JOHN BECKWITH, born 9 March, 1927 in Victoria, British Columbia, studied piano and sang in church choirs there before coming to Toronto in 1945 on a Royal Conservatory scholarship to study piano with Alberto Guerrero. He studied composition 1950-51 in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and holds Mus.B. (1947) and Mus.M. (1961) degrees from the University of Toronto, where his teachers included John Weinzweig.
Appointed special lecturer part-time in the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, in 1952, he became a full-time lecturer in 1955 and remained with the faculty, becoming a full professor in 1970 and serving a term as dean 1970-77. When the faculty inaugurated its Institute for Canadian Music in 1984, he was appointed its first director, and first holder of the Jean A. Chalmers professorship in Canadian music. He retired in 1990 in order to devote more time to composition.
Beckwith has published many critical and scholarly articles, was a staff (1953-55) and freelance (1955-65) script-writer and programmer for CBC music series, and a regular critic and columnist for the Toronto Star for five years (1959-62 and 63-65). In 1997 twenty-five of his talks and articles on music were collected uner the title Music Papers (Golden Dog Press, Ottawa).
His over 130 compositions cover stage, orchestral, chamber, solo and choral genres. While some works explore more general 20th century concerns such as serial and collage constructions, spatial and mime elements, or the use of text-vocables, much of Beckwith's music connects with historical or regional themes of Canada. As performer and arranger with the summer concert series Music at Sharon 1981-91, he produced close to 200 arrangements of earlier folk music and composed music, mostly from the Canadian heritage. He has also collaborated with several prominent Canadian writers, notably James Reaney, Jay Macpherson, Margaret Atwood, Dennis Lee, and bpNichol. He was a founding member of the Canadian Musical Heritage Society.
Beckwith holds honorary doctorates from five Canadian universities, was recipient of the Canadian Music Council's annual medal in 1972 and Composer of the Year citation in 1984, as well as the Toronto Arts award for music in 1995 and the Diplome d'honneur of the Canadian Conference of the Arts in 1996. In 1987 he was named a member of the Order of Canada.
SOCAN, Canadian League of Composers