Music in Brandon

Manitoba city on the Assiniboine River, 200 km west of Winnipeg. The first settlers arrived in 1878. Named after Brandon House, a one-time Hudson's Bay Co depot, the settlement received railway service (CPR) in 1881 and was incorporated as a city in 1882.

Brandon, Man

Brandon, Man. Manitoba city on the Assiniboine River, 200 km west of Winnipeg. The first settlers arrived in 1878. Named after Brandon House, a one-time Hudson's Bay Co depot, the settlement received railway service (CPR) in 1881 and was incorporated as a city in 1882. Brandon had in its vicinity in 1975 over 60 industrial firms, although it continued to be an agriculturally based community. Its population was 38,000 in 1986.

As Manitoba's second largest city Brandon is the cultural centre of western Manitoba. The city's major musical institution is the School of Music at Brandon University. The school maintains ensembles, notably the Brandon University Trio, which performs publicly throughout Manitoba, and also the Brandon University Chamber Orchestra, Chorale, Concert Band, and Jazz Band. It is the site of the annual S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition for the performance of Canadian music. Many of the school's graduates are teachers in the city's elementary and secondary schools, several of which present annual productions of musicals.

Developing out of the Musical Nomads, the Brandon Operatic Society (mid-1920s-ca 1940) performed musicals on the auditorium stage of the city hall. Mme Marjorie Johnson (b Tyson, her maiden name rearranged to create her British stage name, St Oyn) directed and starred in operetta productions such as Howard Talbot and Lionel Monckton's The Arcadians, Edward German's Merrie England, Monckton's The Country Girl and The Runaway Girl, Harold Fraser-Simson's The Maid of the Mountains, and Sidney Jones' The Geisha. Other performers included Lillian Edmundson, Humphrey and Eric Davies, and Sidney Wrightson. Casting problems brought on by wartime conditions caused the company to dissolve: 'The eight army and air force camps in a radius of 50 miles changed the atmosphere forever. The young men left and the pretty girls quickly married and took off... The Geisha wavered in rehearsals for two seasons and tip-toed into oblivion' (Brandon Sun, 26 Nov 1971).

Brandon's annual Festival of the Arts began as a competition festival as early as 1928, one of the network of such festivals visited by British adjudicators. William Neale (b ca 1887), a clarinetist, school music teacher, and bandmaster active in Brandon after 1910, founded an amateur orchestra that appeared regularly at the festival before the war. After the war the festival was perpetuated by a civic committee and came to include non-competition classes and a workshop approach to student performance. The festival celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1987, and published a history called On the Road to Excellence. The Brandon Folk Music and Art Festival, which began in 1985, is held annually during the first weekend in August.

The great Emma Albani sang in Brandon in 1897. Probably the first major choral concert was given 1 May 1903 by the 150-voice Festival Chorus, prepared by Frank B. Fenwick for the Cycle of Musical Festivals of the Dominion of Canada. Church and secular choirs have involved citizens in choral activity throughout the century. By 1912 a 60-voice Brandon Choral Society, which sang with the Minneapolis and St Paul SO, was flourishing under conductor John Edward Hughes (b Wales 1863, first came to Brandon in 1891 and after studies in Detroit returned in 1897), who conducted the choir for three years. The 70-voice Western Manitoba Philharmonic Choir (1965-76), whose conductors have been Lucien Needham 1965-7, Leonard Mayoh 1967-73, Derek Morphy 1973-5, and Peter Allen 1975-6, gave two concerts annually, performing Messiah, the Mozart and Brahms Requiems, and similar works with the visiting Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Brandon has been visited by artists touring under the auspices of the Overture Concerts organization, the CFMTA, and the JMC. After 1969 major musical presentations have been given in the Western Manitoba Centennial Auditorium. The Winnipeg SO and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet have paid regular visits to Brandon, and starting in 1960 the MMEA has held an annual workshop in January that has included performances by visiting musicians and ensembles, including the Cleveland Orchestra. Notable Brandon-born musicians include the singer Arlene Meadows, the pianist Louise Chapman Needham, the pianist, teacher, and administrator Peggy Sharpe, and the violin prodigy James Ehnes.