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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 7, No. 3

Book Review

by Steven Bélanger / November 1, 2001

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In Their Own Words: Canadian Choral Conductors
Edited by Holly Higgins Jonas
Dundurn Press, 2001
315 pp., $24.99

Editor Holly Higgins Jonas travelled across this vast country to interview more than fifty of Canada’s most noted choral conductors, and the result is a highly entertaining “forum for them to tell their own stories.” Though this is not a comprehensive “who’s who” guide to Canadian choral conductors, the stories provide valuable insight into some of the prominent figures of the Canadian choral music scene. Although each of the ten provinces (and one territory) is represented, due to space limitations, the editor has chosen to feature only conductors of community amateur choirs. However, since most conductors of professional choirs have also worked with amateur choirs of all guises, you will nonetheless find testimony from such noted musicians as Jon Washburn, Noel Edison, Iwan Edwards and Diane Loomer. My only regret is that Ms. Higgins Jonas could not travel back through time to interview some of the greatest conductors of Canada’s past (Elmer Iseler instantly comes to mind).

The book begins with an introduction by Patricia Abbott, executive director of the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors, as well as a few words by the editor herself, after which we are presented with no less than 35 career stories which form the bulk of this publication. Each conductor outlines his or her musical education, how and why they came to be choral conductors, memorable events that have shaped their careers, and some touching stories describing how they were first drawn to music. But the similarities do not end there. One is struck by the heartfelt acknowledgments of teachers and other mentors, and their overwhelming gratitude of having the opportunity to work with the multitude of talented choristers across Canada. Not all of these conductors are of Canadian origin, and most did not receive their training in this country, yet all have decided to pursue a career in a country with a rich artistic heritage such as ours. There is unanimous agreement that Canadian choral music is thriving--truly an inspiration for all music lovers and musicians, amateur and professional alike.

Part II of the book presents us with 17 career vignettes of up and coming conductors, followed by an essay entitled “Reflections on Canadian Choral Music, Composers and himself” by noted conductor and composer Donald Patriquin. Mr. Patriquin is also kind enough to provide us with an impressive list of Canadian Choral Composers, with their website addresses, a list of their works, and the publishers who have made this music available to us.

In the words of Patricia Abbott, “if it is true that he who sings prays twice, then surely there is a special place in heaven for those who help, teach and motivate others to sing.” The stories presented in this book should prove to be yet another motivational tool for those who have not yet had the pleasure of working with the fine conductors our country has to offer.


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