Watson Henderson, Ruth

Ruth (Louise) Watson Henderson (b Watson, m Henderson). Pianist, composer, teacher, b Toronto 23 Nov 1932; ARCT 1949, LRCT 1951, hon FRCCO (2003). Ruth Watson Henderson was the recipient of many scholarships and awards while studying piano 1937-45 with Viggo Kihl and 1945-52 with Alberto Guerrero at the Toronto Conservatory of Music (Royal Conservatory of Music). She continued her studies 1952-4 with Hans Neumann in New York on scholarship from the Mannes College of Music. Her composition teachers included Oscar Morawetz, Richard Johnston, and Samuel Dolin. After her professional debut in Toronto in 1952 she was active as a concert pianist appearing frequently as soloist with Canadian orchestras and regularly on CBC radio. In 1956 she won the grand prize of the CBC's Opportunity Knocks. She taught and was an organist-choirmaster 1957-61 in Winnipeg and 1962-8 in Kitchener, Ont, returning thereafter to Toronto.

Her Compositions
Henderson began composing while accompanist of the Festival Singers 1968-79 and since then has been a prolific composer, writing more than 80 pieces for the choral repertory alone. Her harmonies often draw from modal or impressionistic influences and her rhythms closely follow the text she is setting. Many of her compositions continue to be popular in Canada and around the world, where she is often requested to accompany or adjudicate at festivals and competitions. Best known as a composer of choral music, Henderson has also written for organ, piano, string orchestra, and for winds, brass and percussion. Her Chromatic Partita for Organ was a prizewinner at the International Competition for Women Composers in Mannheim, Germany, in 1989.

She has received commissions from the Alliance for Canadian New Music Projects (Through the Eyes of Children), the Guelph Spring Festival (The Ballad of St George), the Oriana Singers (Toronto) (Songs of the Nativity), the Toronto Children's Chorus (The Last Straw, featuring tenor Ben Heppner), the Amadeus Choir of Scarborough (Voices of the Earth), and the Elora Festival (Five Ontario Folk Songs), among others. Henderson's more recent commissions include works for the 25th anniversary of the Contemporary Showcase in 1995; the 2002 national convention of the American Guild of Organists (Darkness to Light); the Mount Royal Kantorei (Magnificat); and Chorus Niagara's 40th anniversary in 2003 (Voice of Niagara). Upcoming commissions include a work for the Bach Elgar Choir of Hamilton, combined with the Hamilton Children's Chorus.

Association with Toronto Children's Chorus

Ruth Watson Henderson became the accompanist for the Toronto Children's Chorus when it was founded in 1978, and since then has created many compositions designed for performance by young people. Clear Sky and Thunder, a music-drama about Inuit children, was premiered by the Toronto Children's chorus in 1984. Since then, the Toronto Children's Chorus has been a main performer of their accompanist's output.

Broadcasts and Recordings

Much of Watson Henderson's music has been published and has been performed internationally. Her pieces are also featured as title tracks on many recordings, including My Heart Soars and Ye Makers of Song, both released by the Toronto Children's Chorus; The Last Straw, released by the Amabile Boys Choir; and When Music Sounds, recorded by the Oriana Singers. A concert of Henderson's works, performed in celebration of her 70th birthday by the Elmer Iseler Singers, was released by CBC in 2004, under the title Sing We Joyful.

Awards; Activities After 2000

In addition to performing as a pianist and composing, Ruth Watson Henderson is active as a church organist and a teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music. Henderson has received many awards including the National Choral Award for Outstanding Choral Composition in 1992, for Voices of Earth, and the Distinguished Service Award of the Ontario Choral Federation in 1996. Beginning in 2002, Choirs Ontario has held the Ruth Watson Henderson choral composition competition. This biennial competition judges new choral works, alternating between pieces for treble choir and full adult voice choir. In 2003, Watson was presented with an honorary Fellowship in the Royal Canadian College of Organists. She is a member of the Association of Canadian Women Composers, the Canadian League of Composers, and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. She is music director for Kingsway Lambton United Church in Toronto and still serves as accompanist to the Toronto Children's Chorus.

Selected Compositions

Orchestral
Suite for Strings (1985), CMC 1985

Keyboard
Six Miniatures for Piano, FH 1984

Chromatic Partita for Organ (Honourable Mention in the International Competition for Women Composers). RE 1989

Toccata on "Westminster Abbey," commissioned by the Toronto Centre of the RCCO 1992, JMR

Meditation of "Herzliebster Jesu," commissioned by the Toronto Centre of the RCCO 1992, JMR

Variations for Organ on "Ode to Newfoundland," 1997 C

Choral
Pater Noster. 1973. SATB. GVT 1973

Missa Brevis. 1976. SSATTBarB. GVT 1976. 1983. US-1983/1984. UBC unnumbered (University Singers, Fankhauser conductor)/P2-C (cass) (Powell River Academy Singers, Don James dir)

Lullaby for the Christ Child. 1979. Unison chorus, (SATB, piano), (orch). GVT 1979

Musical Animal Tales. 1979. S, SA, SSA, piano. GVT 1981. TCC WRC1-1456 (Toronto Children's Chorus)

Clear Sky and Thunder, music-drama (L. Peterson). SSAA children's chorus, fl, piano, percussion. Ms

Barnyard Carols. 1986. Unison chorus, fl, viola, violoncello. GVT 1987

Creation's Praise. 1986. SSAA, SSA, brass, organ (SSAA, SSA, piano 4 hands). GVT 1987

The Bloor Street Mass. 1987. SATB, wind quintet, organ, timpani (percussion), (Chor, organ). Ms

Missa Brevis No. 2. 1989. Congregation, organ, (SATB). GVT 1990

Three Motets.1989. SATB. Randal Eagan 1990

The Last Straw, Christmas cantata (Thury). 1990. SSAA children's chorus, piano, english horn, percussion. RWH

Voices of the Earth (Lampman, St Francis). 1991. Chamb choir, SATB, children's choir, 2 piano (orch). RWH

The Song My Paddle Sings (E.P. Johnson). 1992. SATB, piano. GVT

In Flanders Fields (John McCrae). 1993. SSA, a capella. RWH

Sing All Ye Joyful (J.R.R. Tolkein). 1994. SATB, orch. GVT

When Music Sounds (Walter de la Mare). 1995. SSAA, piano. GVT

In Memoriam Elmer Iseler. 1998. SSAATTBB a cappella. McG

A Joyful Song of Praise (David McKane). 2000. SATB, organ, brass quintet optional. Ms

From Darkness to Light (Wilfred Watson). 2001. Baritone, mezzo-soprano, SATB, organ, harp, trumpets, timpanis, and strings. RD

Magnificat. 2002. SATB, organ. HNS

The Voice of Niagara (Sarah Pratt). 2003. SATB, orch. Ms

See also Discography for Toronto Children's Chorus, Elmer Iseler Singers, Oriana Singers, and the Amabile Choirs.