1886-1947 – Bishop’s Faculty of Music

Music has a very long history at Bishop’s – a Faculty of Music was first established here in 1886, modelled on a similar faculty at Trinity College, Toronto. Studies included music history, harmony, counterpoint, and fugue. To graduate with a Mus. Bac. degree, students had to compose a 20-minute cantata for soloists, choir, strings and organ. But – here’s the twist – instruction in Music was only offered through outside organizations like the Dominion College of Music in Montreal:  there were no faculty on campus, and no actual classes …

Even so, over those sixty years, 38 students enrolled for the Mus Bac examinations, most of them aiming for careers in church music. Among the graduates were Percival J. Illsley (who actually earned a Doctor of Music degree here), John Robb, and Robert Stanley Weir, (who wrote the English lyrics for O Canada). To its credit, the University engaged a number of distinguished British and Canadian musicians as its examiners, including Dr. George M. Garrett (1887-97), Albert Ham (1922-35) and Healey Willan (1936-47).

1967 – The Modern Department

In 1967, Professor Howard Brown was invited to become Bishop’s first full-time (resident) professor of music. A fine pianist with degrees from the Universities of Toronto and Michigan, Howard Brown had been the Head of the Department of Music at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N. B. for many years.

Starting from scratch, Professor Brown established a wide range of music courses that served the liberal arts character of the University. He also created the “Elizabethan Singers”, a large “town and gown” choir (which became the University Singers), and helped establish a professional concert series at the new Centennial Theatre.

1978 – The Music Major

Professor Brown persuaded the University to establish a BA, Major in Music. He would remain the only faculty member in Music until his retirement in 1983 – his sole support being a part-time theory instructor who offered one course per semester. Performance instruction was offered by professional musicians from the Sherbrooke area. An old dining hall was converted to provide a home for the Department. On Professor Brown’s retirement in 1983 three students had graduated with BA Majors in Music and there were eight students enrolled in the program.

As an Emeritus Professor, Howard Brown remained a good friend to both faculty and students, and a strong supporter of musical life in the region, until his death in 2001.

1983 – The Department Grows

In the spring of 1983, Tom Gordon was hired as new Chair of Music. He developed ambitious plans for expansion in the areas of curriculum, staffing, and facilities. From that date there has been a consistent expansion of all aspects of music in the life of Bishop’s University.

One of his first innovations was the creation of the Musique Chez Nous concert series. Originally a modest opportunity for music students and others to hear live music, the Musique Chez Nous series has become one of the most important musical institutions in the region.

To support the expansion music history and music literature offerings, the University approved a second full-time position in Music in 1984. Jack Eby was appointed to fill this position. Student numbers began to grow: from 11 music students in 1983 to about 30 by 1988.

With the students came a music student organization — BUMS (Bishop’s University Music Society). While this group naturally has a social role, it has also served as a channel for student communication with the Department. Student suggestions led to the creation of the jazz and chamber music ensembles, and to the opportunity of studying a second instrument.

In 1987, a decision was taken to seek a position in the area of theory and composition. Andrew MacDonald introduced our first courses in composition and electronic music. The next year, the University was persuaded to engage him as “Composer-in-residence”, and by 1989 Dr. MacDonald became the third Professor in the Department.

With the creation of this new position, the music curriculum again underwent a dramatic change, with a full range of theory courses now offered. The Department subsequently established a 60-credit BA Honours in Music program, with concentrations in music history and literature, theory and composition, or performance.

1992 – Our New Home

In 1990 the University decided to give the Music Department its own building. This involved the conversion of the historic Norton building, at the centre of the campus, which had been, most recently, a warren of Fine Arts studios and classes.

The attached hall, which was built in 1898 as the University’s first gymnasium, was given new life as a splendid 160-seat recital hall. Christened Bandeen Hall after Chancellor Robert Bandeen and Mona Blair Bandeen, it was officially opened in 1992. The adjacent lobby is the hub of the Department, surrounded by the classrooms, teaching studios, practice rooms, and offices.

The move into our new home was an important catalyst for almost every facet of life in the Department. With its own home, Musique Chez Nous has become the most important chamber music series in the region. The facility has also been an important factor in our growing enrollment.

An important part-time appointment in 1993 came in the person of Mike Gauthier, an accomplished jazz musician with many years of studio and stage experience. He taught jazz guitar and a course in Jazz History, and assumed responsibility for the popular music ensembles. Out of this grew our program in Popular Music Studies.

2000 – A New Millennium and New Faces

In 2000, Jamie Crooks was hired as director of the University Singers, after the departure of Nancy Rahn, who had led the choir for over 15 years. Dr. Crooks built the choir into the most dynamic endeavour in the department, with choir numbers sometimes topping 100, and 2-3 performances of each show. After 15 years at the helm of the Singers himself, Jamie was replaced by Fannie Gaudette, a graduate of Bishop’s (who also teaches music at Champlain College CEGEP), who had accompanied the choir with Jamie all those years.

In the summer of 2000, Dr. Gordon moved to become Dean of the School of Music at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  It would only be in 2004 that a third full-time appointment was approved, and we were joined by Ross Osmun, whose gifts as a keyboard performer and teacher brought the Department up to full speed again.

In the fall of 2008, the Popular Music Studies option was initiated, which opened up the world of Jazz and Popular Music for students in the program.  Since then, about half of our students choose each option – Classical or Jazz/Pop.

2017 – Fifty Years of Music at Bishop’s

Well, the modern Department needs another 10 years to reach the age of the earlier Music program at Bishop’s, but we are celebrating anyway.