What Canadian composers write for wind ensemble?

How does their music reflect our national heritage and identity?

Are Canadian composers able to make a living from music?

Louis Applebaum

Louis Applebaum is a highly-regarded composer, best known for his music for the theatre and film. Probably his most recognizable work is the famous fanfare played before every performance at the Stratford Festival. One of the standards among Canadian works for band is his Suite of Miniature Dances. While it is scored for a fairly large band, it is written almost like delicate chamber music.

More about Louis Applebaum

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Louis Applebaum
Canadian Music Centre Composer Showcase: Louis Applebaum
All Music: Louis Applebaum
Internet Movie Database (IMDb): Louis Applebaum
Wikipedia: Louis Applebaum

Benjamin Bolden

Ben Bolden is a noted music educator associated with the Faculty of Education at Queens University. He specializes in community music making, both as an educator and as a composer. His work St.John’s, 1828 is one of the Canadian band pieces best adapted for performance by a community band.

More about Benjamin Bolden

Canadian Music Centre Composer Showcase: Benjamin Bolden

Howard Cable

Howard Cable is the doyen of Canadian composition. Well past his 90th year he continues to conduct his own music across Canada and to compose and arrange more important music, especially for bands and for wind instruments in general. He has for much of his career favoured drawing his melodic material from folk and popular sources. Listen to The Banks of Newfoundland (above) and Snake Fence Country . While he is a master of orchestral colour, especially for the band, he has written some important works with entirely original material. Listen to the Stratford Suite conducted by Cable himself.

In the video above, Howard Cable rehearses his Banks of Newfoundland with the Wellington Winds. The video below shows an interview between Cable and conductor Dan Warren. Here the composer, who was 89 years young at the time, shows a deep personal experience of the musical life in through much of the 20th century. He is a remarkable man.

More about Howard Cable

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Howard Cable
Canadian Music Centre Composer Showcase: Howard Cable
CBC Music: Howard Cable hosts This is My Music
Howard Cable Remembers: Cable’s personal blog

See more videos on our Howard Cable YouTube Playlist.

Morley Calvert

Morley Calvert was, along with Howard Cable, one of the first Canadian composers to gain widespread success with his works for band. He was a gifted conductor of choirs, bands and brass bands. His long association with brass instruments, including as a fine euphonium player, mean that much of his music appears in various forms among which brass ensembles are featured. His compositional idiom is traditional, and he left us a wonderful work very much in the style of Mendelssohn, the Romantic Variations, above. The Canadian Folksong Suite is one of the best of its kind. Here it is, performed by a Salvation Army brass band.

More about Morley Calvert

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Morley Calvert
Canadian Music Centre Composer Showcase: Morley Calvert

Donald Coakley

Donald Coakley is one of Canada’s most performed composers of band music. Having worked for many years with bands as a high school music teacher and administrator, he understands the medium exceptionally well and has written extensively for it. As a student of the American composer Vincent Persichetti, Donald Coakley exhibits an exceptional command of counterpoint. Vive la Canadienne, one of his best known works, is an exciting concert opener.

More about Donald Coakley

Canadian Music Centre Composer Showcase: Donald Coakley
Wind Music Sales: Donald Coakley

 Johnny Cowell

Johnny Cowell has had a remarkable career both as one of Canada’s most celebrated trumpet soloists and as a composer and arranger. He is best known as a composer of songs, but he includes some very successful original band compositions such as the solo for trumpet and band, Sangre del toro bravo, performed here by the WWS music director, Daniel Warren.

More about Johnny Cowell

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Johnny Cowell
Inside Toronto:  Johnny Cowell tribute concert, May 15, 2010

Vincent Gassi

Vincent Gassi is one of Canada’s most successful composers of original, quality music for school bands, and his music is widely available in both the Canada and the United States. Having made a successful career in music composition, he is a role model for young Canadian composers.

More about Vincent Gassi

Composer Vince Gassi’s website
Eighth Note Publications: Vince Gassi
Brampton Concert Band: Vince Gassi, Music Director

John Herberman

John Herberman is one of Canada’s leading film composers, a career to which he has devoted himself with great philosophical passion. He conducted us in his own composition, The Fisher Who Died in His Bed. Here you have the rare opportunity to view both the performance and the rehearsal.

Wellington Wind Symphony music director took some time to interview John Herberman about music, the music industry, and the composer’s life in music.

More about John Herberman

Composer John Herberman’s website
All Music: John Herberman
Internet Movie Database (IMDb): John Herberman

André Jutras

André Jutras is an exceptionally gifted musician, comfortable in many different musical roles. His music for band reflects this in its convincing naturalness and complete command of the American practice of band music. His Three Folk Miniatures is justifiably one of the most popular Canadian works for concert band.

More about André Jutras

Barnhouse (music publisher): André Jutras

Michael Purves-Smith

Michael Purves-Smith has had a diverse career in music as a professor of music, composer, conductor and performer on the oboe, recorder, and keyboards. His compositions range from operas to music for solo piano. He has also written many works for concert band. Most of it was written for special performances by the Wellington Wind Symphony or the wind ensemble of the Faculty of Music at Wilfrid Laurier University and is technically demanding. The WWS YouTube channel offers a good selection of his wind ensemble music. Michael Purves-Smith is a former music director of the Wellington Wind Symphony.

More about Michael Purves-Smith

Canadian Music Centre Composer’s Showcase: Michael Purves-Smith
Composer Michael Purves-Smith’s website
Michael Purves-Smith talks about two pieces of choral music
All Music: Michael Purves-Smith
Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Music news story

Jack Sirulnikoff

Jack Sirulnikoff has frequently written for concert band, often in a charming novelty mode, Polka Dots. His best know work for the medium is his Nova Scotia Fantasy which is based on folk songs from the region.

More about Jack Sirulnikoff

Composer Jack Sirulnikoff’s website
Canadian Music Centre Composer’s Showcase: Jack Sirulnikoff

Joseph Vézina (1849 – 1924)

Joseph Vézina is one of the first Canadian composers to write original music for wind band. Among many honours in his long and distinguished career he conducted, in 1880, the first performance of O Canada by his former teacher Calixa Lavallée and in 1902 he was the founding music director of the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec. This rather prolific composer was working on his fourth opera at the time of his death. The example we include here, Première Neige, is a typical occasional piece in the style of open air band stand music from the turn of the twentieth century.

More about Joseph Vézina

Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Joseph Vézina
Canadian Music Centre Composer Showcase: Joseph Vézina
The Canadian Encyclopedia: Joseph Vézina
Wikipédia (en Français): Joseph Vézina

David Arthur – Arranger

Im Zimmer (Indoors) from Seven Early Songs
Traumgekrönt (Crowned with Dreams) from Seven Early Songs
Nacht (Night) from Seven Early Songs

Dave Arthur would not call himself a composer. His contributions to new repertoire for the band have been mostly in the field of transcription. However, the piece represented here is an interesting hybrid, in as much as he uses well known tunes to set a famous piece of prose with music which is otherwise entirely his own. Thus we can say that the art of arrangement is different from transcription and different again from pure composition.

More about Dave Arthur

DavArt Music: Independent Publisher

Questions to Drive Further Inquiry

  • What is the composer’s main instrument? Is it evident that the composer writes especially well for that instrument?
  • Can a composition have a national “flavour”?
  • Do you enjoy playing music by Canadian composers? If so, why?
  • Some people have said that Canadian composers reflect our cold climate in their music. Can you find any indication of that in the music you know by Canadian composers?
  • All of the composers on this website are male. Are there any noted Canadian female composers? Are they writing music for band?


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