A History of Brandon University’s School of Music

By Dr. Lawrence Jones

In 2007 Brandon University celebrated 100 years of the study of music at Brandon College and Brandon University. Remarkably, these studies were directed for most of those decades by two men: from 1907 to 1947, the Director of Music at Brandon College was William Lewis Wright, a native of Nova Scotia and graduate of Acadia University; and from 1948 to 1981, the Director was Lorne Watson, a native of Leamington, Ontario, and graduate of the University of Toronto.

I first encountered Lorne Watson in 1949, Director of Music for only a few months, he was invited to adjudicate piano classes at the South-West Manitoba Music Festival in Hartney. As a 13–year–old native of Ninga, I performed Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. His severe criticisms were delivered from the stage, and my father’s response was a stinging letter. Lorne replied with the offer of a scholarship to study with him. This was confirmed in a meeting with Dr. Evans, the President, and for the year 1949–50 I began the wrenching process of converting my pianistic standards to meet his new demands. Harmony and History classes were added to fill the 60-mile Saturday trips during one of Manitoba’s historic winters (recall the flood of 1950).

In those days, the Music Department of Brandon College was located in Clark Hall, headed by Residence Director Mrs. Darrach. The Music Director taught in the room that now serves the Vice-President Academic and Research. The office of the President’s secretary, and its neighboring rooms were music studios, and additional studios–some for teaching, some for practicing, were in an Annex at the bottom of the stairs. Small, and hot in winter, the atmospheric humidity levels measured below those of the Sahara Desert. The teaching staff was made up of piano teachers like Peggy Sharpe, Mary Smart, Jean Mann, Shirley Dilley, Elva Spalding; violin teacher Mae Selwood; and voice teacher Sophie Jones MacDonald.

The Music Department prepared students for the examinations of the Toronto (later Royal) Conservatory of Music, and when Lorne arrived in 1948, innovative Brandon College Diploma programs had disappeared under the strains of the Depression, and then of World War II. Brandon College was an arm of the University of Manitoba, and Lorne and Peggy Sharpe’s first initiative was to offer the music credits of the U of M’s programs in Music History, Harmony, and Counterpoint. This meant going back to school–Lorne to NYU, and Peggy to Northwestern, both for Master’s degrees. Bigger ambitions were generating plans, and during the Brandon College expansion of the late ’50s, a new Music Building was proposed and eventually built in 1963 (it is now the home of the School of Health Studies).

At the same time, the faculty needed to grow. In the early 60s, Lucien Needham was recruited to teach voice; Franz Zeidler, then David Sublette and later Walter Hekster to teach Clarinet; I to teach piano and theory; Ken Nichols to teach piano, theory and Orff educational methodology. To these were added sessional instructors, like Merton Utgaard, Director of the International Music Camp to teach brass and instrumental music education, Alice Hekster to teach bassoon and other woodwinds, and music education, June Jones to teach French horn and music education. A major addition to the faculty was the arrival in 1964, of Albert Pratz, one of Canada’s leading violinists, freed when the CBC dissolved the CBC Symphony orchestra, where he was Concertmaster. Two years later he suffered a major heart attack and in the search for a successor, Lorne turned, as a Centennial project, to the Halifax Trio: Francis Chaplin, violin, Edward Bisha, cello, and Gordon Macpherson, piano (freed when the CBC dissolved the CBC Halifax Orchestra, which he had directed). They were added to the faculty next year.

Our first Bachelor of Music class had arrived with the opening of the new building, in 1963–the first BMus class in Manitoba (the University of Manitoba followed a year later). It was a class of six. Increased numbers joined their ranks in succeeding years. Leonard Mayoh came from Acadia to replace Lucien Needham as voice teacher and choir director in 1967, and during the 70s numbers of students and faculty continued to climb. Sylvia and Robert Richardson arrived to reinforce voice, piano and theory programs. William Gordon—horn and music education; and offerings in woodwinds and composition grew with the arrival of Richard Bromley, flutist and composer, including the first classes using a synthesizer. The Heksters departed for the Netherlands, Bromley for Kentucky, with Bob Ford as his replacement. Edna Knock arrived to lead the elementary program in music education from her classroom in the Education Building. Ron Goddard took over the position in Clarinet and instrumental music education. James Mendenhall replaced Alice Hekster on bassoon, and initiated a Collegium Musicum to perform "Early Music".

The seventies were periods of growth and consolidation, and increasingly, of competition with the University of Manitoba’s programs. Gordon Macpherson chaired a committee preparing a proposal for a Master of Music, and the first class began in 1981.

In 1981, Lorne Watson took the last of his sabbaticals, and Gordon Macpherson took over as Acting Director, then as full-time Director. By the end of his term, the student body had reached a total of 187–the largest to that point, and only recently matched. On Gordon’s retirement in 1987, I took a five-year term as Dean.

All through the 70s, the 1963 building had become increasingly inadequate. Not enough studios, no space to rehearse large ensembles. Two neighboring houses were taken over to relieve congestion. Several building committees drew up proposals to enlarge the building, but in the late ’70s, with the arrival of Harold Perkins as president, the notion of an all-new building took hold. Under the chairmanship of William Gordon, a project proposal for the current building was prepared, and eventually approved. Construction of the Music Building then proceeded, financed in part by Winter Works and other federal programs; but only the first floor was completed in 1985, when classes were first offered there. The older building (and two houses) continued to serve as extra space. During my term as Dean (1987-92) there were two major priorities: to complete the building, and to deal with a crisis in the Music Education program. Federal, provincial, and considerable private funding finally came together in 1988, and the two remaining floors were completed and opened for business in that year. Thanks to William Gordon, this building has had remarkable success as a design–it is one of the finest music buildings in the country.

In 1987, the Manitoba Department of Education decreed that teachers holding a teaching certificate had to complete a Bachelor of Education degree, and our BMus degree with a Major in Music Education degree was no longer valid. The Faculty of Education’s position was that all courses listed under the name "education" had to fall under its jurisdiction. Then Dean of Education, Ralph Pippert, proposed a Joint Music Education Department, housed under both faculties and a joint BMus/Bed degree at the end of a five-year term. This program is still in place.

Following my term as Dean in 1992, Patrick Carrabre and Ron Goddard split the duties for a few years, ending with the arrival of Glen Carruthers (a graduate from the ’70s) as Dean from 1998 to 2008—one of the most successful Deanships in the history of the school. He now joins the faculty as a professor of Musicology. The faculty hired in the ’60s and ’70s was in place for thirty years or more, but with the 1993 death from fire of Francis Chaplin, and the retirements of Peggy Sharpe, Lorne Watson, Gordon Macpherson, Lawrence Jones, Sylvia and Robert Richardson, and now Jim Mendenhall and Bob Ford, the face of the faculty under the new Dean, Michael Kim, is undergoing rapid change.

The position of Brandon as a centre of music study was never a given, but always resulted from the initiative of dedicated leaders, who pursued the legacy of excellence begun in 1907 by William Lewis Wright. There has also been a history of public and governmental support that has made it plausible that a place this small can be a musical centre of national significance. As we continue, it will take this kind of leadership, and that level of support, for its successes to continue.

Biography of...

Dr. Lawrence Jones, Professor Emeritus of Music

A native of Southwestern Manitoba, Lawrence Jones was a member of the faculty of the School of Music at Brandon University for many years. From 1987 to 1992 he also served as its Dean. Although now retired, he continues his association with Brandon University as a teacher and pianist.

After completing music diplomas and a BA at the University of Manitoba, he went to Yale for a Master’s, and in 1985 he completed a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Iowa. His teachers have included Lome Watson (Brandon), Filmer Bubble (Winnipeg), Ellsworth Grumman and Ralph Kirkpatrick (Yale), Adele Marcus (New York), John Simms(Iowa)and KendallTaylor (London).

Dr. Jones has been active as a solo and ensemble pianist, and was broadcast repeatedly on CBC Radio, often as partner with violinist Francis Chaplin. With his daughter, cellist Laura Jones, he has given recitals in Winnipeg and Kitchener-Waterloo. An examiner for Conservatory Canada, he has adjudicated at festivals throughout the west, including Lethbridge, Moose Jaw, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Vancouver.

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