Music in Medicine Hat

City of almost 43,000 on the South Saskatchewan River in Southern Alberta. With the arrival of the CPR in 1883, the city became the major commercial centre of the area.

Medicine Hat, Alta

Medicine Hat, Alta. City of almost 43,000 on the South Saskatchewan River in Southern Alberta. With the arrival of the CPR in 1883, the city became the major commercial centre of the area. The production of natural gas from reserves located in the vicinity led to industrialization and further growth.

Musical activities before 1900 most often consisted of performances by local groups at Government House, St Barnabas Anglican Church Reading Room, and Colter's Opera House. Various community and church choirs and an Amateur Musical and Dramatic Club (established 1884) were active. Michael Leonard formed the Citizen's Band in 1893, the first of many community bands. The Columbia (later Georgia) Minstrels (established 1894) performed in blackface and toured southern Alberta. Evenings of chamber music by the Pleyel String Quartet (established 1901) and performances of sacred music for choir and small orchestra were common.

The Medicine Hat Operatic Society (1914-33) presented annual or biannual performances of light opera while the chorus and orchestra of the Medicine Hat Philharmonic Society (1915-36) specialized in sacred music. The prominent teacher Robert Bullen formed a male voice choir in 1923 and conducted 1934-55 the Robert Bullen Melody Maids, a choir of 45-50 voices that won many provincial honours. An annual music festival sponsored by the local Rotary Club took place 1930-9 under the direction of chairman J.P. Marsh. The organization was re-established in 1955 with the first festival taking place in the spring of 1956. Participation steadily grew and the city hosted the National Music Festival in 1987.

The Medicine Hat Music Teachers' Association held its first meeting 4 Nov 1938. Informative programs on history and repertoire as well as concerts by local and visiting artists were sponsored by the group. Variety shows such as Joan Hays Concert Party were popular during World War II, providing entertainment for troops stationed on bases in and near the city.

Frank Novak was active in the community, conducting concerts of orchestral music after World War II, but it was 1954 before the Medicine Hat Little Symphony Orchestra was officially formed. The Medicine Hat Symphonic Society, no longer a performing group after 1975, has sponsored concerts by visiting artists and an annual Concerto Competition (established 1978). Prior to this, the Celebrity Series (established 1946) and the Overture Concert Series (established 1959) presented performances by visiting artists.

The Musichords (1952-64), King's Men Male Voice Choir (1961-5) and the Shandelles (1965-74) were active vocal groups, each performing two or three concerts annually. Medicine Hat Musical Theatre (established 1960) has presented annual productions featuring local talent beginning in 1961. The group has also offered scholarships through the local music festival.

Teacher and performer Adele Armstrong, a native of Medicine Hat, formed the Teen Tones in 1964 and the Saamis Singers in 1976. These two choirs were combined in 1978, creating the Saamis-Teens girls' choir. The Armstrong Singers, a mixed adult choir, was formed in 1974, and three years later the Kodály Songsters were formed. Mrs Armstrong's choirs have competed at provincial and national music festivals and participated in international festivals in Great Britain.

In 1971 the Medicine Hat College opened. Because of extensive community interest, a conservatory was added with instruction offered for all instruments and voice. As an addition to the conservatory, a Cultural Centre containing studios and performance spaces was opened in 1983. The conservatory employed 20 full-time instructors and offered 5 programs of study in 1991. Performing groups include four choirs, the Junior String Orchestra, Academy Orchestra, Jazz Band, Community Band, Percussion Ensemble, and numerous chamber music groups.

The Medicine Hat Jazz Society was founded in January 1991 by Roy Link to promote concerts by visiting artists in affiliation with the Edmonton Jazz Society.


Further Reading

  • Gould, Ed. All Hell for a Basement: The History of Medicine Hat, Alberta - 1883 to 1983 (Medicine Hat 1983)

    Wilson, L.J. Roy. 'Cultural life in Medicine Hat, 1883-1905,' Alberta History, vol 33, Summer 1985