Music and the Empire
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Oct 1953, p. 21-28
Neel, Boyd, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
An alternation of the title: "Music IN the Empire." Some idea of the experiences the speaker has had within the Empire as far as music goes, and also his travels in different countries and what he has found there. A musical travelogue. Personal experiences, anecdotes and reminiscences of the speaker's travels in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
Date of Original
15 Oct 1953
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Full Text
An Address by MR. BOYD NEEL
Dean of the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto
Thursday, October 15th, 1953
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. A. E. M. Inwood.

MR. INWOOD: My Lord Chief Justice, Distinguished Guests and Gentlemen, it is a particular pleasure on this occasion to welcome our guest speaker, an eminent musician and internationally-known orchestral conductor, who, only last month arrived in Canada to become Dean of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Canada's largest music school.

Mr. Boyd Neel was originally destined for a naval career and was educated at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, after leaving which, he went to Cambridge to study medicine. Two years of hospital appointments in London, followed by five years of general practice led to his relinquishing the medical profession and deciding to form in 1933 what has since become a world-famous orchestra. The Boyd Neel Orchestra soon made a profound impression on the musical world of Great Britain.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, Mr. Boyd Neel resumed his life as a doctor and towards the end of the war was asked to undertake a lecture tour of the Mediterranean for the Admiralty and also to give concerts to troops in outlying places. In 1945 he was free once again to return to his heart's desire and he reformed his orchestra and resumed his frequent B.B.C. broadcasts and gramoturn to his heart's desire and he re-formed his orchestra phone recordings of which he has made many hundreds. He recently published a book "The Story of an Orchestra."

Mr. Neel brings with him a wealth of experience in many fields of music, and he will undoubtedly contribute greatly to the musical development of Canada.

In appreciation of his services to music he was, in this year's Honours List, made a Commander of the British Empire. The subject of his address is: "Music and the Empire."

Mr. Neel, we do, Sir, heartily welcome you to our Club.

MR. BOYD NEEL: My Lord Chief Justice, Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you very much for inviting me here today to speak to you.

The subject of the address today was "Music and the Empire". I think I should have altered that to "Music in the Empire." You see it is rather a different thing. "Music and the Empire" as a title rather looks as though I should be expected to give a dissertation of the effects of Music on the Empire. That would be much too involved a discussion here.

What I thought I could do would be to give you some idea of the experiences I have had within the Empire as far as music goes, and also as far as I have travelled in different countries and what I have found there.

I have had a good deal of first-hand experience which might be of interest to you. It is mostly since the war. I can not say what happened up to the War in the various countries I visited, but I do know that since the war I have had many interesting experiences as a travelling musician. And one of the most interesting was the tour I made in this country last year.

After the war I was working a great deal for the institution known as the British Council. It is an organisation set up by the British Government to further relations of a cultural nature between Great Britain and foreign countries. Now, the British Council works in rather a mysterious way because it does not always work in all countries. It does not, for instance, work in the United States. It did set up just after the War an Empire Division which was concerned chiefly with the cultural relations between other countries of the Empire and the United Kingdom. That was something quite new and it was an interesting departure.

I was in on the start of this, and it was proposed that I should do a tour of Australia and New Zealand. It was a most stimulating experience. The idea was I should take my orchestra there. It is a long way to go from the United Kingdom. It was decided we should fly, and it was decided we should fly the orchestra and the instruments and everything. That was quite an undertaking in those days, when long distance flying had not reached the development of the last few years.

We flew from England to San Francisco and from there finally across the Pacific to Australia. It was the first time a whole orchestra had been transferred by air half way round the world.

I had no idea what we would find there in the musical line, as I had only heard vaguely about Australia, and we really knew very little about it at home. I was given more or less the impression that I would be playing to savages "with rings in their noses." When Clara Butt, the great singer, went to Australia many years ago she asked Melba, who was Australian, what she should sing out there, and Melba's reply was "Sing 'em muck." Well the "Sing 'em muck" legend has died very hard, and when I went there I was a bit worried what to take, so we took a great variety of music.

When I got there I found an astonishingly developed musical community. You see, they are living out there on the other side of the world and until the last few years they had been cut off from everything in the nature of culture, such as we know it, and they had had to do something on their own. And, my word, they had got something going! When I arrived in Sydney, I was asked to go to a concert. I went expecting to hear a mediocre orchestra, and found there a superb symphony orchestra of full dimensions, in a most beautiful hall, with an audience which filled every crevice and cranny,--and I was astounded to hear that the programme was not only being played that night, but the next, and the following night as well: so many were the people who wanted to go to these concerts. That Town Hall holds close to 4,000 people. In a country whose total population is only about 7 or 8 million, the proportion of people who go to those concerts is staggering.

You see, the tragedy is that nobody in the United Kingdom hears about these things, and the Australians are too modest about it. They should let the people at home know what is going on. But they are so vitally interested in everything that happens "at home" (as they call it) and "home" is not at all interested in what goes on out there. I have told this to people and they are beginning to realize.

Then of course we started to give our concerts, and I found there the most cultured, intelligent and wonderful audience, such as I have seldom encountered in the world. I found it in the big centres and in the small centres. I received a telegram from the Directors of the Broken Hill mine, of which some of you doubtless know. It is an outcrop of zinc or lead ore in the middle of the desert, in New South Wales. There is no communication with the outside. You fly out there and land on the desert, and you are greeted by some gentlemen in Cadillacs or Rolls Royces. They drive you out to the most beautiful city, with the most up-to-date hotels, and a community of 40,000 people, completely cut off from the outside world, all very happy, all earning fantastic salaries. They told me the women scrubbing the office floors make about $60 a week, and they are the least-paid people in the community. What the directors of the companies are paid, I don't know!

It is cut off from the outside world, and they have their own dramatic company and own orchestra. They have everything of their own. We played to these miners, and they were sitting there with their hoary old hands, listening, I thought it was wonderful for them to come at all. We played Mozart and Beethoven to those people. This astonishing community has had to turn to something of the spirit: there you have it right in the middle of the Australian desert. Well, Broken Hill is a great institution, and since then I hear all sorts of musicians have visited them, and they are getting many concerts from outside.

We played in several towns in the bush, and always with the same wonderful response.

Our next call was New Zealand, and there I found the same thing on a smaller scale. I found there much the same musical scene as you find in the British Isles. They were just starting an orchestra, but of course they lag behind Australia a great deal. Their population is so small that they had not at that time been able to get together a first class orchestra. Now I hear it is much improved.

We played there again in some of the smallest places, right up in the mountains. It is an astonishing country where you can go skiing in the morning and have a swim in warm water in the afternoon. Steam comes out of the ground and the whole place is "on the boil."

I found there again a wonderful musical audience from the listening point of view.

So much for my experience of music in Australia and New Zealand.

I told the people at home what was going on, and since then many artists have gone out. I hear from some friends there that Australia has now got a national opera company. It is going the rounds of the big cities, taking each in turn, and they are having great success. They have gone over to New Zealand for the first time. They are really getting "cracking" on Music out there.

Last year my experience in Canada was extremely gratifying. We started off from Gander and we went to St. Johns. Now, in St. Johns, Newfoundland, it was the first time they had ever seen an orchestra in the flesh, and we played there four nights in succession. We could have played for 400--they just did not want us to go: they were really wonderful. We must try and get more music out there. There is an amazingly enthusiastic community. I don't know how we are going to do it. It is a long way, and of course once you are there, you can't "go on" anywhere. It is at the end, so to speak. But we must try somehow. I think Sir Ernest MacMillan and I will have to get together and see what we can do about it.

Then we moved along to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The people there are keyed up on their concerts, working hard to get them going and to have them all through the winter season. We travelled out through New Brunswick and Quebec, sometimes playing at quite small places, places like Rimouski; and then worked our way gradually into Ontario, where we played to eighteen cities, outside of Toronto. Here again I found the most wonderful enthusiasm.

Here is a great untapped region. I think we must play more to the outside places, because they do just love it so. Then we moved on down to the United States. Of course the United States is a different story. They have had their concerts for many years. They have magnificent auditoriums. That of course is one of the things that the Empire, as a music-loving community, must turn their attention to--that is, proper places in which to perform operas and concerts. Do you know there are only four theatres in the British Isles where an opera can be performed properly, where the orchestral pit is big enough to take an orchestra, 1. Covent Garden, 2. Manchester Opera House, 3. Sadler Wells, and 4. the King's Theatre, Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Theatre was converted only in the last few years. It is a terrible thing when you think of that. Then you can go across the Channel, and you have 60 or 70 theatres in Germany where you can perform the greatest works of Wagner.

There is absolutely nowhere in Canada where an opera can be adequately staged. There is no theatre big enough where the stage or orchestra pit allows an opera to be performed properly. I am told there is the Victoria theatre where operas could be performed, but it is held by a dragon that won't allow anybody to come near. It seems to me the most terrible waste that a building of that type in the middle of the city is just lying idle.

The Conservatory here are striving and struggling to get a permanent Opera going, and they have made wonderful progress. If you saw the conditions under which they have to work you would be appalled, and astounded that they ever get anywhere. There is only one room in which to rehearse, and when I hear them going hard at it, I just marvel how they can manage under such cramped conditions.

Then they go down to a theatre which is inadequate in every way. There is no scenery, no room for make-up and dressing. I think it is quite wonderful what they have achieved. But they should have a fine theatre where they can put these shows on in a proper way, because, after all, we are turning out down there hundreds of young artists a year and we have to give them something to do. Now that Canada is so much on the forward path, bounding ahead in every way, materialistically anyway, she must do something for these young people. We must have a permanent Opera Company.

Everywhere I go, I encounter the same thing. There is always a Canadian and an Australian among those opera companies. I ask them, "What are you doing here?" and it is always the same story: "I had to come here because there is nothing for me to do at home." In a country of this size and potentialities, there should be tons of work for these young artists.

So we are trying to get an Opera House, an Opera Company, and many orchestras throughout the country. I think the picture here is very rosy indeed, but Australia has had a kick ahead of us. So it is now our business to see if we can't catch up with them. I think we can, because, after all, we have far more material resources than they have.

I have not had first hand experience with the other parts of the Empire. I have not yet performed in South Africa, but I believe there too, they are rather more behind the times than Australia. And also in India I have had no experience of actual music, so I can't tell you much about that. But I think I have given you some slight picture of what is going on today in the Commonwealth. I believe it is a rosy picture, and as long as we can give our young artists something to do in their own country, all our efforts will be very much worthwhile.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Donald Jupp, O.B.E.

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Music and the Empire

An alternation of the title: "Music IN the Empire." Some idea of the experiences the speaker has had within the Empire as far as music goes, and also his travels in different countries and what he has found there. A musical travelogue. Personal experiences, anecdotes and reminiscences of the speaker's travels in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.