Elaine Keillor | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Elaine Keillor

Frances Elaine Keillor, CM, pianist, musicologist, teacher (born 2 September 1939 in London, ON). As a concert pianist in the 1950s and 1960s, Elaine Keillor became known for performing and promoting music written by Canadian composers, particularly women. She then became the first woman to earn a doctorate in musicology from the University of Toronto, specializing in ethnomusicology. She taught for many years at Carleton University, where she was responsible for the Canadian music program and the school’s first courses on the music of Indigenous peoples. She was a prolific contributor to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada and served on the editorial board of the Journal of the Canadian Folk Music Society. She was also a representative for the Canadian University Music Society, chair of the Canadian Musical Heritage Society and a representative of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Elaine Keillor

Early Years and Education

Elaine Keillor studied piano as a child under her mother, Lenore Stevens Keillor. She then studied intermittently with Reginald Bedford, Claudio Arrau (master classes in Stratford, Ontario, in 1956) and Harold Craxton (in London, England, likely in 1959 and 1962). A child prodigy, Keillor won prizes at a Kiwanis Festival and Stratford Music Festival at the age of five (see also Music In Stratford). At age 11, she became the youngest ARCT (Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto) graduate in the history of the Royal Conservatory of Music — a record that stood until 2013. Also at age 11, she began her professional career as a recital and concert pianist. She also worked intermittently as a church organist from 1953 until the 1970s.

In 1958, Keillor won the Chappell Medal, awarded by the Chappell music publishing house to an outstanding young pianist in the Commonwealth.

Performance Career

Keillor performed with orchestras in Southern Ontario and Buffalo, playing concertos by Bach, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky and others. She toured coast-to-coast in Canada in 1959 and 1960, giving more than 100 recitals. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she gave solo recitals and performed as soloist with orchestras in the United States, the Soviet Union, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. She also performed on CBC and NBC radio and television.

After suffering a hand injury, Keillor was advised to suspend performing and touring. She then pursued studies in musicology, eventually resuming her performance career in conjunction with an academic career. After the 1970s, Keillor gave solo recitals, most often in Ottawa and Toronto, but also in Québec City, Montréal and Winnipeg. Notably, she gave a solo recital at Carnegie Hall in 1983. She has been an active chamber musician as well, giving duo performances with the pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico and performing with various chamber music groups and individual musicians.

Keillor has performed for such occasions as the Year of Indigenous Peoples (1993), the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, the Festival of Music by Women (2002) and the International Piano Conference (Ottawa, 2010). She has also occasionally demonstrated period keyboard instruments (harpsichord, fortepiano and early pianoforte).

A committed champion of Canadian music and women composers, Keillor has premiered works by many Canadians including Patrick Cardy, Nicole Carignan, Clifford Ford, Vivian Fung, Mary Gardiner, Peter Paul Koprowski, Alexina Louie, Elma Miller, Mark Mitchell, Jean Papineau-Couture and John Weinzweig.

Keillor was described by music critic Charles Pope as “finely skilled and genuinely dedicated… a pianist of warmth and brilliance.” She also sings with the acclaimed Ottawa Bach Choir.


Keillor has made more than two dozen recordings for various labels including Carleton Sound, Centrediscs, Naxos, Marquis, Gala and Conservatory Canada.

Career as Musicologist and Teacher

Keillor earned a BA from the University of Toronto in 1970, an MA in 1971 and a PhD in 1976. She was the first woman to earn a doctorate in musicology from the University of Toronto. She taught at York University from 1975 to 1976 and at Queen’s University from 1976 to 1977. In 1977, she joined the faculty of Carleton University and remained there for the duration of her academic career (save for a brief stint at McMaster University in 1984). Keillor specialized in musicology and ethnomusicology. She was responsible for Carleton University’s Canadian music program and in 1980 helped initiate the school’s first courses on Indigenous music (see also Music at Carleton University). In 2005, she was named a Carleton University Distinguished Research Professor Emerita.

Keillor engaged in research related to Canadian musical life of the late 19th and 20th centuries. As the principal investigator for the Canadian Musical Heritage Society, she edited volumes of Canadian piano and orchestral music for the organization’s The Canadian Musical Heritage series. She was also a prolific contributor to the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music and the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World.

Keillor has published and lectured extensively on the music of Indigenous peoples of North America, particularly First Nations music in Canada (see Music of Indigenous Peoples in Canada). She conducted extensive musical research among the Indigenous peoples of the Northwest Territories and Northern Québec. She developed a series of educational websites on Indigenous music and dance, and in 2016 gave a series of lectures in the United Kingdom.

Organizational Involvement

Elaine Keillor was a council member of the American Musicological Society from 1992 to 1996 and the Society for Ethnomusicology from 1995 to 1997. She was also a representative for the Canadian University Music Society from 1994 to 1999. She became chair of the Canadian Musical Heritage Society in 2000, served on the editorial boards of the Journal of the Canadian Folk Music Society (2004–10) and MUSICultures, and was a representative of the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada (now the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences) from 1994 to 1999, and in 2003.


Selected Writings

Books and Theses

  • "Leontzi Honauer (1737–ca 1790) and the development of solo and ensemble keyboard music," PhD thesis, University of Toronto 1976
  • John Weinzweig and His Music: the Radical Romantic of Canada (Metuchen, NJ 1994)
  • Music in Canada: Capturing landscape and diversity (Montreal and Kingston 2006)
  • Encyclopedia of Native American Music of North America (with Timothy Archambault and John M. H. Kelly) (Greenwood 2013)


  • "Wesley Octavius Forsyth, 1859–1937," The Canada Music Book, 7, Autumn–Winter 1973
  • "The heritage of Canadian composition," Booklet of the 30th Anniversary Conference of the Canadian League of Composers (Windsor 1981)
  • "Suites for winds and keyboard of the early classical period," Winds Quarterly, vol 1, Spring 1981
  • "Les tambours des Athapascans du Nord," Recherches amerindiennes au Québec, vol 15, Winter 1985–6
  • "The role of youth in the continuation of Dogrib musical traditions," Yearbook for Traditional Music, vol 18, 1986
  • "La naissance d'un genre musical nouveau, fusion du traditionel et du 'country'," Recherches amerindiennes au Québec, vol 18, Winter 1988–9
  • "The conservative tradition in Canadian music," Célébration:, eds Godfrey Ridout and Talivaldis Kenins (Toronto 1984)
  • '"Musical activities in Canada's new capital city in the 1870s," Musical Canada: Words and Music Honouring Helmut Kallmann, eds John Beckwith and Frederick A. Hall (Toronto 1988)
  • "Finding the sounds of Canada's musical past," Fontes Artis Musicae, 21, 1994
  • "Indigenous music as a compositional source: Parallels and contrasts in Canadian and American music," Taking a Stand: Essays in Honour of John Beckwith, ed. T. McGee (Toronto 1995)
  • "The voices of First Nations women within Canada: Traditionally and presently," Australian–Canadian Studies, 14, 1996
  • "The elusive Sounds of Canada's heritage," CAMMAC Journal, Feb 1996
  • "The Canadian soundscape," Profiles of Canada, 2nd ed (Toronto 1998)
  • "Chanson de Riel: A musical rubbaboo," Les Cahiers de la Société québécoise de recherche en musique, 2, 1998
  • "The Canadian soundscape," Profiles of Canada, 3rd ed (Toronto 2003)
  • "Barbeau encouraging 'the study, appreciation and enjoyment of the Folk Music of Canada in all of its aspects,'" Folk Music, Traditional Music, Ethnomusicology: Canadian Perspectives, Past and Present, eds Anna Hoefnagels and Gordon E. Smith (Newcastle 2007)
  • "Le rababou au Québec: passé, présent et futur (essai sur la culture musicale québécoise)," Les Cahiers de La Société québécoise de recherche en musique, vol 10, no 1, 2008
  • "Music for radio and film," Weinzweig's World, eds John Beckwith and Brian Cherney (Waterloo 2011)
  • numerous other articles

Selected Discography

  • Piano Music by Torontonians 1834–1984. 1984. World WRC1-3315
  • Piano Pieces of Barbara Pentland. 1997. Musicworks
  • Views of the Piano Sonata. 1997. Carleton Sound CD-1002
  • A Long Time Ago Into The Future. 1998. Furiant CD-453
  • By a Canadian Lady: Piano Music 1841–1997. 2000. Carleton Sound CD-1006
  • Canadians at the Keyboard. 2000. Carleton Sound CD-1008
  • Canadian Sounds. 2001. Carleton Sound CD-1007
  • Romance: Early Canadian Chamber Music. 2002. Carleton Sound CD-1009
  • The Music of Mary Gardiner. 2002. Conservatory Canada
  • Musique: Songs for Parlour and Stage. 2006. Gloria Jean Nagy, soprano, and Joan Harrison, cello. Carleton Sound CD-1011
  • Ballade of the North: Canadian Women Composers. 2011. Ralitsa Tcholakova, violin, and Rebecca Danard, clarinet. Ars Universalis
  • To Music: Canadian Song Cycles. 2009. Wanda Procyshyn, soprano. Carleton Sound CD-1013
  • Sounds of North: Two Centuries of Canadian Piano Music. 2012. Gala Records GAL-108 (4-CD set)
  • When Music Sounds. 2014. Joan Harrison, cello. Naxos
  • Poetic Sketches. 2015. Centrediscs

Further Reading