Passings: Louise Wrazen


York University Professor Louise Wrazen of the School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design (AMPD), who joined the Department of Music in 2006 and served as Chair from 2010 to 2013 and 2019 to 2021, passed away suddenly on July 14 following a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer. She died peacefully in the arms of her husband of 40 years, Alistair Macrae.

Louise Wrazen
Louise Wrazen

The only daughter of the late Ted (Tadeusz) Wrazen and the late Janet Wrazen (née Sidorkewicz) and loving mother of Michael and Emily Macrae, she will be mourned by her beloved in-laws, Jane Hamer (David), Robbie Macrae (Naoko) and Martha Macrae, and by colleagues, alumni and students at York University. 

Wrazen earned her bachelor of music in 1979, master of arts in musicology in 1981 and PhD in 1988, all from the University of Toronto. She taught at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD U) and spent two years at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., as assistant professor and Webster Research Fellow. She completed a further degree in education in 1991.

Wrazen’s research investigated the music and dances of Poland’s Podhale region, Poles from the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. Her involvement with the Górale was supported not only by ethnomusicological theory and fieldwork, but also her abilities as a fluent Polish speaker, gadulka player and singer. As colleagues recalled, at her first orientation for new students as Chair, she caught everyone’s attention with an electrifying holler, which she shared as an authentic Highlander-style call.

Among her recent research, Wrazen and co-editor Fiona Magowan published Performing Gender, Place and Emotion in Music: Global Perspectives, a 2013 volume that included her own article, “A Place of Her Own: Gendered Singing in Poland’s Tatras.” Her final publication – “A View from Toronto: Local Perspectives on Music Making, Ethnocultural Difference, and the Cultural Life of a City” – appeared in Contemporary Musical Expressions in Canada (McGill UP, 2019). Wrazen also contributed regularly to various journals, including the Society for Ethnomusicology’s key publication, Ethnomusicology. She was a regular and welcome participant at the society’s annual conference and took on various roles within it as well as in the International Council of Traditional Music, for which she served as a board member. Although Poland and Toronto were never far from her heart, she also joined the movement exploring disability in music and published in that area as well.

Wrazen served as Chair of the Department of Music twice during her career, most recently just prior to the outbreak of the COVID pandemic. It is a testament to her strengths as a leader that a department so dependent on live performance was able to find the resources to teach online during this time. She continued to support the diversity of the department, including jazz, popular music, musicology, world music, composition and all aspects of performance. Wrazen was a dedicated teacher and mentor, supervising numerous MA and PhD students in their own successful careers.

Wrazen will be dearly missed, but very fondly remembered. Her door was always open, both as Chair and professor, and she cared deeply about the health and well-being of all of her colleagues and students. She was a model administrator, a generous colleague, teacher and above all a scholar, who brought her own generosity, grace, humanity, and musicality to the discipline and to the larger artistic and intellectual community at the University. 

“The following Górale poem, translated by Louise, seems an ideal way to bid farewell to our colleague and friend,” says Dorothy de Val, professor emerita in AMPD’s Department of Music. “May the ‘bread’ of the poem bring her peace and rest.”

Góry nase góry, wysokie do nieba;
muse wos zostawić, muse sukać chleba.

Mountains, our mountains, reaching to the sky,
I have to leave you now to go in search of bread.

Written with contributions from Dorothy de Val