|by David Fujino June 2006
Composer Harry Freedman and soprano soloist Mary Morrison have created and performed music since the 1940s, and throughout the years they've taught numerous music students, raised three musical daughters, and stayed married for over 50 years, in short, they've made incredible contributions to Canadian music and culture without ever leaving Canada to work in the United States.
Culled from this information-rich biography, the above facts are the bare details about these two Canadian musicians and pioneering cultural activists who helped establish familiar programs like the Ontario Arts Council's "Artists in The Schools" program which brought students and working composers together. This was on Freedman's initiative.
In the case of Mary Morrison, with a busy singing career which began in high school in Winnipeg and developed in Toronto into opera with the Canadian Opera Company and then regular New Music performances with the Lyric Arts Trio (Robert Aitken flute, Mary Morrison voice, and Marion Ross on piano), Morrison eventually became a prestigious teacher and mentor of young opera singers at U of T's Faculty of Music. Canada's gifted Measha Bruggergosman is a notable past student and friend of Mary Morrison.
These days the existence of the CBC, the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Canada Council, are taken for granted (pun intended), but this book reminds us how much energy and vision this dynamic duo brought (as early as the 1950s) to their negotiations with the various arts councils and broadcasters about how to give out grants to artists and how to pay artists for their work.
Most importantly, Harry and Mary understood that performers and audiences should be exposed to more than the classical repertoire, especially if the New Music of Harry Freedman, Harry Somers, John Beckwith and associates, were ever to reach the ears of more listeners.
Freedman of course saw the CBC as the broadcaster and recorder of New Music concerts and as a payer of fees to Canadian composers for use of their work.
Harry Freedman was an open Canadian nationalist at various times, a member of the CLC (Canadian League of Composers) and CMC (Canadian Music Centre), a Board member of TAC (Toronto Arts Council) as was Mary at a different time. Freedman struggled beautifully to build a Canadian sound in a 'classical' or 'legitimate' style and was often inspired by his background in jazz and popular music.
Mary Morrison, like Freedman, took the audacious step in the early 60's and concentrated on performing contemporary Canadian compositions and increasingly sang with The Lyric Trio in which she also exhibited her considerable flare for the comic.
Author Walter Pitman has gathered the information and written clearly and treated his two subjects with respect, but if there's a criticism to make, it would be the fact that the majority of pages are about Harry Freedman and his causes and concerns, and the book therefore seems a little lopsided.
On the positive side, this book gives proper exposure to the exemplary lives and careers of two musicians who have contributed mightily to the music and culture of Canada.
Both have been awarded the Officer of the Order of Canada: Mary in 1983, Harry in 1984.
Harry Freedman passed away in September, 2005, in Toronto.