Music in Sherbrooke

City in southern Quebec, located about as far south of Quebec City as it is east of Montreal. With its suburbs it has a population reaching about 129,000 (1990); it has been called 'Queen of the Eastern Townships' or of 'L'Estrie,' the more recent name for the area.

Sherbrooke, Que

Sherbrooke, Que. City in southern Quebec, located about as far south of Quebec City as it is east of Montreal. With its suburbs it has a population reaching about 129,000 (1990); it has been called 'Queen of the Eastern Townships' or of 'L'Estrie,' the more recent name for the area. The Loyalists who arrived from the USA after 1776 to populate these tracts of land brought with them their reels and folksongs. The first hamlet was formed around a mill established in 1796 by Gilbert Hyatt and in 1818 this little settlement was named Sherbrooke after the governor-in-chief of British North America, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke.

Liturgical And Choral Music
The places of worship were the location of most of the musical activity 1820-70 and such activity intensified after 1870. The diversity of religious affiliations resulted in numerous churches. Singers such as George Armitage and Fred H. Bradley were attached to Trinity (Methodist) Church, built in 1856; other local performers gave concerts there as well, under A.F. Waterhouse, with well-known guest soloists, including the organist Lynnwood Farnam, and the soprano Marie Hollinshead. Such works as Mendelssohn's Hymn of Praise, Gounod's Gallia, and Rossini's Stabat mater were presented.

In the early years of the 20th century, the organists William Reed, Mme Holland, Alfred Whitehead, and later Graham George were connected with St Peter's Anglican Church (which dates from 1844). The singers Cecil Bowen and Arthur Dorey were members of the choir of St Peter's and the latter organized festivals - the gathering of several choral groups to perform oratorios. At Plymouth Church the organist Frank Stone presented his opera Sardianopolis with local artists. Frequent concerts including an annual 'Musical May' were held at the church and it became known as a centre for the performance of music of good quality. Well-known singers were invited for the Burns Concerts at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church. Bertha, Evelyn, and Clifford Price of the Adventist Church played an important role in the organization of musical groups. Bertha, a mezzo-soprano and pianist, also taught young people and ca 1914-18 led a youth orchestra that was very popular; Evelyn, a violinist, and Clifford, a cellist, played in various ensembles, including the first Sherbrooke SO 1923-7.

St Michael's Cathedral was the centre of vigorous Roman Catholic musical activity. A two-keyboard Couillard organ, installed in 1874, was inaugurated by Rosa d'Erina, who was also a singer. H.-O. Doré, a teacher at the Collège de Sherbrooke, conducted a mixed choir there. Liturgical singing was provided by the students from the Séminaire St-Charles 1875-1910 under the direction of Father J.-H. Roy. When the seminary organized its own services in 1910, the notary Ernest Sylvestre founded the Sherbrooke Cathedral Choir. Besides music for the church service, operas, oratorios, and cantatas were presented. In 1918 the cathedral acquired a three-keyboard Casavant. One of its long-time resident organists was Louis-Édouard Codère, head of a musical family which was influential in the community. His wife, b Joséphine Doherty, a pianist and composer, was decorated in 1929 by the ministry of education of France for her work as a musical organizer. Oscar Cartier, pianist, organist, and composer, succeeded Sylvestre as director of the choir and adapted masses by Gounod, Dubois, and Palestrina (Missa Papae Marcelli) for his 50-voice male choir.

The Gregorian revival at the end of the 1930s and the foundation of the Gregorian Institute by Bishop Maurice O'Bready (the hall of the Centre culturel of the university was named after him) with the assistance of the Benedictines of St-Benoît-du-Lac brought about the departure of most of the choristers. Thus it was that the choirs of St-Jean-Baptiste, St Patrick, and Ste-Thérèse-d'Avila acquired singers who continued in the style used 1910-40 by the cathedral choir. This choir followed the Gregorian reform of the Benedictine abbey at Solesmes, France, with Paul-Émile Letendre as organist and director. From 1950 to 1967 J.-B. Marcoux conducted a choir school which he had founded. In the early 1960s the Choeur Pie X assumed the cathedral choir's earlier function of musical stimulus to the region, above all by providing choral parts for the Sherbrooke Symphony Orchestra.

The St-Jean-Baptiste Choir founded by Eugène Caron, organist and composer, was taken over by the notary Georges Sylvestre in 1925 and for more than 25 years remained the centre of musical life in the eastern part of the city. Groups devoted to light music were formed, and Allan McIver and Germaine Janelle became known as the accompanists of the Minstrel Shows. Les Chanteclers, an unaccompanied choir, were founded in 1935 by H. St-Pierre. In 1971 Héritage, a 60-voice choir conducted by Marc Bernier, was set up to propagate the Quebec chanson. In September 1980, Brian Ellard founded the Symphonic Choir of the University of Sherbrooke, which provided the choral parts for the Sherbrooke Symphony Orchestra, as well as giving its own concerts. The Choeur Pie X, whose members were invited to join the new organization, was then disbanded. The Symphonic Choir, with about 100 voices, has been conducted by Ellard 1980-3, Thérèse Lupien 1983-5 and 1987-9, Andréï Bedros 1985-7 and Marc Bernier beginning in 1989. The Ensemble vocal of Sherbrooke, under the direction of Jean-François Sénart 1984-90, has made two recordings for SNE.

Musical Associations

Towards the end of the 19th century Mrs Henry Odell organized about 100 women to form the Ladies' Musical Club, which sponsored concerts by such artists as Emma Albani and J.-B. Dubois. The Union musicale de Sherbrooke, a cultural association active 1892-6, was reorganized in 1921. The Schubert Music Club (1926-ca 1950), which consisted of some 30 local musicians, presented the baritone Gordon T. Brand, the violinist Audrey Cook, the tenor Alfred O'Shea, the pianist Paul de Marky, and the Metropolitan Opera tenor Richard Crooks, among many solo artists of note. Two associations, Le Jeudi musical (1936) and l'Art intime (1943) helped stimulate musical activity until ca 1960 through public performances which their members were expected to give and through financial aid to young musicians such as the cellist Émile Préfontaine and the composer Serge Garant.

Between 1938 and 1974 the Sherbrooke Concerts Society, affiliated to Community Concerts of New York, presented artists of world reputation such as Mischa Elman, Bidú Sayão, and Rudolf Serkin at the Granada Theatre. It was in Sherbrooke, 19 Jan 1950, that Noël Brunet and Suzette Pratte gave the first JMC (YMC) concert. The annual summer Festival des Cantons, which began in Sherbrooke in 1974, had traditional music as a principal component of its numerous concerts, amateur competitions, and other entertainments.

Instrumental Groups

The Sherbrooke Concert Band (or the Harmonie de Sherbrooke) was founded in 1882 as a municipal band. It was directed successively by François Héraly, J.-J. Goulet, Charles Delvenne, Georges Sylvestre, Sylvio Lacharité, and Marcel Marcotte. Instrumental groups from the polytechnical schools partially took over from the Sherbrooke Band when it ceased its activities in 1968. The Victoria Band (1876) was connected with the 53rd Regiment and directed by two musicians from England, J. Whiteley and J. Eave. The brass band of Uldéric Brien, founded after World War I, bore the colours of the 54th Regiment.

In 1923 Irwin Sawdon, a licentiate of the RCM, founded the Sherbrooke SO with 50 local musicians. Alfred-Sévère Bourgeault was its concertmaster. The group disbanded in 1927 when Sawdon returned to England. In 1932 the violinist Paul-Émile Fortier founded a group of instrumentalists who played for their own pleasure. The Sherbrooke SO was founded by Sylvio Lacharité in 1939. The Ensemble classique optimiste de Sherbrooke was established in 1974. Later renamed the Sherbrooke Youth Symphony Orchestra, it had a membership of 75 young instrumentalists by 1990. Among the musicians associated with the orchestra have been Chantal Juillet as concertmaster and Czeslaw Gladyszewski and Jacques Clément as conductors. In 1990, its conductor was Marc David, who was also musical director of the Sherbrooke SO and of the Orchestre de chambre de l'Estrie, founded by David and Mary O'Keefe in 1989. The Sherbrooke Wind Ensemble, founded in the 1982-3 season by Brian Ellard and later revived by René Béchard, attempted to fill the void created by the disappearance of the Sherbrooke Band, while adapting to more current needs, especially in the field of jazz. It comprises 40 musicians, many of whom come from the Sherbrooke SO.

Musical Training

Mme Holland, who had taken her studies at the Paris Cons, taught organ, piano, and voice at the end of the 19th century. Wilfrid Pelletier's first teacher, Ida Campbell (Mme François Héraly), was her pupil. Eugénie Caron (Mme Charles O'Shea) began teaching organ and piano in 1900. Subsequently the violinists A.-S. Bourgeault, Horace Boux, and Laurent Champigny taught strings while Paul-Marcel Robidoux and Réjane Marcotte, a pupil of Léo-Pol Morin, were among the numerous piano teachers. Pianists were trained mainly at the Mont Notre-Dame and Jésus-Marie convents. The Séminaire St-Charles had its own concert band and orchestra. In 1958 the Filles de la Charité du Sacré-Coeur established a music course which developed into a music school; it was affiliated 1964-67 with the University of Montreal so that its students might attain the B MUS degree.

Sacré-Coeur and Mitchell (see Vocational public music schools in Quebec) were the first public schools in Canada to offer music as the main subject concentration, and several of Sherbrooke's polytechnical schools have shown a particular concern for the teaching of music. The Sherbrooke Cegep initiated its own music department in 1970. The University of Sherbrooke, to which the École Vincent-d'Indy was affiliated 1970-8, attempted in 1979 to establish its own School of Music with Brian Ellard as director, but the project never materialized. Bishop's University in Lennoxville, near Sherbrooke, opened its music department in 1967 and established the practice of presenting concerts in its Centennial Theatre. The concerts at the nearby Orford Art Centre in Magog also have enriched the concert-going opportunities of the people of Sherbrooke. In 1990, Thérèse Lupien set up and began to coordinate the Festival-concours de musique de Sherbrooke et de l'Estrie, recognized by the FCMF.

Among the musicians born in or near Sherbrooke are Eugène Caron, Gabriel Charpentier, Clémence Desrochers, Claude Gingras, Ralph Gustafson, Sylvio Lacharité, Denis Langelier, Jacques et Robert Langevin, Édouard LeBel, Marcel Marcotte, Allan McIver, François, Hélène, and Isabelle Panneton, Émile Préfontaine, Ti-Blanc and Michèle Richard, Renald Saint-Pierre, and William-Arthur Wayland. The Historical Society of Sherbrooke has many collections relating to the musical life of the city.


Further Reading

  • 'The story of music in Sherbrooke: outstanding pioneer contribution to the art reviewed for centenary,' Sherbrooke Daily Record, 31 Jul 1937

    Paradis, Claude. 'La Vie musicale,' L'Essor culturel de Sherbrooke et de la région depuis 1950, eds A. Sirois and A. Bastin (Sherbrooke 1985)

    Désilets, Andrée, ed. La Vie musicale à Sherbrooke 1820-1989 (Sherbrooke 1989)

    Paradis, Claude. 'Esquisse pour une histoire de la musique en Estrie,' Les Cantons de l'Est, ed J.-M. M. Dubois (Sherbrooke 1989)

    Sirois, Antoine. 'Vie musicale et contexte culturel de Sherbrooke (1940-1953),' Cahiers de la Société Québécoise de Recherche en Musique, vol 1, Dec 1997