Ben McPeek | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Ben McPeek

McPeek, Ben (Benjamin Dewey). Composer, conductor, arranger, pianist, b Trail, BC, 28 Aug 1934, d Toronto 14 Jan 1981; ARCT 1954, B MUS (Toronto) 1956.

McPeek, Ben (Benjamin Dewey). Composer, conductor, arranger, pianist, b Trail, BC, 28 Aug 1934, d Toronto 14 Jan 1981; ARCT 1954, B MUS (Toronto) 1956. Moving to Toronto in 1953, he studied at the RCMT and also at the University of Toronto, where his teachers included John Beckwith, Talivaldis Kenins, Oskar Morawetz, Godfrey Ridout, and John Weinzweig. He began his career playing the piano in Toronto dance bands and sang on the CBC with the Five Playboys. Entering musical theatre in 1960 as music director of the revue Up Tempo 60, produced at the King Edward Hotel, he wrote music 1963-8 for That Hamilton Woman, Suddenly This Summer, Actually This Autumn, and the 1968 Spring Thaw. His opera bouffe, The Bargain (1963, based on the Faust legend), was telecast in 1966 by CBC Montreal and, in a revised version with an electronic score, was staged in 1978 by COMUS Music Theatre. His musical Joey, written with Helen Porter, was produced at the Charlottetown Festival in 1973.

In 1964 McPeek established Ben McPeek, Ltd, and soon became one of the busiest jingle writers in Canada. In 1966 he was a founder of Nimbus 9 Productions. In total McPeek wrote, and directed recordings of, about 2000 jingles. He also composed scores for the feature films The Rowdyman (1972) and Only God Knows (1974) and for the documentary Catch the Sun (1973). In 1979, with Harry Freedman, he formed the Canadian Film Composers Guild.

McPeek's other compositions included a Piano Concerto, six piano sonatas, and many other piano inventions, waltzes, rags, etc; works for brass and woodwind quintet, including the Paul Bunyan Suite (Thompson 1977, recorded by Canadian Brass); and the orchestral works Northern 484, Fantasia, and Concert Suite. His Trillium Suite (for saxophone and chamber ensemble) was commissioned by Paul Brodie and his Five Pictorial Sketches for Mandolin and Orchestra (based on Ukrainian and Canadian folksongs) by the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble. He also wrote a collection of novelty items for Canadian Brass, which recorded the music under the pseudonym the Pucker and Valve Society Band (pseud). An album of McPeek's piano music has been recorded by Monica Gaylord. McPeek himself made the LPs Ben McPeek, His Voices and His Orchestra (1965, CTL CTLS-5060), Original Sounds of Ben McPeek (1966, RCA CTLS-1080/Camden CAS-2351), Play Me (1973, RCA KXL-1-0032), Ben McPeek's Latest Fling at the Record Scene (RCA CASX-2537), and Thinking of You (1975, Attic LAT-1008).

In the years before his death McPeek initiated what in 1982 became the Imperial Oil McPeek Pops Library, a collection of Canadian pop material arranged for symphony orchestra. His own Commercial Overture, an orchestral medley of some of his best-known jingles, was among the first pieces placed in the library, which was inaugurated 20 Nov 1982 by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Administered by the Canadian Music Centre (of which McPeek had been an associate) the collection grew to 47 selections by 1991, including "CA-NA-DA," "Snowbird," "Tears Are Not Enough," and medleys of songs associated with Stompin' Tom Connors, the Guess Who, and the Happy Gang. Lucio Agostini, Michael Conway Baker, Milton Barnes, Robert Farnon, Milan Kymlicka, Bob McMullin, Eric Robertson, Paul Ruhland, Brian Sexton, and Rick Wilkins are among the arrangers who have contributed to the library.

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