Dr. Murray Adaskin was a member of a distinguished Canadian family which includes Gordon Adaskin, painter; musician brothers the late John and Harry Adaskin; his late wife, Frances James, soprano.
Born in Toronto, March 28, 1906, where he started his musical studies, Adaskin continued further work in New York and Paris. Violinist for ten years with Toronto Symphony, Adaskin also studied composition with John Weinzweig, Charles Jones and Darius Milhaud.
Adaskin was appointed Head of the Department of Music at the University of Saskatchewan from 1952 to 1966 when he became Composer-in-Residence until 1972 (the first composer to receive this post at a Canadian university). Dr. Adaskin helped make Saskatoon a major centre for the performance of contemporary Canadian music by conducting the Saskatoon Symphony for five years, commissioning new works, and organizing concerts of Canadian music. He was appointed to the Canada Council from 1966-1969, and retired to Victoria in 1973 where he composed his final work in 2000.
Dr. Adaskin has received the following degrees: LL.D., University of Lethbridge 1970; LL.D., University of Saskatchewan 1984; D.Mus., Brandon University 1972; D.Mus., University of Windsor 1977; D.Mus., University of Victoria 1984; Honorary Doctor of Letters, Brock University 2000. The following television and radio shows featuring Dr. Adaskin have been broadcast: "Profile of Murray Adaskin at 65" (CBC 1971 -- 2 hours), "Composer Murray Adaskin" (CBC 1989, 1990 -- 6 hours), "Murray Adaskin Retrospective" (CJRT-FM Toronto 1993). He also received a Senior Arts Fellowship from Canada Council to work in Europe (1960-61), was chosen 'Citizen of the Year' in Saskatoon (1969), and received the Saskatchewan Arts Board Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts (1991). In 1988 the University of Victoria celebrated Arts of the 30s-40s-50s by naming the six week Canadian festival "The Adaskin Years". In the same year, the University of Toronto Press published The Musical World of Frances James and Murray Adaskin written by Gordana Lazarevich. Adaskin's fanfare for brass and percussion is the official University of Victoria fanfare. He has had more than 40 works commissioned and completed over 100 compositions.
In the book Contemporary Canadian Composers (Oxford University Press, 1975) edited by Keith MacMillan and John Beckwith, Adaskin’s work is described as follows: "What strikes one directly about Adaskin’s music is its optimistic tone – a humane aspect that, as with Haydn, is never far from cheerfulness. This basic characteristic is reflected in his relaxed attitude towards the question of polarization in contemporary styles: essentially a conservative, Adaskin welcomes experimental ferment, only regretting that he cannot be part of it. And it is as a conservative that he is an immediately appealing composer. His music is generously lyrical, clearly crafted, rhythmically vital, witty, and, curiously enough, recognizably Canadian in content."
Murray Adaskin passed away on May 6, 2002
When the student is ready, the master will appear. In memoriam Murray Adaskin.
In a radio interview for “West Coast Performance,” I asked Murray Adaskin (then aged 94) his advice for young composers. He said, “Choose your parents wisely.” This response was vintage Adaskin. Murray knew that music, like religion, is best taught through parable and example. All who receive the message will be delighted; some will be amused, and some confused; but the thoughtful will ponder the words for a lifetime, sometimes with marvelous results.
My formal studies with Murray Adaskin ended in1976. My informal studies with him will never end, largely because he was blessed with what Buddhists call “Beginner’s Mind”. I watched, I listened, I learned. I watched Murray embrace change, welcoming new people, ideas, and activities into his long life. By example I absorbed the philosophy of mitzvahs, the thousands of good deeds large and small that Murray did for young musicians, his fellow artists, his community, and his country. I observed a man living his life passionately through his sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties, always growing, always helping others, always interested in the new, always making music, making magic, in his own world and in ours.
The world has lost a great spirit, a true mensch, a good human being, a marvelously creative, fearless, energetic and loving man. I am blessed to have known him.
Download "Murray Adaskin, An Annotated Catalogue Of His Music", (Gordana Lazarevich and Robyn Cathcart, 2003) from the National Library of Canada site.