History 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. 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 public concerts.
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 father Reg.
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 EMSNS 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 EMSNS 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 EMSNS members. Christopher Allworth gave lectures on iconographic sources for period instruments. Valerie Weeks demonstrated harpsichord playing. EMSNS 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 EMSNS'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. EMSNS 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 EMSNS'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 EMSNS ceased existing in everything except name after David Wilson retired and stopped publishing Consort. Priscilla merely kept up the books. Since the inception of EMSNS, Halifax had grown substantially, and the available musical offerings were comparatively plentiful without EMSNS'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 to.