10 Great Canadian Composers You Should Know
Growing up just outside of Toronto, and now living there myself, I have been so lucky to live so close to such a rich theatre scene. As a theatre lover, it was amazing to know that the newest musical or brand new play was only a few hours away. But try as I might, finding Canadian musical theatre content was hard. There just didn’t seem to be as many “mainstream” Canadian composers as there were American. It wasn’t until I attended an event called Breaking Into Song that I realized what I had been missing out on all those years. It was a wonderful evening of contemporary musical theatre, with all the songs written by Canadian composers (and sung by Canadian talent!). That night sparked my journey to finding more composers from the True North, and my research is what has led me to write this list – 10 Great Canadian Composers. Fellow Canadians, look no further. Theatre lovers everywhere, indulge in some great Canadian musical theatre. Some composers on this list are old, some are new, but all are 100% Canadian. Without further ado:
1. Norman Campbell
Norman Campbell was a Canadian composer and lyricist who wrote numerous musicals. Among his most famous is the musical version of the beloved Canadian classic Anne of Green Gables. His music for that show perfectly captured our favourite redhead and all of her adventures, and it is insanely catchy. (Seriously. Listen just once to “Ice Cream” and you’ll be singing it for days.)
Cathy Elliott is part Aboriginal, something that is significant since Aboriginal culture is an important part of Canadian identity. Her music, though simply structured, has powerful lyrics. In her song “Jack’s House,” a woman speaks of the house she is standing in, and the lyrics take a melancholy turn as she reflects that all of the little parts of her – her pottery wheel, the chimes she hung – have been removed from the house. It’s lyrics like that those that make Cathy Elliott such a compelling composer to listen to.
With the many musicals Joseph Aragon has written, it is impressive to see that he always manages to capture the feel of the time and place perfectly. His musical Bloodless, which takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland, is full of songs that have the exact feel of a Scottish/Irish folk tune. Another piece he wrote that takes place in America has the perfect blend of pop, rock, and musical theatre that is so beloved by American audiences. Regardless of the setting, his melodies and lyrics are always fun and catchy.
4. Leslie Arden
The National Post calls Leslie Arden “the best hope among Canadian writers of musicals.” Her music can be heard in a multitude of places – her scores have been used in Chicago, New York, and Stratford, to name a few. Though simply scored, her work is beautiful and fun, and the high praises of many reviewers is well earned.
Jonathan Monro’s talent at the piano was debuted at Carnegie Hall when he was just sixteen years old, and he is also an actor, so it seems only natural that his skills would extend to composing and musical writing as well. His songs have fun melodies that include lots of syncopation, as well as an ever-moving bass line that helps make his songs even fuller.
Not only a composer and lyricist, David Warrack is also a conductor and has been the music director for more than two hundred musicals. His compositions are beautiful, with smoothly flowing melodies that are gorgeous on their own but also provide fantastic support for the singer.
7. Kevin Wong
Kevin Wong is a Toronto-based composer and lyricist who also plays violin, a talent he uses with many of his compositions. His music is the perfect mix of funky and unique while still appealing to the modern musical theatre lover. The perfect example of this is his song titled “So High,” describing the feelings of a skyscraper.
8. Neil Bartram
Now living in New York, Neil Bartram has written the music and lyrics for dozens of shows, both individually and with bookwriting partner Brian Hill. Their musical The Story of My Life, which debuted in Toronto before moving to Broadway, earned four Drama Desk nominations, including Best Score. His writing is very visual, artfully telling the stories most important to his characters. His most recent project with Brian Hill is an adaptation of Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Scott Christian, another Toronto-based composer and lyricist, has written several musicals as well as acting as musical director for several different theatres. His music is beautiful and soulful, with soaring melodies and lyrics that speak to every listener, no matter who they are.
10. Colleen & Akiva
Colleen Dauncey and Akiva Romer-Segal are a songwriting duo based in Toronto. Their music is witty and fun, with a pop feel that clearly rings of contemporary musical theatre and makes every song a joy to listen to.
This list is by no means an exhaustive one – the amount of Canadian talent I found was astounding, and more Canadian composers are releasing their material every day. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the Canadian musical theatre scene, and I hope this list has sparked your own interest in what Canada has to offer!