Music in Sorel

City situated 60 km east of Montreal at the junction of the St Lawrence and Richelieu rivers on the former site of Fort Richelieu, built in 1642, and the seigneury given in 1672 to Pierre de Saurel, a captain in the Carignan-Salières Regiment.

Sorel, Que

Sorel, Que. City situated 60 km east of Montreal at the junction of the St Lawrence and Richelieu rivers on the former site of Fort Richelieu, built in 1642, and the seigneury given in 1672 to Pierre de Saurel, a captain in the Carignan-Salières Regiment. Loyalists arrived in the area around 1781, and the settlement was called William-Henry and later Sorel; it was incorporated as a city in 1889. Located on an important waterway, the town experienced a period of rapid industrial growth in the 19th century through the establishment of shipyards, steelworks, and foundries. In 1990 it had a population of about 20,000.

Although there was some musical activity early in the English régime, it did not develop until schools began to be established in the mid-19th century. In 1783 Frédéric Glackemeyer taught piano to the daughters of Baron von Riedesel, the commanding officer of the regiment of Brunswick mercenaries stationed in Sorel (these lessons may have taken place in Quebec City).

The arrival of the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre-Dame in 1858 marked the beginning of some exceptionally fine music teaching (especially of piano); among their pupils were Charlotte Cadoret, Victoria Cartier, Anna Charbonneau, Estelle Giroux, Juliette Paradis, Cordile Paul, and Éviola Plouffe. A musical evening in 1913 devoted to works of Cécile Chaminade prompted the composer to send compliments to Juliette Paradis who had organized the event. The Christian Brothers Schools and later the Fathers of the Sacred Heart and the Brothers of Charity established choirs and brass bands. Henry Emery was director of the Cercle Ste-Cécile orchestra in the late 19th century.

In the early 20th century several Belgian musicians settled in Sorel, including Bosman, Clement, De Kestellier, and especially Auguste Liessens, one of those who, in the period 1913-54, provided leadership for the musical life in the town. Georges Codling, a pupil of Camille Couture, Eugène LaPierre, and Liessens, was a teacher at the Académie du Sacré-Coeur, assumed the directorship of the Calixa-Lavallée Concert Band 1940-88 (succeeded by his grandson Stéphane Laforest) and of the Carignan School Band, and was the composer of two masses. The town's radio station, CJSO, presented many programs featuring local artists.

Choirmasters and organists made a large contribution to the town's musical life. Christ Church, erected in 1778 and said to be the first Anglican parish church in Canada, had Charles Coxhead as leader of the singing, towards the end of the 18th century; some of the parish's organists or choirmasters were Alexander Wright ca 1860-80, Lily Theodosia Wright 1880-ca 1920, and Theodosia Wright-Riopel 1936-61. In the Catholic churches the following deserve mention: Eugénie Smith-Champagne 1887-1945 and Éliane Champagne-Carpentier, organists at St-Joseph; Albéric Latraverse, choirmaster 1904-66 at Ste-Anne; Henri DeGrandpré, choirmaster, and Richard Bernard, organist, at St-Pierre, the town's first Catholic parish. The choir of St-Pierre began the regular practice of Gregorian chant in 1932, at first under the direction of Émile Mineau and later under his brother Adrien.

Sorel over the years has welcomed Emma Albani, Rose Bampton, Marcel Grandjany, Marcel and Yvonne Hubert, Raoul Jobin, Arthur LeBlanc, Léopold Simoneau and Pierrette Alarie, Henryk Szeryng, the Disciples de Massenet, the MSO, and the foremost names in French and Quebec popular song. The town played host to the Community Concerts 1941-ca 1954 and to the 1973 festival of the Fédération des harmonies du Québec. Musical events have been held also in the town's churches and in the Théâtre du Marché (Georges-Codling Auditorium) and the Fernand-Lefebvre Secondary School Auditorium. Frans Liessens (son of Auguste), a long time organizer at the JMC (YMC)centre, founded the Choeur en liesse in 1982, which he conducts. Frans Liessens' son Frédérick was a member of the McGill Percussion Ensemble and became percussionist with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 1981. The François Bourassa Trio, formed in Sorel in 1983, won the Alcan Prize at the FIJM in 1985; in addition to Bourassa, piano, it includes the brothers Yves and Guy Boisvert, percussion and double bass respectively..

The proximity of Sorel to Montreal and Trois-Rivières has always encouraged students, such as Henri Pontbriand, Walter Boudreau, Pierre-M. Plante, Yves Lussier, and Alain Descôteaux, to attend the music schools, conservatories, and universities of those cities. For young students the École Huguette-Aussant gives instruction at the local level. Starting in 1977, the Société Bourses Sorel/Tracy for young musicians has awarded annual grants to students of the area. The conductor Jacques Beaudry, the pianist Anna-Marie Globenski, and the organist Claude Lagacé are among the musicians born in Sorel or in the vicinity.


Further Reading

  • Valois-Liessens, Louise. 'Sorel et musique,' Voix métropolitaine, vols 12 and 13, 28 Nov 1972-3 Jan 1973

    Hébert, Johanne. 'La vie musicale à Sorel du XVIIIe siècle à 1930,' MA thesis, University of Montreal 1990