Dr. Elmer Iseler, O.C., O.ONT. 1927–1998
In a career that spanned five decades, Elmer Iseler, the Dean of Canadian Choral Conductors, was pivotal to the development of choral music in Canada. After founding the Festival Singers in 1954, Canada’s first professional choir, he became Artistic Director and Conductor of the 180-voice Toronto Mendelssohn Choir for 33 years. In 1979 he established Canada’s leading chamber choir, the 20-voice Elmer Iseler Singers. He also enjoyed a long association with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducting over 150 performances of Handel’s Messiah, and often premiering complex twentieth century music. Under his baton, Dr. Iseler’s choirs achieved international stature for their technical brilliance and artistic versatility. He has, in the estimation of many of his peers in Canada and abroad, created a vibrant world class choral infrastructure in Canada.
While the list of his achievements is broad, several critical contributions make Dr. Iseler singular in his legacy to Canada. He achieved a sound and technique in choral singing which was without parallel in Canada, establishing a benchmark in Canadian choral music to which other choirs across this country, and internationally, aspire. He established a tradition of commissioning Canadian compositions, fostering that goal as one of his priorities. He encouraged young Canadian performers, deriving great enjoyment from making music with young people; this pleasure was reflected in his work with the National and Ontario Youth Choirs. He taught choral music at the University of Toronto from 1965 to 1968, and was appointed Adjunct Professor of Choral Music in the fall of 1997, when he and the Elmer Iseler Singers, as the professional choir-in-residence at the Faculty of Music, worked directly with the students.
The most decorated musician in Canada, and honoured with many awards nationally and internationally, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Toronto, Elmer Iseler’s impact will continue undiminished through his many recordings, the ongoing performances and work of the Elmer Iseler Singer’s, as well as through The Elmer Iseler Chair in Conducting and the Elmer Iseler National Graduate Fellowships in Choral Conducting at the University of Toronto.
ELMER ISELER Choral Visionary,
a biography by Walter Pitman, O.C., O.On.
Walter Pitman writes: “…rarely, if ever, has there been a single musician who changed the performance of an entire genre of music across an entire nation… in his relentless pursuit of excellence in choral presentation.“
- Published by Dundurn Press.
- Winner of Choral Canada’s 2010 Outstanding Choral Publication Award
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