“She has done more for the arts in Vancouver than any other single person.”
– Hugh Pickett, referring to Iby Koerner.
In 1947, during its early years, the Arts Council, in conjunction with the Musicians Union, presented a chamber opera at the Point Grey Junior High School. This was conducted by Albert Steinberg, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert master. Works by Handel and Bach were featured, with John Avison at the piano. The result was the formation of the Friends of Chamber Music Society which presented a founding concert the following spring. Here was an example of the Arts Council’s ability to undertake an important venture which inspired in an equally important “spin-off.”
In 1950, the Arts Council and the Vancouver: Symphony Orchestra co-sponsored the first symposium on Canadian Contemporary Music, involving musicians from all parts of Canada. Alex Walton, brother of British composer Sir William Walton, had become Arts Council president in 1951, and was the vital chair of this event. The symposium drew tremendous nation-wide interest, with 125 composers submitting 155 scores. As a consequence of this deluge, the three-day event had to be postponed to allow the musical director of the symposium, Vancouver Symphony conductor Jacques Singer, time to consider the scores with which he was inundated. The American composer Aaron Copeland was one of the final judges. All this excitement meant an increase in the budgeted costs. The Vancouver Sun, the Province and the CBC came to the rescue and as a result of the publicity, the five symposium events were sold out. The CBC recorded programs of Canadian music from the symposium and later broadcast them over a period of many weeks. This unique event earned the gratitude of contemporary Canadian composers.
There was concern in the Arts Council regarding the lack of facilities for musical education in Vancouver. Following Alex Walton, David Spencer became an active chair of the Arts Council’s Music Committee, and the council began to put pressure on UBC to establish a conservatory of music. Committee members Alex Walton, Robert Creech and Ursula Malkin masterminded a sustained drive called ‘They Shall Have Music.’ 1500 petitions were presented and a School of Music at UBC was established in 1956.
Some of the Canadian Contemporary Music Symposium composers:
Sir Ernest MacMillan, Healey Willan, Jean Coulthard, Barbara Pentland
The next step was to establish music education at the elementary and secondary levels. Dr. Herbert Zipper, executive director of the United States National Guild of Community Schools, who had been closely associated with inner city music schools in New York, was asked by the Arts Council to come to Vancouver to study the need for music training of school-age children. His recommendations for the founding of a Vancouver community music school were acted upon by the Arts Council. Iby Koerner persuaded William Steinberg, renowned conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to come to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in a benefit concert for the planned new music School.
The Music Committee of the Arts council, by then chaired by Josephine Walton, established an independent society and Iby Koerner was its first president. Very young students were the first pupils at the Community Music School which was initially housed in the Vancouver Normal School Annex, known as the City Square mall. Suzuki and Orff were the methods taught. The need to expand teaching for older students required larger premises and the negotiations for these involved soliciting assistance from the three levels of government. This was ably handled with generosity and good humour by Elsje Armstrong, a community volunteer, who oversaw the conversion of an old R. C. A. F. hangar at Vanier Park to new premises for the enlarged School. It was opened in 1976 and now flourishes as the Vancouver Academy of Music.
Ever since the Arts Council moved to its present location on Davie Street in 1985, its gallery has been the setting for a variety of public programs in which music features prominently. In 1986, with Canada Council funding, it began a seven-year sponsorship of the annual ‘Hear and Now: Vancouver Composers’ Showcase,’ a four concert event in June organized by Mark Armanini, featuring young composers and musicians. This wellattended program culminated in 1993 with a partnered presentation by ‘Vancouver Women in Music of Sounds Like’ (brilliant compositions by brilliant women.) Other programs have come and gone, such as Performer’s Choice (1989/90) and Mozart in Concert (1990) both coordinated by Ian Hampton. Occasional student recitals, noon-hour performances and individual concerts (Virtually Virtuoso, Standing Wave) as well as ongoing group member concerts continue to round out the offerings. In 1992, composer Mark Annanini and poet Trevor Carolan collaborated to produce an interdisciplinary performance, ‘Music of the Stones,’ featuring the Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble, Erica Northcott and Salavador Ferreras. In 1994 and 1995, the Public Programs Committee, with assistance from the Leon and Thea Koerner and Hamber Foundations, launched ‘City Notes,’ a student recital series designed to benefit young performers and to encourage public access to the arts. More than fifty young performers, instrumentalists and voice students played to audiences in ten Vancouver venues, including Christ Church Cathedral, Hycroft, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens and several community centres. Since 1986, Tom Lee Music has generously donated grand pianos for Arts Council concerts.
Composers featured recently in the Vancouver Showcase:
- Mark Armanini
- Barbara Pentland
- Jean Coulthard
- Sylvia Rickard
- David Duke
- Zhou Rui-Shi
- Arne Elgenfeldt
- Elliot Weisgarber
- Sherilyn Fritz
- Hildegard Westerkamp