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Canmore's Opera house.One of the many defining features of a culture is its music. From the bagpipes of Scotland to the steel drums of the Caribbean, traditional song identifies a land and its people to the rest of the world. Alberta's musical heritage is comprised of influences borrowed from the various ancestral lands of its citizens. From the unlikely operatic beginnings, to the international caliber artists we enjoy today, Alberta's music has remained a constant force in Canadian culture.

At the turn of the century, music was not performed professionally as it is today. School recitals, church and traditional music from various ethnic groups were the most common form of entertainment since the settlement of the prairies. During the Gold Rush further north, and following the construction of a railway in the 1890s, Alberta's population exploded, and entertainers were suddenly in great demand. Professional organizations began to emerge, many of them associated with a particular community group such as the Edmonton Fire Brigade Band, the Bicycle Club Band and the Salvation Army Band. One of the first significant musical groups in Alberta was the Edmonton Amateur Operatic Society which performed "The Chimes of Normandy" in April, 1904 under the direction of Vernon Barford, a key player in Alberta's performing arts heritage. This performance was not only a landmark event in the Edmonton music scene, but opened the door for other musical companies to offer performances to a growing audience.

The Salvation Army Band.The popularity of minstrel shows in Alberta, common place from the 1880s to 1920, was somewhat of an anomaly in Western Canada. The shows featured plantation music from the Southern United States, with the performers often in blackface (a custom where Caucasian performers would paint their faces black to represent an African American character), a socially acceptable practice at the time. These shows were limited to the halls, schoolhouses and hotels of Alberta, and laid the groundwork for the thriving blues and jazz scenes we enjoy today.

Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.In the early part of the 20th century, musicians often found employment at halls that held regular dances, and later on, at picture houses as accompaniment to silent films. As these forms of entertainment became increasingly popular, bands, choirs and orchestras began putting on regular performances.

The 1920s saw the first successful appearance of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Though not yet the company we are familiar with today, this organization was an important part of a musical community where local artists had still not broken into the world of the recording industry. It was not until the second half of the century that Alberta recordings became widespread, and the first radio stations began to broadcast local musicians. In 1922, CFCN became one of the first companies to broadcast in Alberta.

The term country and western music was coined after the Second World War, and a deluge of cowboy singers hit the airwaves soon after, many of them Canadian. One of Alberta's most celebrated singers, Ian Tyson, emerged from this era, taking the music scene by storm throughout the late 60s and 70s.

Many contemporary Albertan artists are enjoying great success today, despite an American dominated market. Established musicians such as kd Lang and Jann Arden are household names around the world, and newer artists including the popular rock group Nickleback, and Edmonton's Adam Gregory are gaining recognition from audiences and industry members alike.

Featured Audio
Featured Audio

Heritage Trail #173 – Theatre Musicians
During the era of silent movies, music played a major role in the success of these films. Historian Don Wetherell describes the mood that live music created for these films, and the subsequent downfall of the movie musician with the advent of the "talkies" - movies with sound. Listen Now


Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.Through Alberta's rich musical history, artists are able to draw from their predecessors, and forge a path of their own in creating innovative and award winning music. Throughout the performing arts section of this website you will be able to read about a representative selection of these talented people, dedicated groups and exciting events that have contributed to the music scene in Alberta.

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