of the Early Music Society of Nova Scotia
The first organizational meeting of the Early Music
Society of Nova Scotia was called by David Wilson in
1978 with a view of providing focus, disseminating
information, and promoting concerts of early music and
the playing of period instruments. David had initially
come to Halifax in 1957 to play in the Atlantic
Symphony. In 1961 he became the first full-time professor in
the newly formed music department of Dalhousie
University. Besides the sudden academic
musical interest there was now an increased need for
Small, informal groups of amateur musicians with an
interest in early/baroque music had, of course,
enlivened the cultural landscape for years. Gerta
Josenhans remembered regularly playing within the
Dalhousie-King's community since her arrival in 1958.
Musical Monday nights at her house began around 1963
with Robert Crouse at the harpsichord and continued
until her death in 2004.
David established an adult group in the music
department which eventually grew into Musica
Antiqua, an umbrella group of vocal and instrumental groups, involving students and interested outsiders. Elizabeth Meyerhof hosted regular
music nights on Beaufort Avenue. Not everyone knows that
principal flute Tim Hutchins of MSO fame started out as
a cherubic Dartmouth recorder kid dragged to every
conceivable musical evening by his proud and insistent
It is unfortunately impossible to mention all the
informal playing groups existing at the time, many of
which are alive and well—and more experienced—today.
As one of the founding members, Peter Payzant admits
that the original EMS committee could not decide who was
to be president, that they shunned meetings, and that
they considered musical activities to be their first
priority. Although no officers were elected, the
committee agreed upon a division of functions, Joan
Chandler keeping track of the minutes, agenda, planning,
and follow-up duties, especially taking charge of
letters and phone calls; Priscilla Evans, gifted with
awesome organizational skills and provided with access
to her ever increasing army of recorder students and
their families—she had been teaching since about 1963—was an uncommonly valuable treasurer. Most of her
student concerts were run as benefits for the Society.
By 1980 David Wilson published the EMS newsletters,
which within three years grew into "Consort",
a delightfully illustrated magazine of some 20 pages,
featuring both music news and musicological articles.
Consort continued to appear at least three times a year
until 1992 when David retired.
Activities were frequent and varied. Consort outlined
five planned events for the 1983–4 season. David Wilson
fondly remembers an all Purcell fundraising concert
(unfortunately it did not take place in Purcell's Cove),
put on by the best local groups. Other significant
promotions included a performance with Lorraine Thomson
singing the Coffee Cantata and Nick Swindale playing his
baroque flute. With union dispensation, professional
musicians sometimes joined the EMS members. Christopher
Allworth gave lectures on iconographic sources for
period instruments. Valerie Weeks demonstrated
harpsichord playing. EMS members provided musical
entertainment for an exhibition of mediaeval art at
Dalhousie Art Gallery. Several splendid mediaeval
pot-luck feasts and costume parties were held. Generally
these events contributed to the kitty. To make up the
constant shortfalls, Joan Chandler and Priscilla Evans
also applied for grants from the N.S. Department of
Culture, Recreation and Fitness, which could provide up
to $350.00 to cover a deficit.
The money raised was earmarked for the EMS's chief
mandate: to sponsor professional concerts, sometimes
with workshops given by visiting artists. They brought to
Halifax some excellent North American and European early
music groups such as Sequentia, Anonymus, Arion,
Hortulani Musicae a.k.a. New World Consort, Toronto
Consort, and even the fledgling Tafelmusik (co-sponsored
by the Dalhousie Music Department). Peter Payzant
recollects conversationally asking the lady he was
picking up at the airport what instrument she played;
she said she was the conductor. It was Jeanne Lamon, who
has now become a household word.
These visits were shoestring operations in the extreme.
EMS members generally billeted, fed, chauffeured, and
entertained the visitors from the moment they arrived
until they boarded the plane to leave. Even with minimum
money changing hands, Joan Chandler recalls how nerve-wracking
it was to be responsible for the financial
success of these performances. Despite the committee's
best efforts attendance could be disastrously low.
Sometimes, however, the results were gratifying indeed.
Although the Sequentia concert took place in a blizzard,
there was a good turnout and people came from as far
away as Wolfville to attend, finding places to stay
overnight in Halifax.
As Joan Chandler remembers it, no one in Nova Scotia
except Priscilla Evans, Reg Hutchins, and Rob Kehler
owned a viol before 1982. Under David Wilson's
direction, a number of early instruments had been
acquired by the music department and were generously
shared. Thus Joan herself, Martin Kaye, John Kavanagh,
and Tom Klenck learned to play on department viols. But
clearly more instruments were needed.
One of EMS's best initiatives were two instrument
building workshops taught during the summers of 1982 and
1983 by Harold and Aline Westover from New England. The
couple came in a small car filled with lumber, patterns,
and tools (a clerical collar greatly facilitating the
border crossing) and took over the theatre department
woodworking shop. Although the instruments produced
included organ, psaltery, violin, and kokle, these
events triggered huge growth in our local viol playing
community. As the participants upgraded to better
instruments, their old Westovers became available for
loan to prospective new players, of whom Priscilla and
Joan coached a number.
The EMS ceased existing in everything except name after
David Wilson retired and stopped publishing Consort.
Priscilla merely kept up the books. Since the inception
of EMS, Halifax had grown substantially, and the
available musical offerings were comparatively plentiful
without EMS's involvement. When the society was
resurrected in 2002, most people were astonished by the
number and variety of private music making happening in
the community. We are off to a propitious new beginning,
and it's inspiring to know that we have much to live up