Music at St Francis Xavier University
St Francis Xavier University. Roman Catholic institution founded at Arichat, NS, in 1853 as St Francis Xavier College. In 1855 it was moved to Antigonish, NS. It gained university status in 1866 and awarded its first degrees in 1868. Its ladies' institution, Mount St Bernard Academy, was founded ca 1883, and in 1894 affiliated with St Francis as Mount St Bernard College. In 1897 became the first co-educational Catholic university in North America to grant degrees to women, although only by 1985 did women equal men in numbers. In 1990 the ladies' college existed as a residence only. St Francis has continued to offer degrees at the undergraduate and graduate (master's) levels.
A music department was founded at Mount St Bernard in 1883, and particular attention was given to the study and performance of Gregorian chant. St Francis established a music major program in 1945, a degree program (BA in music) in 1975, and two-and-a-half-year courses in liturgical music and jazz studies in 1979. By 1990 jazz performance had become the main focus of the university's music program; the church music diploma was discontinued in the mid-1980s. Sister St Michel of the Eucharist (Mary Byrne) served 1945-70 as chairman of the university's Music Dept. John C. O'Donnell, who was chairman 1970-83, remained on staff in 1991. Subsequent chairmen have been Donald Hughes 1983-5, Bernardine Burke 1985-8, and James Hargreaves 1988-9, succeeded by Gene Smith in 1989.
In 1991 the department offered a BA MUS (honours, and major jazz or classical concentration), a B.MUS in jazz studies, a diploma in jazz studies, and a graduate diploma in jazz pedagogy. In that year 10 teachers and 110 students (90 in the jazz program) met at classes in the department's own building, which opened in 1987.
In addition to its own holdings and those of the music library, the department has had access to the Dept of Celtic Studies' recording archives, augmented by materials from that department's Gaelic Language and Folklore Project (initiated in 1977). Within the first two years of the project's existence more than 350 field recordings of Scots-Gaelic songs, collected by John Shaw, had been classified and catalogued, and some texts had been transcribed. A small number of fiddle recordings had been made.
The university has sponsored recitals on the department's two Casavant pipe organs and a Performing Arts Series. Resident performing groups have included the University Wind Ensemble under James Hargreaves, the University Singers under Sister Agnes MacAdam, JazFX (see Skip Beckwith), the Stage Band under Donald Hughes, the Renaissance Singers, and numerous small combos.