Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

A Matriarch of Canadian Music: Introducing Jean Coulthard to Elementary Students

Magazine article The Canadian Music Educator

A Matriarch of Canadian Music: Introducing Jean Coulthard to Elementary Students

Article excerpt

Jean Coulthard did not fit the mold of the typical Vancouverite in the first decades of the 20th century. She was a working mother who ran her own business. She was a music composer, a performing pianist and a teacher. She travelled to England, France, New York and Los Angeles to study her profession. She successfully navigated the highly male dominated world of music composition to become one of Canada's most well known composers.

Coulthard's music is very accessible to elementary age students. Much of it is programmatic in nature, and she is especially noted for her musical depictions of nature. Her style of composition includes elements of Romanticism, Impressionism and Nationalism. Recordings of Coulthard's work are available and easily found. In addition, Coulthard is a composer of pedagogical pieces for beginner musicians on violin, cello and piano. This article presents lesson plans that introduce the woman and her music to elementary age students through guided listening and interactive activities.

Biographical Summary

Jean Coulthard was born on February 10, 1908 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her mother, who ran a voice and piano studio, was her first teacher. As a young child, Jean was always composing music. She published her first piece of music in a music teachers' magazine when she was only eleven years old.

In 1928, Jean won a scholarship to attend the Royal College of Music in London, England. There she had the opportunity to work with Ralph Vaughn Williams. When she returned to Vancouver the following year, she began teaching in her mother's piano studio. She also took piano lessons and studied music theory. Jean's mother died suddenly of appendicitis in 1933. Jean continued to teach piano. In 1935, she married Donald Adams. During the early years of her marriage, Jean continued to teach in her music studio, composed music and performed piano recitals in which she would occasionally play her own pieces. Jean's only child, Jane, was born on May 24, 1943.

Between the years 1938 and 1944, Jean had the opportunity to study with several composition teachers across North America. She studied in California and New York City. Her teachers included Darius Milhaud, Arnold Schoenberg and Bela Bartok. Some pieces that she composed during this time are Ballade: A Winter's Tale for large string orchestra and Excursion, a ballet score.

In 1945, Jean and her family returned to Vancouver. A new music department was being formed at the University of British Columbia. Jean was invited to join the faculty and she taught music theory there for 25 years. In 1948, she composed Quebec May for choir with accompaniment by two pianos. This piece won a prize from the CBC which included a recording with the CBC Orchestra conductor Mario Bernardi playing one of the piano parts.

During the late 1940's and 1950's, Jean became recognized across Canada as a serious composer. She composed her First Symphony in 1950. She composed three important sonatas for solo piano, oboe and piano, and cello and piano. In these sonatas, Jean combines traditional formal sonata form with polytonality, a bonding of major and minor triad forms. She received a commission from the Solway Quartet of Toronto. Her music was published by several companies including BMI Canada, Frederick Harris and Waterloo Music.

In 1955, she won a grant to study for a year in France. Her daughter, Jane, spent the year with her. She studied music, composed and attended concerts including salons at the home of Nadia Boulanger. During her stay Ballade, a Winter's Tale was performed with the French conductor Gaston Poulet.

Some highlights of her compositions during the 1960's and 70's include her Piano Concerto (1967) which was premiered in Ottawa by the French pianist Marie-Aimee Varro; the opera, Return of the Native, begun during her year in France and completed in 1979; and The Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long (1960) for solo violin and small orchestra which has become one of her most popular orchestral compositions. …

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