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Stories from ACWC Members — Interview of Sylvia Rickard by Patricia Morehead

To celebrate our 40th anniversary, we are sharing stories from some of our members throughout the year! In the following interview of Sylvia Rickard, conducted by Patricia Morehead, Sylvia reflects on her life as a composer and her relationship with her composition teacher, Jean Coulthard.

Patricia: “I gave Sylvia several questions to think about. Her responses were so delightful and heart-warming to read. For me the music that composers create is about a life led. I also had the pleasure of meeting Sylvia’s teacher, Jean Coulthard, in Vancouver many years ago at her home and have always wanted to know what it was like to study composition with her.”

Sylvia: “I was born in Toronto, May 19, 1937, and stayed there until 1948, when my adoptive mother and I came to Vancouver. My adoptive parents separated and this was very traumatic for me, because I saw my adoptive father, whom I adored, very infrequently.

I always loved sports; skiing, skating, bike riding, tennis; and later ping pong, which I still play except for now because of Covid.

I began piano lessons at six years, got my Grade X Toronto Royal Conservatory, but not a great mark. At UBC I majored in Russian, French and minored in German; took a “catch-all” rudiments and theory course from Jean Coulthard. I continued the next year, and started to write music phrases.

I have been so fortunate to live in many different places: in France for a year, then California, then Punjab and Delhi, India for 14 months, and Todtmoos, Black Forest, West Germany, at the Graf von Dürckheim Jungian Institute, for 9 months. I came home to Vancouver, met an old UBC colleague who told me that Jean Coulthard had retired from UBC as Professor Emerita and was “now” teaching private lessons at her home. I decided to take composition lessons from her and never looked back.

Jean Coulthard had her own teaching rituals. The first was tea and cookies or some baked goods for about 10 minutes of general chat, to put both of us at ease, I believe. Then she would look at what we had written that week; she advised us to create works that had their own logic and structure. I’d say she championed the sonata form, especially for beginners. She was not much interested in free-form composition, or organically grown composition. She did not really like it when we added elements of jazz or any other discipline of music into our own works. But as time rolled on, she herself explored poetry to set of India’s Tagore, Persian and Japanese Haiku poetry and other cultures. She was very anxious that students of other cultures would pay heed to their own cultural roots in their music. One of the first students to benefit from this was Chan Ka Nin, who then went by the name of Francis Chan.

Jean told all her students to enter the newly formed Okanagan Composers’ Festival. I did, and shared First prize with Joan Hansen. Then we all went to Shawnigan Lake Summer School, where we had composition with Jean Coulthard and had access to great performers who played and sang our fledgling works! Then Banff Centre was on offer. Jean managed to convince the Board of Directors, with help from Tom Rolston, that composition should be included in the summer programme. Eight of us were the pilot group of composer-students in 1978, I think. That’s when we were all exposed to other composer teachers as well as Coulthard — Oscar Morawetz, Violet Archer, Gilles Tremblay, and others.

I continued to work with Jean for four years at her home in Vancouver; I rode my bike to her house, since I lived pretty close to her and husband Don Adams. Jean’s students were all very lucky; some of us got airtime on CBC, thanks to Jean’s knowing producer Don Mowatt. We had a jump-start to our careers. It was unbelievable. If anyone had told me when I was a teenager that I would become a composer, I would have laughed in their faces! Jean never doubted us, and we never looked back or gave up.

My first piece was a three-movement one in sonata form, which she labelled “Ballet Sonatina”. The second movement was in ABACA form. The C variant she made me go back three different times to make this one fit into what I had already written. I was vexed but then very pleased when she approved the third try! She complimented me on taking criticism so well, saying that some students did not. After all, she was trying to help us make better music than what we had started with! She got me fascinated with poetry of First Nations, in translation from the native languages into English. Not many composers who were non-native were much interested in First Nations literature or music at that time.

And Jean was quietly hilarious! Even in dark, broody tales she could see a funny side and make a funny comment. She laughed away remarks made by mean persons, which annoyed them intensely because she did not feel crushed but amused by their nastiness! She was shy but very centred emotionally, and very determined!

One of the best performances for me was in 2017, in Stratford, Ontario, when operatic tenor Roger Honeywell, cellist Ben Bolt-Martin and pianist Emily Hamper performed my Love, Death and Rebirth songs, settings of three Rilke poems, on the Inner Chamber Series at the Anglican Church. (These are all on my website:

Because of my love of foreign languages, I have written choral pieces in Russian and Latin and art songs in German, French and Brazilian Portuguese. I am now writing a love song in Spanish, poem by my Colombian friend José Quintero. I am fortunate to have good performers. I feel so lucky to have had many good performances of my compositions.

My hope for future composers is that they will not be deterred by nasty criticism and that they will keep their minds open to new sources of inspiration as they grow and mature.

My favourite moment in my life was the birth of my daughter Janine Rickard, in Rohtak, India, Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1964. Another great event was my 80th birthday celebratory concert at the Murray Adaskin Salon, CMC Vancouver, thanks to director Sean Bickerton and many fine performers.

All-time favourite music is by Gustav Mahler; other favourites are Rodrigo, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Ravi Shankar, Jean Coulthard, Ravel, Debussy, Poulenc, Shostakovich, Puccini, Verdi, Villa Lobos, Ginastera, Piazzolla, and Stravinsky and Richard Strauss.

I would like to promote more women’s large ensemble works, such as choral and symphonic works and operas in the general domain, and works by all races of people.

I think there will be an upcoming concert in Vermillion, South Dakota, this March 2021 or 2022, on the Great Plains New Music Festival, since last year’s September concert was delayed due to Covid 19. My piece will be Good-Bye, My Fancy, a poem by Walt Whitman, to be performed by Andrew R. White, baritone, and Graeme Wilkinson, piano.

More memories of Jean Coulthard which I will savour to the end of my days are these: when, at age 39, I discovered my birth mother, Helen Rickard Buxton, Jean and Don were wintering in their Honolulu house. When I wrote to Jean of this great discovery, she immediately sent me a telegram of congratulations! She was always supportive of our lives, not just our music.

And how can I forget her quips such as when, in England as a student, Jean said to an adult” Chalmondelly” in reading a road sign. He sternly retorted, “Chumley!”. “Oh” said Jean, inventing on-the-spot “That’s Like our Niffels”. Eyebrows raised in disbelief, he “ Niffels?” She calmly said and slightly haughtily, “O yes, Niagara Falls”.

Finally, one boo-boo has stayed with all of us Coulthard students. It was the last day of our summer school at Shawingan lake School Johannesen International Festival of Music), about 1977: We were all sitting crosslegged on the floor, around a huge punch bowl, feasting on delicacies and trading stories. By way of a “toast”, Jean bade us all “Clink Thearly, my dears”. She meant “Think Clearly, my dears!” We never let her forget that!”

Sylvia Rickard

Jean Coulthard

ACWC Beginnings Panel, Feb. 27, 2021

ACWC/AFCC Panel, Feb.27, 2021, 7pm EST

Join us on Saturday, February 27th at 7:00 pm eastern time, for a panel discussion of the history of the ACWC/AFCC.  Emily Hiemstra will be in conversation with Carolyn Lomax, Elaine Keillor and Elma Miller.  Carolyn Lomax, along with Mary Gardiner and Ann Southam, began the association to promote and support Canadian Women Composers.  She was our first chair.  Elaine and Elma both served on the board in the early days, and Elma was the archivist for a number of years.  The three of them will talk about the challenges women composers faced, as well as tell great stories from those early days.

REGISTER: The link to register for the panel is here. You will then be circulated a Zoom link via email.

Click here for the ACWC History of Canadian Women Composers Handout.


Roberta Stephen 2021 Award Application

Roberta Stephen

Instructions below:

The Roberta Stephen Award, worth $500, offers support to a Canadian woman composer
aged 36 or older for professional development such as further studies, conferences, or
workshops, or composers’ festivals.

The Deadline is: May 31, 2021 


Candidates must have a history of public presentation of their work, and must be:

  • Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada
  • 36 years of age or older
  • finished their basic training in music (university graduation or equivalent in specialized training) and either be ready to undertake a professional career, or, having already attained a professional level, be undertaking advanced studies
  • winners of the Roberta Stephen award are strongly encouraged to become members of ACWC/AFCC if they haven’t already done so.  Go here for membership

Please see the PDF forms, below, for Instructions and Application Procedure.

Roberta Stephen Award_Instructions 2021

Roberta Stephen Application 2021

ACWC Initiatives Fund 2021

ACWC Initiatives Fund, Deadline – March 15, 2021, is available to all ACWC members.  This special 40th Anniversary ACWC Initiatives Fund will celebrate the 40th anniversary and/or relate to music-making during COVID-19.  Opportunities include:

  • creating new compositions to be played and recorded within Covid-era realities
  • creative compositional networking
  • create 40th Anniversary projects including video interviews
  • documentaries on ACWC history and/or music of  BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), racialized, or minoritized women’s musical work in Canada.

To apply, download this form and after completing it, email to:

Call for Scores

SHHH!!  Ensemble (piano and percussion), in partnership with the CMC, are presenting a series of late-night world premieres and conversations with Canadian composers called NightCAPS w/ SHHH!! Ensemble. They will be doing an episode featuring works by ACWC/AFCC members in celebration of the 40th anniversary and are looking for unperformed works.  For more information on SHHH!! Ensemble, visit their website at

Submitted works should:

  • Not have been performed before.
  • Under 10 minutes in length.
  • For both piano and marimba (range available A2-C7)
  • Scores should be anonymous and in pdf form
  • Deadline is January 2, 2021

To submit please email scores to Please included your name, contact email address, and the name of your piece.

This call is open to all ACWC/ACFF members.


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: ACWC 40th Anniversary Playlists

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: ACWC 40th Anniversary Playlists

Deadline: November 15th, 2020

Submission link:

As part of the ACWC’s 40th anniversary celebrations, we will be releasing monthly playlists of music by Canadian women. The playlists will each be one to two hours long. They will be released January through December, 2021, hosted on Soundcloud, and embedded on the front page of the ACWC’s website. We are hoping to include at least one work by every current ACWC member, and if there is room for more, we will also include music by earlier Canadian women composers.

Please submit at least one work using the attached google form. There are twelve categories which are meant to be open-ended; select the one that is most applicable. If your submission does not fit any of the twelve categories, select “other”. You may submit up to two additional works; these will be included if space is available. They will be more likely to be included if you submit works in separate categories. The twelve submission categories may not reflect the themes of the twelve playlists; these will be reworked based on the submissions that are received.

There is no maximum length for recordings; however, works longer than 10 minutes may be excerpted. You may include preferences for how the piece should be excerpted in the “work details” section.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Amanda at

ACWC 40th Anniversary

Happy 40th Anniversary, ACWC!

Upcoming Online Events

Watch here for upcoming live events.

Upcoming Concerts

East Coast Concert

In celebration of the ACWC/AFCC’s 40th anniversary, there will be a live-streamed concert from Halifax, Nova Scotia, on March 8th, 2021, at 1pm, AST.  It will be coming to you from The Music Room and will feature Jennifer King, performing piano works by, Monica Pearce, Holly Winter, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Amy Brandon, and Emily Doolittle.

Look for the link, coming soon.

SHHH!! Ensemble Celebrates the ACWC/AFCC

NightCAPS w/ SHHH!! Ensemble is a monthly video series of new Canadian music for piano/percussion duo.

Each episode begins with a composer/performer interview moderated by CMC Ontario Region Director Matthew Fava and ends with a never-before-seen performance by SHHH!! Ensemble.

NightCAPS w/ SHHH!! Ensemble is your late-night new music fix and the best way to cap off the last Saturday of each month at 9:00pm EST.

An ACWC Anniversary special event concert will be happening on April 24, 2021 at 9PM Eastern time. The concert will be available to watch on the ensemble’s website, as well as their YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

ACWC/AFCC live-streamed concert from Toronto

Here is another of our 40th anniversary events on line concert events.  In partnership with Canadian Music Centre Ontario division we will be presenting a concert of music by current and new ACWC/AFCC members: Catherine Bevan, Rebekah Cummings, Sophie Dupuis, Monique Jean, Heather Hindman, Naomi McCarroll-Butler, Roxanne Nesbitt, and Cleo Palacio-Quintin, performed by Amanda Lowry (flute), Naomi McCarroll-Butler (bass clarinet), Marketa Ornova (piano), and Yang Chen (percussion). Watch for it in late May!

ACWC Playlists

We’re celebrating music from ACWC members all year long!

You can find all the ACWC Anniversary Playlists here

ACWC Initiatives 40th Anniversary Fund 2021-Covid-related

ACWC Initiatives Fund, Deadline – March 15, 2021, is available to all ACWC members.  This special 40th Anniversary ACWC Initiatives Fund will celebrate the 40th anniversary and/or relate to music-making during COVID-19.  Opportunities include:

  • creating new compositions to be played and recorded within Covid-era realities
  • creative compositional networking
  • create 40th Anniversary projects including video interviews
  • documentaries on ACWC history and/or music of  BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), racialized, or minoritized women’s musical work in Canada.

To apply, download this form and after completing it, email to:

ACWC History

Keep watching this page for postings of ACWC history.

Stories from ACWC Members– Interview with Sylvia Rickard by Patricia Morehead can be found here!

Do You Know?

Do you know about Mrs. Hattie Rhue Hatchett (1863-1958) of North, Buxton, Ontario? Her parents were escaped slaves from the Miles plantation in Virginia.

As a child, Hattie attended piano lessons at the Elgin Settlement School. She became a school teacher and a talented pianist and composer, being one of the first in Kent County to receive a certificate in music. However, she would not be hired by the schools, and instead used her talents as an organist, choir leader, Sunday School teacher and president of the Missionary Society in North Buxton.

Hattie wrote religious song and hymns. In 1937, she copyrighted a composition she had written in 1915 entitled “That Sacred Spot”, a hymn with a ‘marching type beat’ that was chosen by the Canadian Military to be their marching song during World War 1.  The song was sung by school children for a number of years on Remembrance Day.

(Thank you to Elma Miller for telling my about Hattie and the virtual museum for their biographical information)

Please Donate

If you would like to help support celebrations for the ACWC/AFCC 40th Anniversary, including special concerts, workshops, projects, publicity and online initiatives, please donate by clicking on the Donation button below. Your support would be very helpful! Any donation of $25 or more will receive a tax receipt. Thank you!

Stay Tuned/Stay Informed!

Keep up with all the ACWC Anniversary related events here!

Brenda Margaret Muller, Winner of 2020 ACWC Initiatives Fund

Brenda Muller

Brenda Margaret Muller has been chosen as the winner of the 2020 ACWC Initiatives Fund for new creative work projects or compositions. Muller’s project relates to her Riversongs Festival of community-based music, through which she will, in turn, sponsor an award to an ACWC member for a new composition for the Riversongs Festival. The new work will be scored for community orchestra and/or community orchestra and choir. Muller is founder and Artistic Director of the Riversongs Festival, which occurs in Parry Sound, Ontario. The festival, involving Whispering River Orchestra and Community Choir, is tentatively scheduled for August/September, 2020, but will be further rescheduled if required, due to coronavirus.

Muller’s project relates to her Riversongs Festival of community-based music, through which she will, in turn, sponsor an award (named ACWC COMPOSITION AWARD) to an ACWC member for a new composition for the Riversongs Festival. The new work will be scored for community orchestra and/or community orchestra and choir. 

Muller is founder and Artistic Director of The Riversongs Festival which occurs in Parry Sound, Ontario. The festival, involving Whispering River Orchestra and Community Choir, is tentatively scheduled for August/September, 2020, with full regard to the coronavirus situation at that time. If need be, it will be rescheduled accordingly. This annual event celebrates authentic Canadian and Parry Sound creative community through music, poetry and art. The small string orchestra
produces five to six concerts annually, typically with two in June that bookend this unique week of workshops in composition, string playing, art, poetry, speaking
Anishinabek, musical yoga coffee houses, banner painting and a
musical Canoe and Sail Regatta. The music from the ACWC will be used to
sponsor one of four Riversongs awards for compositions for community
orchestra and/or community orchestra and choir. However, ACWC is only sponsoring Riversong’s ACWC-focused award, which will be granted to another ACWC member.

Although the event is traditionally held during Summer Solstice, the upcoming festival is tentatively rescheduled for late August into September, around the fall equinox, dependent on the coronavirus situation at that time.

About Brenda Margaret Muller:

From her roots as a classically trained cellist, Brenda Margaret Muller has
gone on to create conceptual events that weave together poetry, music and
song. Working as a Musician, Poet, and Song-writer, as well as Artistic
Director for the past 32 years, Muller has created inter-arts events across
the province, founded and directed the Ardeleana Chamber Music Society, and released 6 recordings with her trio, Ardeleana, including a
CD of original cabaret songs, Wolf At My Door, and the first CD to feature
only music by Canadian women – Spinners of Starlight (1997). She is the creator of two story operas – Melissa’s Song and Jonathon’s Storm, both of which have
toured across the province to the critical acclaim of enthusiastic young
people. Muller has commissioned and premiered over 150 works of music by
Canadian composers. She holds an Honours degree in Music Performance from
the University of Western Ontario, a Mus. Ed and Honours Specialist in Music
from O.I.S.E. University of Toronto. She is currently the founder and
director of the Whispering River Orchestra, and Riversongs Festival, a 10
day Community Celebration of Music, Poetry and Art in Parry Sound, Ontario.

Information on previous 2019 Initiatives Fund winner, Stephanie Orlando here.

Gayle Young becomes ACWC/AFCC Honorary Member

Gayle Young has been awarded an ACWC/AFCC Honorary Membership in November, 2019 for her exceptional accomplishments as an innovative composer, instrument creator/inventor, writer, feminist and administrator. She has been an ACWC member since the very beginning, serving on the ACWC Board for many years. For decades she has edited Musicworks (Canada’s leading publication on new and unusual music). As well she has written extensively on tunings, wrote the definitive biography on Hugh LeCaine (Canada’s principal inventor of electronic instruments), written for our ACWC Journal, and was recently featured in a CMC Presents Concert, along with jaw-harp virtuoso Chik White on November 21, 2019 at Canadian Music Centre, Toronto. Young’s compositions, many of them electroacoustical and/or soundscape oriented, rank among the most highly esteemed Canadian works today. CMC suggests her tonal soundscapes “link natural sound with the musical worlds of tuning and harmony.” (CMC post). A 2018 recipient of the ACWC Roberta Stephen Award, she was able to present her compositions with her new 9-stringed instrument, the Allium, at Visiones Sonores, an annual festival of electroacoustic music held in Morelia, Mexico. (ACWC Journal Spring/Summer 2019, 38-40). All along Gayle Young has championed women’s music as part of her ongoing life work.

Roberta Stephen Honoured

Roberta Stephen ACWC award-cropped

Roberta Stephen,Janet Danielson

ACWC composer, music publisher, and benefactor Roberta Stephen was honoured with a reception at The GRAND in Calgary on June 2 following a performance of Ghost Opera by Association of Canadian Women Composers member and 2017 Roberta Stephen Award winner Veronika Krausas. Stephen received both an ACWC Honorary Life Membership, presented by ACWC Treasurer Janet Danielson, and a Violet Archer Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by John Reid, the Prairie Regional Director of the Canadian Music Centre. The reception was attended by a number of Roberta’s colleagues and supporters including ACWC member Hope Lee an her husband David Eagle. Roberta explained how her own experience as a composer led to her idea for the the scholarship: when she finished her training as a composer in her late thirties, she said, there was “nothing for her.” She was, however, able to establish her career through great perseverence, entrepreneurship, and organizational skill. In addition to the tributes to Roberta Stephen, the reception included the official announcement of the 2019 award winners, Laura Hawley and Maren Lisac; and Laura thanked Roberta personally via FaceTime from Edmonton during the reception tributes. The ACWC gratefully acknowledges the gracious contribution of Roberta’s four children in assisting with the reception plans and helping with transportation.