Robert Witmer | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Robert Witmer

Robert (Earl) Witmer. Ethnomusicologist, bassist, b Kitchener, Ont, 24 Feb 1940; B MUS (British Columbia) 1965, M MUS (Illinois) 1970. While studying bass with J.P.

Witmer, Robert

Robert (Earl) Witmer. Ethnomusicologist, bassist, b Kitchener, Ont, 24 Feb 1940; B MUS (British Columbia) 1965, M MUS (Illinois) 1970. While studying bass with J.P. Hamilton, the principal bass of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, he played 1962-5 in various Vancouver symphony and studio orchestras and in the jazz groups of Chris Gage, Dave Robbins, and others. Studies in ethnomusicology followed with Bruno Nettl at the University of Illinois. After teaching at the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica, during a year of doctoral field research (1970-1) on Jamaican popular music, he joined the music department of the Faculty of Fine Arts at York University, Toronto, where he was founding director 1972-6 and co-director 1976-88 (with John Gittins) of Canada's first program in jazz studies at the university level. In 1974 he was instrumental in the development of York University's ethnomusicology laboratory and archives, and in 1985 he became director of the university's graduate program in music. One of Canada's first ethnomusicologists to investigate popular music cultures, Witmer has specialized in the areas of native, Jamaican, and jazz studies, and has also developed instructional material for the pedal steel guitar. His research materials have been deposited in the University of Illinois and York University archives. He has continued to work in the Toronto area as a bassist - eg, as a member in the 1980s of Al Lawrie's Jazz Corporation.


'Recent change in the musical culture of the Blood Indians,' Yearbook for Inter-American Musical Research, vol 9 (1973)

'African roots: the case of recent Jamaican popular music,' Proceedings of the 12th Congress of the International Musicological Soc, vol 1 (1977)

The Musical Life of the Blood Indians, National Museums of Canada, Mercury Series, paper no. 86 (Ottawa 1982)

'"Local" and "Foreign": the popular music culture of Kingston, Jamaica, before ska, rock steady, and reggae,' Latin American Music R, vol 8, no. 1 1987

'Notation,' Kernfeld, Barry ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (London 1988)

- ed Ethnomusicology in Canada, CanMus Documents, 5 (Toronto 1990)

Pedal Steel Guitar Chord Dictionary for the E9 'Professional' Setup (Toronto 1991)

Other contributions to scholarly journals and papers for learned societies; also entries for EMC, The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and The New Harvard Dictionary of Music

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