, became the city's permanent orchestral ensemble and has performed mainly in the Cleary Auditorium. The International Youth Symphony Orchestra was founded by Holli in 1965 and gave its first concert in 1966; it had board and orchestra personnel from both sides of the US-Canadian border. After Holli's death in 1977 the orchestra was directed by his son-in-law, Bruce Curry, for several years before it disbanded in the mid-1980s. The Windsor Community Orchestra, founded by James Tamurini in 1982, has given three to five concerts per year in various locations around the city.

Musical theatre in Windsor was represented in the 1980s by the venerable Windsor Light Opera Association, which began its annual productions of operetta and musical comedy in 1949; by the music theatre program of the University of Windsor; and by several community groups, of which the best known was Theatre Alive, directed by Brian and Florence Raisbeck.

Organizations which, over the years, have sponsored recitals and lectures have included the Windsor Musical Society, founded in 1875, the Derthick Musical and Literary Club, founded ca 1890, the Music, Literature and Art Club, founded in 1903, and the Matinée Musicale, founded in 1926. Lectures and recitals have been a regular part of the 'Christian Culture Series' sponsored by Assumption College of the University of Windsor beginning in the 1940s. In the 1970s and 1980s these were supplemented by an annual recital series sponsored by the university's School of Music. Workshops and recitals by distinguished artists were also presented from time to time by the local chapter of the ORMTA. The 'Largely Canadian' series was a program of chamber music concerts produced by Paul McIntyre at the Art Gallery of Windsor. In the course of four seasons (1983-7), this series presented over 50 works by some 40 Canadian composers, including concert performances of Quesnel's Colas et Colinette and Lavallée's The Widow, as well as festival concerts celebrating the accomplishments of Violet Archer and Otto Joachim.

Instruction in music began in 1864 at St Mary's Academy, the first Ontario school of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Salomon Mazurette taught music there while living in Detroit in the mid-1870s, and his compositions Recollections of the Past (Whitney) and a scherzo valse The Turtle Dove (Whitney) bore the inscription 'expressly for and dedicated to the pupils of St. Mary's Academy, Windsor, Ont.' In the 1890s and early 1900s private music teaching was supplemented by the Windsor Conservatory of Music, the Grovenberg Academy, and a Windsor branch of the Detroit Institute of Music. Only the Ursuline School of Music (founded in 1915) and St Mary's Academy continued in the 1970s, but an important new institution, the Académie St Cécile, opened its doors in 1980, offering preparatory instruction in piano, voice, string, and wind instruments, solfege and theory. Assumption College offered music as part of its curriculum in 1894. H. Whorlow Bull, who in 1909 became supervisor of music in the public schools of Windsor and Walkerville, introduced Tonic Sol-fa and an annual music festival. However, by 1925 Windsor was more dependent on the Detroit Cons, the Detroit Institute of Musical Art, and the Detroit School of Music for musical instruction. The University of Windsor music courses, introduced in 1959, and its B MUS program, introduced in 1967, were a sign of Windsor's growing independence. Also introduced in 1967 was the Centennial Music Festival, organized by local music teachers, which presented at the beginning of each May a full week of competitions for young musicians between the ages of six and twenty.

The Brothers-In-Law, formed in 1963, have been a successful Windsor pop group. Through the 1980s Windsor's best-known pop performer was jazz flutist Alexander Zonjic, who could claim a large and loyal following internationally. Zonjic's recordings revealed him as equally at ease playing with Erwin Monroe, principal flutist of the Detroit SO, or with jazz pianist Bob James; with James he made several tours of Latin America and the Far East.

Among musicians born in Windsor have been the singer Iris Bala, Victor Braun, the lyricist Raymond B. Egan, Marguerite Gignac, the guitarist Stacey Heydon, Margo MacKinnon, the soprano Jeannine Morand, Émile Normand, the rock musicians Alexander 'Skip' Spence and Jack Scott, and Jerry and Tony Toth. Musicians born in the surrounding region include Patricia Snell Crum and Lorne Watson from Leamington (also the home of the Leamington Choral Society), Jeanne Gordon from Wallaceburg, Douglas Millson from Kingsville, and Sylvia Tyson from Chatham. The soprano Emilia Cundari received her early training at St Mary's Academy.


Further Reading

  • Mason, Lawrence. 'Ontario vistas: II: the border cities,' Toronto Globe, 11 Jul 1925

    Hall, Frederick A. 'Musical life in Windsor: 1875-1901,' CMB, 6, Spring-Summer 1973