Bill Orr / CMC BC Curator of Archives: To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Canadian Music Centre in British Columbia, we have invited the five people who have served as BC Director over that time to reflect on events during their tenure.

Colin Miles was the CMC’s BC Director from October 1978 until December 2009. An orchestral player since high school, he played with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and studied history and musicology at the University of Alberta, Indiana University, and the University of Calgary. Having moved to Vancouver in 1969, he became involved with early music, and worked with R. Murray Schafer on the World Soundscape Project. Colin subsequently earned an MMus in Viola Performance from the University of Victoria under the supervision of Gerald Stanick. Prior to the Canadian Music Centre, Colin worked at The Magic Flute record store on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano. Colin continues to play viola with Vancouver Opera, and performs chamber music on a regular basis. In 2009, he was a recipient of the Mayor’s Arts Award for Music. Of his time as Regional Director, Colin writes the following:

I was privileged to serve 31 years as BC Regional Director of this remarkable and vital organization. Phyllis Mailing declared the CMC was potentially the most important musical organization in the nation, and I came to see the wisdom of her words. Serving Canada’s finest creative musical minds and preserving and promoting their legacies is a noble enterprise, and it is heartening to witness the dramatic growth. How has the BC Regional Office served the art form?


Firstly, it has obtained the financial resources and facilities. For its first year, government and foundation grants covered most costs. At Jon Washburnʼs suggestion, we began an individual fund-raising campaign to fill the gap. At a national staff meeting in 1986 in Vancouver, to which Associate Composers were invited, I asked, “What would you do if you were given a million dollars?” Barbara Pentland responded that she would give 90% to the Canadian Music Centre. At the urging of Phyllis Mailing, Dr. Pentland gave annual gifts of ten thousand dollars, and in her will gave 90% of her estate to the BC Centre. Thanks to Dr. Pentland and revenue from Casinos, the BC Centre established an endowment fund with the Vancouver Foundation of $110,000. More than a million dollars did enter the Centreʼs coffers thanks to her generosity. The Pentland Fund has been administered with great care so that excellent projects promoting the legacy of Barbara Pentland and Canadian music in general have been made possible.


The creation of Centrediscs and CMC Distribution Service has been an enormous financial boon to the Centre as a whole.


Faced with fierce rent increases, the BC Centre moved three times, making improvements at each transformation: obtaining shelving for a rapidly expanding collection, improved photocopiers and computer technology, the Opus collection of portraits of Associate Composers in BC, finally moving into the thoroughly modern location at 837 Davie in 2001, and purchasing Murray Adaskinʼs Heintzman grand piano.


Secondly, the Canadian Music Centre, often with leadership from the BC office, has been transformed as it responds to the needs of an expanding art form and its imaginative creators. Fortunately, the National Board has worked consistently to make the process of admitting new Associate Composers more open and accessible so that the Centre truly represents Canada’s greatest musical creators. The number of Associate Composers grew tenfold in three decades.  


The Centre provides many services for composers, and there are things they can do to help their Centre. The BC Centre held briefing sessions for new Associate Composers and hosted public receptions to welcome them.


The BC Centre for many years published a regular newsletter, Centregramme, with news of composers’ activities, new score acquisitions, recordings and reviews.


Through projects such as the Millennium Series of New Music for Young Musicians, the BC Centre commissioned BC composers to write music tailor-made for young musicians. This encouraged composers to pay attention to the need for fine music for children.


The BC Centre played a role in the biennial International Choral Kathaumixw in Powell River. The BC Centre managed a booth selling recordings, music and books and liaised with hundreds of choral conductors from 1984 until 2010, with 1986 the only festival missed. There is an enormous international appetite for Canadian choral music.


Thanks to the SOCAN Foundation’s New Music in New Places Project, the BC Centre was able to assist professional chamber ensembles to perform Canadian music in innovative environments. Who can forget that moonlit night with Heather Pawsey singing the aria from R. Murray Schafer’s Princess of the Stars by the beluga pool of the Vancouver Aquarium, when the whales swam towards her, put their tails in the air, then surfaced and whistled with her?


Regrets? There was still much to do especially in assisting electroacoustic composers in an organization more attuned to music conceived in notated scores on paper. With notable exceptions, we did not have enough impact on secondary and postsecondary music institutions. CanMus is still a generation behind CanLit in colleges and universities. I saw the vast radio and live audience for the CBC Vancouver Radio Orchestra and its central place in the Canadian musical community. It donated its services for CMC anniversary concerts. I was disappointed that the campaign I led to save it from the axe ultimately failed.


Joys? Witnessing the wisdom, commitment and hard work of Regional Council and its Chairs. It was a privilege to work with Allen Clingman, Phyllis Mailing, Edward Suderman, Owen Underhill, John Oliver, Kathryn Cernauskas and Heather Pawsey. The Centre has attracted fine professionals as staff, and I applaud their accomplishments and cherish their collegiality. Witnessing the journeys of discovery of performers, listeners, students, and scholars finding treasures in the CMC and falling in love with that music. My greatest joy was the sense of wonder and awe seeing, hearing and appreciating the imagination, creativity and courage of composers practicing their craft.

We invite you, our readers, to send in your own recollection of events that have taken place here in the BC Region since it opened in 1977. If you have programs or newspaper articles that illustrate your memories, we will be pleased to make sure they are contained in the digital archive and will link them to your commentaries. Please contact us at