The founding generation of 30 years of music at York

York makes beautiful music, thanks to the founding generation of faculty members in the Faculty of Fine Arts. These are the scholars who helped form the Music Department in 1970, a scant 10 years after the University started to take shape. Department members came from all over the world, from such places as Edinburgh, Johannesburg, Madras, Melbourne, New York and Seattle, as well as Toronto.

As part of  York’s at 40th birthday celebrations (1999-2000), the Faculty of Fine Arts commissioned the Music Department’s founding Chair, Sterling Beckwith, now professor emeritus and senior scholar, to produce something by way of a historical document to mark the department’s 30th year in 2000. The result was a series of fascinating interviews, plus a brief history of the department, published in Fall 2003 as Music at York: The Founding Generation 1970-2000, compiled and edited by Beckwith. Copies of the book are in the York Library.

Many of the faculty members appearing in the book have retired – among them Beckwith himself, Austin Clarkson, David Rosenboom and Peggie Sampson (who passed away recently; see the June 10 YFile). Current musicians are in the book, too, including Rob Bowman, Michael Coghlan, David Mott, Trichy Sankaran, Casey Sokol and Christina Petrowska-Quilico.

Left: Sterling Beckwith

Describing the book as a “group self-portrait” in his introduction, Beckwith added, “The book cannot be called a history in any strict sense. It is more like a family album, documenting – in a less formal, less impersonal, but hopefully no less revealing way – the first phase of what is still an ongoing project: to build a new Canadian university centre for music.”

Interviewees were asked 10 stock questions, 15 for former department Chairs or graduate directors, and responses were transcribed, edited and condensed for readability. The result was a thoroughly engaging and revealing peek at various York faculty members’ lives in relation to their time at the University – their aspirations and successes, and even their disappointments. “In one introductory essay, I tried to convey some sense of the context in which the Music Department’s birth took place,” explained Beckwith.

“Anyone curious about academic institutions and how they grow should enjoy sampling the varied opinions, inside views and personal stories presented here. But this was no mere exercise in nostalgia. This book will only justify the effort that went into its making if it can also raise hopes and inspire support for greater achievements yet to come,” Beckwith said.

The production of the book was supported by FFA Dean Phillip Silver and Professor Michael Coghlan, Chair of the Music Department.