The Mount Royal Conservatory of Music was established in 1911 as one of the original divisions of Mount Royal College. The Conservatory was formed to prepare students for local examinations in music offered by the Toronto Conservatory and the Royal Academy of Music. The original vision for the Conservatory also included a Fine Art School and a School of Expression, Physical Culture, and Dramatic Arts. The Conservatory opened, under the musical directorship of Wilfred V. Oaten, with an enrollment of seventy-five students, but enrollment grew quickly to ninety-five students by 1913-1914. The Conservatory was originally designed to be financially separate from Mount Royal College and self-sustaining. The majority of its funding came from student fees, with the college only responsible for covering deficits. As a result of this funding arrangement, student registration and retention numbers were always vital to the Conservatory’s success. In the early days of Mount Royal College the Conservatory accounted for the majority of student registrations and played an integral role in establishing Mount Royal’s reputation.
Musical instruction formed the basis of the majority of the Conservatory’s early programs. Instruction was provided for the piano, violin, organ, voice, musical theory, and was expanded to include woodwinds and saxophone in the 1920s. Significantly, the Conservatory started offering examinations from the Toronto Conservatory of Music starting in 1915 and became a location for their administration in the west. In addition to the two-year diplomas offered in affiliation with Toronto Conservatory, Mount Royal originally only offered a single two-year diploma of its own for pianoforte teachers. Music was a common aspect of college life during Mount Royal’s formative years. Conservatory students and faculty provided music for campus events, social clubs, and performed for local Methodist churches and with their choirs.. The Conservatory was also especially well known for its orchestras. Two of the most well-known and successful orchestras were the Mount Royal Junior College Symphony Orchestra, which was founded in 1937 by Director Jascha Galperin, and the Calgary Youth Orchestra, which was formed in 1968 by Frank Simpson. When the Calgary Symphony was disbanded from 1939-1955 the Conservatory’s Junior Orchestra became Calgary’s only opportunity for large-scale musical entertainment, cementing the orchestra’s prominence in Calgary. The Mount Royal Junior College Symphony Orchestra was renamed the Calgary Symphony Orchestra under the directorship of Clayton Hare in 1949, and underwent a large restructuring in 1965 under Hare’s replacement, John S. Bach. Bach divided the orchestra into a junior orchestra, an intermediate orchestra, and the Southern Alberta Youth Orchestra. By the time Mount Royal College moved to the Lincoln Park campus in 1972, the Conservatory had three string orchestras, two full symphony orchestras, five choirs, and a range of brass and woodwind ensembles. All of this cemented the Conservatory’s position in the burgeoning Calgary Arts community and garnered the college much praise and esteem.
The 1940s and 50s saw a large amount of growth for Mount Royal College and the Conservatory. To better accommodate the growing space needs of the Conservatory, Mount Royal opened a branch Conservatory location in the North Hill community of Calgary in 1954 which could fit up to one hundred students. During John Garden’s term of college Principal (1942-1958), he made moves to bring the Conservatory more formally under the administrative and financial structure of the rest of the College by establishing the Conservatory of Music Committee, which included the Principal and a member of the Board of Governors. This committee created formal employment contracts for Conservatory faculty, granted a salary to the Conservatory Director (as opposed to a percentage of student fees, as had been the previous practice), and established a formal portion of the college budget for the Conservatory, ending some of the Conservatory’s reliance on student fees. The 1950s also saw the introduction of a new music examination system that led to certificate and diploma awards and the adoption of an external examination process. The Conservatory also started offering its first degree program in affiliation with Trinity College and expanded musical instruction to cover the accordion, tympani, and xylophone.
The School of Expression, Physical Culture, and Dramatic Arts within the Conservatory was focused on providing instruction in public speaking, elocution, and dramatic arts and offered courses in English literature, composition, voice culture, philosophy of expression, and storytelling. By 1915-1916 the School of Expression started offering its first two year diploma in expression. Similar to the musical instruction programs, the School of Expression had a significant impact on the art and culture community outside of the College. Faculty and students produced regular dramatic productions, put on public performances, and organized dramatic readings by popular artists of the day. The speech and drama portions of the School of Expression curriculum were expanded in scope with the appointment of instructor Leona Paterson, a pioneer in speech arts and future Conservatory director, in 1944. Some of her successful initiatives for the school included the formation of the Reader’s Theatre and the Children’s Theatre in 1951. She also introduced new areas of study such as radio and television broadcasting, a speech-therapy program, a new theatre arts program, and implemented a board of examiners for speech arts, similar to that for musical examinations. The Conservatory of Music changed its name, to the Conservatory of Music and Speech Arts, for the 1961-1962 academic year, to reflect the growing prominence of the speech programs offered through the School of Expression.
The Fine Arts School was established as part of the Conservatory in 1911 but has had a less consistent presence than other areas of instruction, with the school being disbanded and reformed as student interest and registration waxed and waned. Similar to the School of Expression and the musical instruction program, the Fine Arts School offered classes that supported areas of instruction offered by other college departments as well as offering stand alone classes for members of the public. Early fine arts instruction focused on watercolors, oil painting, leather tooling, china painting, metal working, wood carving, and drawing. During the 1920s the Fine Arts School offered several diploma options, including a two year diploma in freehand drawing, a two year diploma in the history of art, and a one year diploma in design. After a period of inactivity, the Fine Arts Division was reformed in late 1965, under the directorship of Peter J. Hodgson, in the hopes of eventually expanding to diplomas. However, the program was not a success and it was discontinued by 1969-1970.
Instruction in the dramatic arts was an early component of the Conservatory’s instruction program, and is listed as a part of the School of Expression starting in the 1915-1916 academic year. Many of the earliest theater arts courses were strongly connected to the Speech Arts program, focusing on elocution and performance voice work. The theatre arts program was expanded in the 1930s with the introduction of two educational streams for students. The first stream was catered to training theatrical performers and the second stream focused on training technical staff for TV and theatre productions. Director Cyril Mossop briefly introduced a ballet program in 1944 but the program only lasted until Mossop left the Conservatory in 1950. Mount Royal revisited offering a School of Dance, as part of the Faculty of Continuing Education and Extension, in partnership with Alberta Ballet Company, in 1984, but it was ultimately unsuccessful and discontinued in 1987. With the move to the Lincoln Park campus, the number of professional quality facilities and theatre spaces that students had access to greatly increased. Threatre students staged productions on campus, in the new Wright and Leacock Theatres, that were open to campus members and the larger Calgary community. Starting in 1984, Mount Royal expanded to offer off-campus theatrical productions in the form of the popular ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ summer plays. Shakespeare in the Park productions originally took place in Olympic Plaza in downtown Calgary, before moving to Prince’s Island Park, and were free events. Shakespeare in the Park productions became extremely popular, with the 20th anniversary performance of Julius Caesar in 2004 drawing over 40 000 attendees from July 2-11. Due to program cuts by the Alberta provincial government in 2013, the theater arts program, in its entity, was cut from the Conservatory. At that time, Shakespeare in the Park, was taken over by Theatre Calgary, and continues to offer free annual Shakespeare productions every summer that remain a popular fixture in the Calgary arts scene.
The 1980’s also saw considerable expansion and growth for the Conservatory. Director Norman Burgess (1978-1992) introduced a three-stream approach for Conservatory students with different levels of focus, learning outcomes, and instructional faculty. The first stream, which was expected to capture the majority of students and was focused on life enrichment and teaching students engaged with music at a hobby level. The second stream focused on preparing students for careers in music, and the final stream, which became known as The Academy of Music program, was dedicated to preparing gifted students, under the age of 18, for performance-based musical careers. The Academy of Music program received positive attention and attracted gifted students and instructors to the Conservatory from throughout western Canada and beyond. Many graduates of the program went on to find successful careers in television, radio, and as orchestra soloists. Another result of Burgess’ ‘student-stream’ initiative was the rise in prominence of both the Suzuki and Kodaly music programs. The Suzuki program was started in 1984 as a summer piano institute that focused on teacher training. However, the program was quickly expanded to teach a variety of levels and provide musical instruction in other instruments. A Certificate of Achievement in Suzuki Piano Pedagogy started being offered in 2002 and Conservatory faculty member, Merlin B. Thompson greatly expanded the Suzuki program by introducing videoconferencing in 2004. The Kodaly method is another program of music instruction adopted by the Conservatory with great success. Focused on teaching music to young children, the Kodaly method continues to be the basis of several of the Conservatory’s programs of instruction for children and adolescence.
Areas of instruction such as the Suzuki, Kodaly, and Academy of Music programs helped to increase the Conservatory’s prestige and form links with leading music schools and musicians around the world. In particular, the Conservatory formed beneficial links to schools such as the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, the Colburn School in Los Angeles, the New England Conservatory, and Juilliard School in New York. Internationally the Conservatory’s reputation was bolstered by programs such as the Academy of Music program and the Morningside Music Bridge. The Morningside Music Bridge was an annual summer music workshop that brought aspiring international young musicians to Calgary. The Morningside Music Bridge started in 1996 and focused on providing summer workshops for students in violin, viola, cello, piano, and chamber music. As the scope of the Conservatory’s musical instruction increased so did the prominence and accomplishments of its students. Conservatory students excelled in local musical competitions such as the Kiwanis Music Festival and the Alberta Music Festival. Some of the Conservatory's most prominent students include Yuri Hooker, principal cellist of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra; Tanya Kalmonovitch, violist; Rhian Kenny, flutist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra; Martha Baldwin, cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra; Katherine Chi, pianist and winner of the 2000 Honens Competition; Alan Van Sprang, TV/film actor, Michael Kim, Dean of Brandon University School of Music; and Leslie Feist, Juno award winner.
Conservatory faculty not only provided quality instruction for Mount Royal students but many were accomplished musicians and performers in their own right who contributed to the reputation and prestige of the Conservatory. The Conservatory started out with 5 full-time faculty members in 1911 and steadily increased from there as programs expanded and registrations increased. In 1943-44 there were fourteen full-time Conservatory faculty members, only one of which had a degree. By the 1960s, faculty had increased to almost fifty members, with more specialized credentials. In addition to full-time faculty, the Conservatory also hired instructors to teach in fourteen ‘associated branches’ and employed part-time instructors from the Branch Teacher Association, who taught music lessons out of their homes. By 1990 there were approximately 100 teachers on campus and another 40 affiliated instructors from the Branch Teachers Association. By 2005, the conservatory had 240 teachers on campus and another 50 affiliated teachers teaching from their homes, reaching 5,000 Calgary area students. Notable Conservatory faculty members include Leonard Leacock, pianist, composer, and Order of Canada recipient; Norma Piper, diva soprano ; Knight Wilson, violinist and former department head of the Conservatory of Regina ; and Mary Munn, concert pianist and Order of Canada recipient.
The Conservatory currently operates out of the Taylor Centre for the Performing Arts, a new building that opened in July 2015 and includes the 787 seat Bella Concert Hall. The Conservatory continues to offer a range of musical instruction, speech and drama class, private lessons and ensemble and choral instruction. Musical instruction ranges across a variety of instruments including cello, flute, guitar, piano, trumpet, clarinet, viola, double bass, euphonium, French horn, harp, oboe, organ, percussion, saxophone, trombone, tuba, bagpipes, ukulele, violin, and voice. The Conservatory also offers group instruction in stage combat, music theory and history, music literacy, Chinese classical music studies, improvisation, speech, and presentation. The Conservatory remains particularly well known for its focus on child and youth instruction with specialized programs such as Music with your Baby, Music Explorers, Adventures in Music, Piano Explorers, and ensembles such as the Calgary Youth Orchestra, the Junior Sinfonia, the Junior Orchestra Program, the Mount Royal Horn Choir, and the Arietta, Arioso, and Artia choirs.