Music Made Here
For 60 years the Toronto Conservatory has taught the piano, harp and glockenspiel. They’ll even teach you how to kiss
THE ROOM was filled with the cool sunlight of a spring morning. Over by the window a dark, intense young man and a honey-haired girl stood, very close together, for an enchanted moment before he took her in his arms, crushed his mouth to hers—and a second blonde, watching them like a hawk, told him to try again and make it slower next time.
So began another busy day in Studio 101 of the Toronto Conservatory of Music; and that wasn’t kissing. At the Conservatory, a noticeably stately institution, they prefer to call it the Technique of the Embrace, a subject required for Acting, Class A. Why this has to be taught in what was once a private house, instead of in the main building further along Toronto’s College Street, is part of a success story not many Canadians know.
The Conservatory proper, echoing all day with industrious tootlings, thumpings and hootings, is a vast red brick affair on Toronto’s College St., from
whose front steps a good batter could easily wallop a baseball into mid-town Queen’s Park. Built at the turn of the century, its architecture has heen described by disgruntled modernists as Salvation Army Italian, largely because, although most of it resembles a Florentine palazzo which has somehow been mislaid, the concert hall has stained glass windows and is shaped confusingly like a chapel.
Opening for business as a limited company in the gaslit fall of 1887, on two floors above a music store, the Conservatory had a mere 200 pupils. Ten years afterward when, following a number of makeshift expansions into various rented halls, it moved to
the present main building, there were 950. Today the enrolment, of nearly 8,000, including those at the 20 branches scattered through Greater Toronto, is thought to be the largest in the world; and last year more than 20,000 other citizens from coast to coast did their best to play, sing, recite or otherwise perform well enough to satisfy the Conservatory’s travelling examiners.
Despite its prim physical appearance the Conservatory booms along musically with tremendous energy and vitality. The simplest and most striking way to see this is to walk the bare corridors, past endleas rows of glass-panelled double doors, which are supposed to silence the various sounds being made in the studios behind them and don’t entirely succeed.
Some of these studios contain nothing but a piano, a teacher, and one girl singing scales; some a biggish choir working on a roaring anthem. In others a string quartet threads its way through the intricacies of a piece of chamber music; in still ot hers people are earnest ly blowing into bassoons; in others again are pianists, or cellists, or violinists, or persons heavily involved with French horns. The ohoe is played, and the double bass; the harp, the kettledrum and the Continued on pafte 63
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Music Made Here
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glockenspiel; the trumpet and the flute. There is even, in one office, an ancient Japanese mouth organ.
At a quieter level more students are resolving the dominant seventh and its inversions in G minor, or trying to discover what went wrong with the slow movement of their first concerto, or learning to read scores—just about all the kinds of musical activity there are, including a few which don’t seem, offhand, to have much to do with it but which nevertheless tie in neatly. The Technique of the Embrace, for instance, besides being a lot of fun, is useful to budding actors and opera singers. Ordinary free-style kissing doesn’t give the vocal chords a fair chance.
Seeing that all these things get done requires organization and takes money. The Conservatory has been held in trust and controlled by the University of Toronto since 1921 with Sir Ernest MacMillan its present Dean of Music. It isn’t really interested in making a profit, has only once or twice been briefly out of the red; although last year its income from tuition, examination fees and other sources ran to more than half a million dollars, up from $11,417.12 in 1887.
The more than 250 teachers who constitute the faculty charge from $10 to $50 per term of 10 half-hour lessons (except for certain kindergarten courses at the branches, some of which cost as little as $5 for a term of 10 one-hour lessons). The Conservatory won’t say how much its teachers make a year, but as there are four terms, and an individual teacher may easily give as many as six lessons a day, it isn’t hard to form an idea of the possible take.
Last year there were about 25,000 examinees, at rates ranging from $2 for Grade I candidates to $18.50 for people sitting for their L.T.C.M. or Licentiateship, the Conservatory’s highest diploma. Degrees in music are granted by the faculty of the University of Toronto.
Two examinations are held every year at the Conservatory itself, in February and June, and specially designated faculty members (20 in winter for Ontario only; 40 in summer for the whole country) travel to various centres at about the same time, to take care of people who can’t get to Toronto. Some examiners go as far north as the Peace River district, to which they fly from Edmonton. Others chug up the British Columbia coast to Prince
Rupert. All in all they cover every region of Canada. Except for the Licentiateship, whose candidates must be Conservatory students, the examinations are open to anyone who can meet the requirements of the syllabus and the regulations. Both sets of requirements are well known to nearly every music teacher in the country, whether in a big town or the most remote village.
By far the largest group of the faculty (almost 150 members) teaches piano. Singing runs neck and neck with theory and composition for second place (about 50 teachers apiece). Organ and violin come in third, with roughly 20 each, and other instruments are represented by numbers right down to the irreducible minimum of one—tympani, for example, and harp.
The teachers range widely in age and celebrity, and inevitably form little cliques. Nevertheless there is less temperament and a great deal more co-operation than a mere layman, brought up to regard musicians as a pretty touchy lot, would believe possible.
According to Joe Spokes, a massive old man who has been caretaker for 32 years, life goes on in much the same placid way as ever. “None of this fuss and rush and helter-skelter,” Mr. Spokes observes contentedly. What seems to impress him as the principal difference is the altered tone of the faculty.
“When I came here,” he says, “there wasn’t hardly a teacher would think of showing up if he wasn’t wearing a plug hat and a frock coat. And formal—you wouldn’t believe what it was like . . .”
To illustrate, he has a tale of the summer of 1915, his first on the job. He was assistant to the head caretaker and the two of them were sodding the lawn together with a third man, hired for the occasion, a racy, independent sort of character who presently lit a pipe. “It was a proper lovely mom* ing, I remember,” Joe says, still chuckling at the swift fate that overtook the raffish extra.
The Secretary—“A German he was, too; but a very nice fellow”—saw the smoke and sailed out, coattails flapping —shocked sick.
“My good man, you can’t do that here! I must ask you to put that pipe away at once. If you wish to smoke, wait until your lunch hour and then do it in the park or wherever you want, as long as it is not on the Conservatory grounds.”
Nobody wears a frock coat to his lessons any more, but they still don’t allow smoking in the corridors, and
here and there a touch of that distant stuffiness survives. Last fall one of the staff, a slight, spectacled man given to liturgical music and the quieter pursuits, brought down a suspected thief near the head of the cafeteria stairs with a flying tackle that would have done credit to a 200-pound halfback. The teacher’s glasses were knocked off and his nose was bloodied but he held on until the police came. When the excitement was over he found that certain of his more senior colleagues took a pretty dim view of such goings on. This was expressed by an ostentatious failure to congratulate him, or even to make the slightest mention of the deplorable incident.
The actual relation of faculty to Conservatory is fairly flexible. Teachers aren’t compelled to follow a set method, can largely rule in their own studios as a captain rules on his bridge, and unless they should behave scandalously — which none of them ever have —or fail through slackness or inefficiency to bring their pupils up to standard, they will never feel the hot breath of administrative authority on their necks.
The Swiss from London
As things are now constituted that authority Is in the hands of the principal, Ettore Mazzolenia quiet, dark, witty Swiss-born Canadian who is also Associate Conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Executive head of the Conservatory, he is responsible to its board of directors whose chairman is Edward Johnson, general manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The Directors in turn are appointed by the Board of Governors of the University of Toronto.
Mr. Mazzoleni got to be a conductor by a kind of happy accident. One day, when he was a student at the Royal College of Music in London, after graduating from Oxford University in music and arts, he dropped in to watch an opera rehearsal in the basement, found that the regular conductor had been taken suddenly ill, and was asked to pinch-hit. He’d only been at the R.C.M. for a few months when this happened, and although the director, Sir Hugh Allen, thought him a virtual prodigy, there hadn’t been much time for this impression to become widespread.
Anyway, Mazzoleni took the stick and went to work. He galvanized all concerned into such brilliance that the chorus master of the Covent Garden Opera, who was there too, jumped up and down with excitement and hailed him as really hot stuff. From that moment on Mazzoleni was a conductor.
He came to Canada in 1929 to teach music at Toronto’s Upper Canada College, later joined the faculty of the Conservatory as a lecturer and examiner, and became a Canadian citizen after a delay due to another accident -this one fantastic, but scarcely happy in the latter end of it.
When he was a schoolboy in England, during World War I, his parents wanted him to study music in Milan. To get the exit permit then required, he had to go around to the local police station, where, baffled by the question of his nationality born in Switzerland of a Swiss mother, his father was Italian - the sergeant on duty flipped a coin to decide. It came up heads, and that made Mazzoleni Italian, which wasn’t so good, technically, when the second World W'ar broke out. Although there was never the slightest official doubt of how he stood in fact, the situation for a w'hile was one Gilbert and Sullivan would have found gratefully suggestive.
Mr. Mazzoleni’s Number One colleague is the distinguished composer,
Dr. Arnold Walter, director of the Conservatory’s senior school, which was set up in 1945. In the words of its syllabus, the senior school is designed “to provide the necessary training for especially gifted students who wish to enter the musical profession and are sufficiently advanced to be able to prepare themselves, under the guidance of artist teachers, for a professional career.”
Dr. Walter, born a Czech, was educated at the University of Prague, studied composition with the celebrated Bruno Weigh After getting his doctorate of law by, so to speak, doubling in brass, he went on to Berlin. There he took musicology at the university, at the same time studying piano under three eminent teachers. He stayed in the German capital to write about music.
The appearance of Hitler in power ended his hitch as critic on a Berlin paper, and the night of the Reichstag fire, while he was hard at work in his office on a review of a concert he’d just heard, a friend phoned him and tipped him off not to go home.
He had already sent his wife to safety in Spain. He set out to join her with only the little money he had in his pocket when the phone rang, and got there eventually after many difficulties. The Walters were free and happy together in the sun for a while, studying medieval music and South European folklore. Then came the civil war and Franco, whose fascist regime put the democratic Czech couple on the spot again.
They had to go into hiding. Dr. Walter, an energetic type, was at something of a loose end because he had nothing to work with in his hide-out. That problem was solved by Alfred Einstein, cousin of the world-famous physicist and a great friend, who sent books and other material by appropriately ingenious channels.
In 1936 the Walters got to England. A year later he came to this country, where he became head of the music department at Upper Canada College. He loves it here, and fits in like a native son —is as much at home at a Rotary Club lunch as ever he was in the musical circles of Prague or Paris.
Opera Goes Native
One of the aspects of the senior school about which Dr. Walter is most enthusiastic is the opera school. Canada has never been particularly operaconscious. Most citizens think of opera, when they bother to do so at all, in terms of heavyweight tenors, meaty sopranos, bassos glued up to the eyes with false whiskers, and a chorus of short, globular goons with a tendency to squint.
Canadian opera, to judge by the present pupils of the school, won’t be like that. Quite a few of the young singers are ex-servicemen, studying under DVA’s rehab scheme—there are 302 of these altogether at the Conservatory, and 38 ex-WRCNS, CWAC’s and WD’s and a fine lean group they are. Although the school has been going for less than 10 months it has already reached the point where it can aspire to give a full-dress public performance. During the Festival Week of April 28May 3 this year, which will mark the Conservatory’s diamond jubilee, a company from the school is presenting Smetana’s “Bartered Bride” on two successive nights. Its rehearsals were directed by Nicholas Goldschmidt as conductor, and Felix Brentano as producer. The Conservatory has had opera classes in the past (as a recent example, those directed by Sir Ernest MacMillan, then its principal) but the school in its present form and with its
long-range plan, is a Dominion first. Its aim is to train talented young Canadians so thoroughly that they needn’t go elsewhere to qualify as opera professionals, and to provide a sort of talent pool right here in this country.
The opera school is among the reasons why Edward Johnson is so interested in the work of the Conservatory, and why he Ls decidedly not a mere figurehead as chairman of its board. His appointment is one of the more spectacular events in the Conservatory’s distinctly tranquil history. Sir Ernest MacMillan was knighted in 1935 when he was the Conservatory’s principal, a position he held from 1926 to 1942. Since his resignation to give more time to his concert work Sir Ernest has retained two firm links with the Conservatory —one as conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the other as Dean of Music at the University of Toronto.
The Music-Hating Mice
None of the Conservatory’s other former heads have been widely known to the general public, although all have been the kind of musicians other musicians respect. The faculty has attracted no celebrities whose names were on the lips of the western world, but has its outstanding musicians nonetheless. Right now the faculty includes the brilliant and beautiful pianist Lubka Kolessa, and Canada’s own world - renowned violinist, Kathleen Parlow, to name only two.
On the whole, though, the Conservatory has made its mark without benefit of glamour just as it has done without scandal or even particularly outstanding trouble. In 1889, when the whole works still operated above a mid-town music store, the director got a stiff note from downstairs saying that the store’s telephone was not for the convenience of the faculty and students, and that if the Conservatory wanted to use Mr. Alexander Graham Bell’s handy new gadget it had better get one of its own. (It did, and the number was 389 in the 1890 Toronto phone book.)
About the same time there was an exchange of letters with the Young Men’s Christian Association. By arrangement the Conservatory had had an organ installed in the YMCA’s hall, and this organ was worked by a waterpowered motor. The YMCA felt that, in view of the terrific quantity of water needed to make music, the Conservatory oughtn’t to leave their motor hooked onto the Association’s meter, and there was a slight coolness for a while. All ended well, though, and when the meter situation was cleared up, the Conservatory very handsomely fixed things so that the overflow of water from its organ-pumping machinery could be piped to the YMCA’s swimming pool next door.
So it went: a tempest in a teapot about every decade, but on a note of the improbable rather than the dramatic. There was a case in point just last winter, when mice got into the library and did one single solitary piece of damage. They gnawed a ruinous groove down the leather-bound backs of a set of books containing the score of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” —the only antimouse music ever written.
Besides providing nourishment for mice the Conservatory has made arrangements to feed people too, and its cafeteria serves an average of 700 meals a day. Not all the customers are music students or teachers (who have a separate room but must get in line at the counter like anyone else). Any member of the university can eat there if he or she wishes. The food is pleasant, with a refined emphasis on salads, and the green-walled basement layout man-
ages to combine the atmosphere of a ladylike teaahop and a Service canteen. It doesn’t sell cigarettes, maybe in deference to the Old Guard, but most of the lunchers and diners smoke there with abandon.
No Latin Quater, This
Partly because there are always children around, some no more than eight or nine years old, and partly because everybody is very busy, College Street at University Avenue isn’t at all Bohemian. The place has little or nothing of the atmosphere one might, perhaps expect. Among the explanations for this is the fact that only an estimated one per cent of those who study there—the senior school excepted have the least idea of going professional later on — too few, even if hard-boiled gaiety were characteristics of the Canadian artist in youth, to make a reasonable facsimile of the Latin Quarter. The Conservatory Isn’t given to statistical breakdowns, and it’s pretty well anyone’s guess how many students are there from an innate love for music. On the whole it seems safe to say that a great many, and perhaps most, were simply sent there by their parents in the ordinary course of culture.
Apart from the consecrated one per cent, though, there are plenty of youngsters whose lives would never have been really complete if they hadn’t learned to play or sing. Teaching these is one of the faculty’s chief satisfactions. Furthermore, when such
music hunger isn’t accompanied by much money, there is a relatively limited number of scholarships and bursaries to help out—although, as the Year Book puts it, “in view of the many requests for assistance it is deemed advisable to remind all who contemplate a course of study at the Conservatory that they should be prepared to assume the cost of at least a full year’s maintenance and tuition before taking up work in Toronto.”
The principle is nevertheless to charge as little as possible, and to give as much for nothing at all as can be managed. For example, students taking at least one lesson a week can have free lectures in score study, the history of music, ear training, and so on. The more advanced get free orchestral practice — the Conservatory has two orchestras, the Symphony and the Junior. Piano practice rates, as another instance, are only $10 for five hours daily a month.
Speaking to the Canadian Club, as an official of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, in 1945, Edward Johnson said: “We have a three-way plan. We want to make the public an understanding public, a listening public and a singing public.”
Since its beginning the Toronto Conservatory of Music has registered as many pupils as would populate the whole of Ottawa and has examined enough to overcrowd both Winnipeg and Vancouver. It is growing steadily all the time.
Which is not bad going for a staid old lady of 60 . . . ★