Conductor and Composer Jon Washburn was presented with CMC BC’s 2019 Barbara Pentland Lifetime Achievement Award at his final concert conducting the Vancouver Chamber Choir as Music Director Friday night, May 10. My remarks in presenting the award to Jon follow:

It would be impossible to conceive of anyone on this Earth more deserving of the Canadian Music Centre’s Barbara Pentland Lifetime Achievement Award than the man standing right here beside me, Jon Washburn.

There are many reasons why that is so. One is that Jon was part of the very first Advisory Council when the BC Region of the Canadian Music Centre was established forty-one years ago. Another is that sitting across the table from Jon at that very first meeting was Barbara Pentland, in whose memory this award was established.

What’s clear is that Canada won the musical lottery fifty-four years ago on the day Jon Washburn decided to move to Canada in 1965. He is today one of the country’s leading choral Conductors and Composers; a highly respected music educator, as well as a respected Viola da gambist. He is also one of this city’s great raconteurs.

What most people don’t know is that Jon played a mean stand-up bass in a big dance band – he brings a dark jazz past to all of these august achievements and accomplishments!

I know this because a certain trumpeter recalls meeting that bass player up on the big bandstand at the Commodore Ballroom forty-two years ago. And he remembers that bass player telling him about his dream of starting a fully professional choir, which was unheard of at that time.

The trumpet player was none other than George Laverock, past Chair of the CMCs BC Advisory Council and now, coincidentally, Chair of the Vancouver Chamber Choir’s Board of Directors; and the Bass player, as you might have guessed, was Jon Washburn.

What a legacy he has built in the years since!

Going on to realize his dream, he founded the Vancouver Chamber Choir in 1971 and has served as its beloved Music Director ever since. Jon has also served as Assistant Conductor of the Vancouver Bach Choir (1970-1974); Artist-In-Residence at Simon Fraser University (1974); Director of Choral Activities at Vancouver Community College (1974-87); Director of the Vancouver Chorale (1977); and conducted the Amity Singers of Victoria (1975-1980).

Jon Washburn conducting Vancouver Chamber Choir in Maryburg Church in Humboldt, SK

Ever-dedicated to youth and to music education, he was also conductor of the Ontario Youth Choir and guest conductor of the Festival Singers in Toronto. Jon was Co-Artistic Director of the Masterpiece Chamber Music Series, and hosted the CBC radio program ‘Choral Concert’ from 1977 to 1980.

What is even more remarkable is that during this time Jon and the Vancouver Chamber Choir have commissioned 334 new choral works by 145 composers and arrangers, most of those Canadian and 2/3 of whom are from BC. And they have staged over 2,300 performances of more than 300 works by more than 100 Canadian composers.

Washburn and the choir have also released more than ten recordings featuring Canadian compositions, garnering JUNO nominations as well as an Outstanding Choral Recording Award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors.

And despite all the time Jon has dedicated to helping other composers, commissioning and performing their works, his own compositions have been performed and recorded by choirs across North America.

Jon Washburn CMC Lifetime Achievement

He has also won many awards, including the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Canadian Choral Conductors; Chorus America‘s Louis A. Botto Award; the Friends of Canadian Music Award presented jointly by the Canadian Music Centre and the Canadian League of Composers.

In 2001, Jon Washburn was made a Member of the Order of Canada; a year later he was honoured with Canada’s Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal; and he was named an Ambassador of the Canadian Music Centre in 2009.

For all these reasons, Jon Washburn, and for just being such an all around great guy, it is a very real pleasure to present you with this Barbara Pentland Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Canadian Music Centre and our BC Advisory Council.