Documented early musical activities include a production of The Pirates of Penzance in the 1880s. In 1907 William James Nelson and his wife, Kate Bryce (b Marquis, a pupil of Frank Welsman), began pioneer work in music. Ernest F. Layton, the organist at Knox Presbyterian Church prior to 1919, and his wife, Stella, a soprano, also were prominent until the 1930s. George and Katherine Brown (violin and piano respectively) accompanied silent movies and in 1935 established the city's first music store, later known as Leister's Music.
In 1933 Jack Patey formed a dance band called the Ambassadors' Orchestra. The military band of the 18th Field Brigade, Royal Canadian Artillery, conducted by Lewis Hurlbutt, flourished in the late 1930s. Also discontinued by the war but revived briefly in the 1950s was the Rotary Club Minstrel Show begun by J. Milton Moffat in 1935.
Arthur (Kingsley) Putland (b England 1898, d Lethbridge 6 Apr 1975) was organist-choirmaster 1943-64 at Southminster United Church and lectured 1957-64 at Lethbridge Junior College and 1967-73 at the University of Lethbridge; he also composed church and patriotic music. A 16-voice female choir, the Glee Singers, was founded in 1936 and directed by Janet McIlvena McLeod into the 1940s. Another female ensemble, the Youth Choir, formed in 1943 by Anne Campbell, developed in 1963 into the Teen-Clefs, which in turn in 1968 became the nucleus of the Anne Campbell Singers. These groups won prizes in competitions in Europe and performed at Expo 67 in Montreal and at Expo 70 in Osaka. A further ensemble under Campbell, the Linnet Singers, began in 1977. The Lethbridge Junior Band was formed by Frank Hosek, Sr, in 1946 and supported by the Lethbridge Music Club. It ceased to exist in 1967 when the schools initiated a band program. A community concert band was formed about 1985 under Robert M. Cook but in 1991 the only marching band was a small Legion pipe band.
Among touring performers who appeared in or near Lethbridge were Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen, who in the 1930s played several summer engagements at Waterton Lakes Park, and the artists presented by the Lethbridge Women's Music Club (see Lethbridge Music Club). After its introduction to Alberta in 1946, Fred M. Gee's Celebrity Concert Series served Lethbridge, and was sponsored at first by the Lethbridge Junior Chamber of Commerce and later by the Quota Club. The Allied Arts Council of Lethbridge, organized in 1957, and the Lethbridge Overture Concerts, formed in 1959, also presented touring artists. These two groups ceased operations with the increasing development of local talent; the University of Lethbridge then took over the role of concert presenter. Harry Belafonte, Liona Boyd, Clara Butt, the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Canadian Brass, the COC, the Don Cossack Choir, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Maureen Forrester, the Hart House String Quartet, Harry Lauder, Lois Marshall, the Minneapolis SO, John Ogdon, Lily Pons, Quartet Canada, Thomas L. Thomas, Jon Vickers, the Vienna Boys Choir, and William Warfield are among the noted performers and performing groups who have appeared in Lethbridge.
In 1960, 24 amateur musicians, conducted by Albert Rodnunsky, formed the Lethbridge Symphony Orchestra (see Orchestras). Some of the orchestra's musicians joined various medical doctors, dentists, teachers, and students in 1963 to form the Big Band (still active in 1991), conducted by J.H. Noble. Other offshoots of the Lethbridge SO have been the Symphony Chorus, the Symphony Women's League, and the Southern Showcase, which in 1964 became the Lethbridge Musical Theatre and presented Finian's Rainbow and Oklahoma under the direction of Rodnunsky. The Lethbridge Musical Theatre became a separate entity in 1968 and remained active in 1991. The Symphony Chorus, however, ended in the 1970s because of a shortage of adequate male singers. It was succeeded by Vox Musica, a university-based community choir formed in 1984, and a semi-professional group, the University Singers, both choirs under the direction of George Evelyn. The Southern Alberta Chamber Orchestra, begun in 1981 as the Lethbridge Symphony Chamber Orchestra, has been directed by Stewart Grant.
In order to produce more string players, a sub-committee of the symphony association, initiated under the Lethbridge SO presidency of Margaret Nelson with the support of Alberta Culture, the Canada Council, School Districts 51 and 9, the Kiwanis Club, the University of Lethbridge, and Dresser Clark Ltd, set up the Lethbridge String Instrument Program, using a modified Suzuki method. With Norbert Boehm as instructor, a school violin program began in 1975. Cello classes started in 1978 under David Conroy, and a string program at the grade 4 level was initiated in September 1978. Boehm and Conroy were employed to form the beginnings of a professional core for the Lethbridge SO. An offshoot, Musaeus (string quartet with oboe) has toured Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia, and has performed on CBC radio.
Music education in Lethbridge goes back at least to the 1920s, when P.J. Collins taught tonic sol-fa in elementary schools. Janet McIlvena McLeod, as 'Miss McIlvena,' presented on the CBC during the 1940s Alberta's first school broadcast, 'Sing and Play'. She was music supervisor in the city schools. In 1942, Kate B. Nelson and Florence B. Campbell organized the Lethbridge branch of the Alberta Music Teachers' Association (ARMTA after 1947). In 1991 the association continued to sponsor concerts by young artists annually; among these guests have been Angela Cheng, Jamie Syer, and Jeffrey Calman. In 1965 Albert Rodnunsky started a school band program at Hamilton Junior High School. The Dept of Music of the University of Lethbridge opened in 1967 and granted its first B MUS in 1975 to Marcia Swanston, now with the COC.
The first Lethbridge District Competition Festival took place in 1930 with Healey Willan as adjudicator. In 1952 the Lethbridge Festival Association was taken over by the Kiwanis Club. In 1973 the club established its music festival scholarship trust fund under committee chairman Steve Wild. In 1990 scholarships totalling $14,000 were awarded. That year the festival celebrated its golden anniversary, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of Kiwanis International. Close to 2000 entries were recorded, and over 7000 young people participated.
Among musicians born in or near Lethbridge are Dale Bartlett (at New Dayton), Gordon K. Greene (at Cardston), Joni Mitchell (at Fort McLeod), Linda Lee Thomas (at Cardston), and Thomas Williams (Lethbridge).
Author Margaret Nelson, Philip M. Wults
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