James McDonald "Doc" Gayfer
1916-1997
Canadian Composer

©2003 E F Lloyd Hiscock

Note: The list of works at the end of the biography has been revised, updated and expanded
into a descriptive index to Gayfer's 100+ works. Copies are available. Please contact me.


James McDonald Gayfer was born in Toronto March 16, 1916, where he grew up and did the sorts of things boys did that era. From 1929 to 1941, he was a Boy Scout, an Army Cadet, and a member of the Toronto Scottish Regiment Militia. He learned to play piano, achieving Grade 10 Conservatory standing, sang in the church choir, and began to show more than a passing interest in the sounds and music around him.

Clipped to one of his journal entries from 1935 is a single line of manuscript paper, without comment, on which is transcribed, complete with text, the cry of a street vendor. Another journal entry contains an analysis of the themes from Max Steiner's score for the movie Little Women, which he saw nine times! He comments that the theme for each of the characters is developed "more easily than the Wagnerian Liet Motiv idea." All the themes are notated and described, relating the theme style and colour to its character, with a final comment on the overall score, allowing that the music is made up of variations on the themes. He was also paying attention to music being performed locally, recounting a concert at Maple Leaf Gardens to see the Radio City Ballet of New York and "100-piece "Prom" Symphony Orchestra" play Tannhauser Overture, Les Preludes, 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, and Ravel's Bolero . In addition to studying piano, he participated in Gilbert and Sullivan performances. Trial by Jury is one that he mentions, and comments on the performance of co-actor Dick Bowles as The Defendant remarking that he sang a top A that was "clear, lyrical, and sweet". In the same entry he worried about his cold affecting the high F that he had to sing. And he gave thanks to "those great masters, Glibert and Sullivan".

Everything he did musically in those years lead up to an entry on February 7, 1941. His youthful prayers and longings came to the surface, and at 25, Gayfer felt a deep need to compose music. Making the decision to pursue his dream was not an easy thing to do.

He anticipated "the ridicule of some of my friends, the laughter of my acquaintances, the hurt of those who love me, and the smiling disgust of my family, who only want their son to 'succeed'." It is worth noting that his mother's sister was an early influence in his musical life. Hopes for her own promising career as an operatic soprano came to an abrupt end when her mother became ill and being the only single girl, it fell to her to assume the role of caregiver. Gayfer was encouraged and supported by her in all his musical endeavours throughout his career.

Strengthening his resolve to become a composer, he was prepared to turn his back on material things and "fly like an arrow toward the limitless goal of the great art of musical composition." His journal entry is idyllic, perhaps even a little naive. He wrote, "It is not the goal I want, but the flying toward it. Whatever I lose because of this decision, I will know that it was unnecessary to me, anyway. I can no longer turn my back upon it, nor even face it half-way. Music shall remain."

And remain it did. Gayfer's weighty decision was the beginning of a long and varied career in music, spanning over 50 years. He embraced several genres, worked in several very different milieus, and wrote a considerably body of music for a variety of ensembles and voices. To date there are 23 works for military (concert) band, 1 for British brass band, 6 orchestral works, 11 solo piano pieces, 3 chamber works, 3 choral pieces, 7 vocal pieces with piano accompaniment, and a number of songs of which 5 are known by name . In the process he gained the respect not only of his family and friends, but of those he encountered and worked with along the way.

Decision day plus one

Not being one to procrastinate once the decision was made, he immediately contacted Sir Ernest MacMillan, head of the Toronto Conservatory, seeking advice on a teacher. MacMillan suggested Ettore Mazzoleni. During the conversation Sir Ernest intimated that Mazzoleni was a busy man, what with all his duties, and was a student of Vaughan Williams. Gayfer's internal elation is evident in his writing: "To me, that was getting into the realm of the great!" and after leaving Sir Ernest "All the way down University Avenue I was a leaping, singing, exultant animal! Plans and themes for 10 million symphonies were already in my brain. I had never been so happy .. so sure!" He went home and celebrated his decision by completing the second movement of his String Quartet, No 2.

Following this exhilarating experience, Gayfer received his Music Baccalaureate in July of 1942, and was ready to continue on to a PhD in Music, after the required waiting period. In the same year, he sat for his Grade 10 piano examination and received first class honours.

The next 25 years of his life saw him develop and mature. The Canadian Army and army bands provided opportunities for him to learn and grow, and to produce memorable music.

The Army Years (1942 - 1967) 

He enlisted in 1942 and immediately auditioned for the 10 30-piece bands that were being formed. He was accepted and allowed to continue his piano studies so long as he learned clarinet (his choice) for marching and went overseas with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals Band.

During his student-bandmaster course at Royal Military School of Music  his dream of composing began to come true. He composed a Suite for Woodwind Quintet and a Pastorale for Clarinet and Small Orchestra, both of which were preformed at Kneller Hall.  The Parlow String Quartet premiered his Quartet in A Minor for strings in 1944 on CBC Radio. His required march Canada Overseas was not well received by the examiners. He came last in the class of 7 because it was in F major with trio in f minor (never before used in a march), however the Director of Music the late Captain Meredith Roberts told Gayfer privately "Bloody fine march, Student Gayfer, Bloody fine march!" It was later recorded by the Governor General's Footguards, Ottawa, and published by Whaley Royce 1954 and now out of print.

Back in Canada, he was posted to HQ Central Command in Oakville as Bandmaster and required to give instruction to all Reserve Force Bands in Central Command. Pursuing his composition bent, he received his PhD from the University of Toronto in 1950, writing for his thesis a full length (40minute) Symphony in Eb.

By now firmly ensconced in Canadian military life as well as music, we see the first evidence of Canadian-isms in his music. He wrote a piece in 1953 for The Toronto Women's League of Health and Beauty Team, who performed it at Royal Albert Hall in London during the Coronation of Elizabeth II. He called the piece Salute from Canada. Over the next 6 years there are a number of pieces with Canadian flavoured titles: Canadian Landscape, From Sea to Sea, Royal Visit, and The Canadian Infantryman.

The first of these, Canadian Landscape, started out as a film score for a Canadian Army recruiting film entitled I, Gordon Blake, and for the French version Pierre Dubreuil, Soldat. The Canadian Guards Band recorded it in March 1954, but there is no evidence that the film was ever made. Gayfer subsequently produced an orchestral version, which was first performed in Halifax, March 1973. In 1975 he produced a version for Symphonic Band .

In the composer's words from the orchestral score,

The opening episode, depicting the various parts of Canada from which new recruits come, was revised and expanded later in its present form for symphonic band. It is intended to describe, in montage or kaleidoscope fashion, the feelings aroused by the varied aspects and scenery of our vast country from coast to coast.

Each of the episodes has descriptive labels :

The Rolling Countryside is portrayed with a gently undulating theme played by the horns marked Andante Pastorale. Farmlands, Towns and Villages has a light flute theme reminiscent of Gershwin's street scene music from An American in Paris, underscored by a spacious flowing theme in the brass. Reflections in Forest Solitude present the secondary theme of the opening section, passed around the orchestra, accompanied by the countryside theme similarly treated. The strings provide a pad on which the scene is played out. The section is lightly scored and very introspective in its simplicity. A brief recitative introduces Headlands. A fanfare-like flourish introduces music that creates a feeling of the sea crashing on the rocks, leading to lento mysterioso section entitled Prairie and Sea-coast Vistas. The clarinets and flutes in open diatonic fourths in parallel motion in an ostintato pattern with a range of a major second portray the table-flat prairie. Underneath, the unison melody played by basses, cellos, tuba, bassoons and bass clarinet, rises and falls over a contrasting range of nearly 2 octaves succeed in conjuring up images of the swell of the sea. The lines become chromatic and more intense and mysterious, finally dying away. The Broad Land again presents the opening themes but stronger and more densely scored building up to Great Trees and Mountains. The dynamic marking is ff, and the strings soar over the orchestra's long notes invoking images of the Rocky Mountains. A mighty allargando brings the piece to a satisfying and thunderous end, guaranteed to stir great feelings of patriotism and Canadian-ism in the listener, in this case the potential recruit!

During this time he wrote one of his best-known works Royal Visit  to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Canada. Following the performance for Her Majesty, Gayfer was honoured with a personal introduction.

After the Army (1967-1997) 

Returning to civilian life and taking up teaching positions at high schools and at Dalhousie University, Gayfer's music turned a corner, so to speak. He returned to religious themes and wrote for a broader spectrum of ensembles. He wrote a saxophone quintet, a piano sonatina, and several songs, among others. His military experiences still influenced his music and he continued to write military style music. As an example, 'Streight' from Canada is a ceremonial march for band. He also penned a number of songs and some religious music based on the scriptures, including Psalm 150, The Wells of Marah, and A Celebration of Wisdom.

 The Wells of Marah is worth mentioning since it not only deals with the exodus out of Egypt (Exodus 15:23) but also parallels it to episodes in the saga of the Selkirk settlers.

Again in the composer's words:

The Wanderings and vicissitudes of the Selkirk Settlers, who left Scotland in 1811 for Assinaboia, Manitoba, by way of Hudson Bay, bears some resemblance to the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. By 1815, one hundred and forty of these Scottish crofters were forced to leave their settlement in the Red River district, by the Northwest Fur Company. It transported them by voyageur canoes to Penetanguishene and abandoned them. More than once they suffered indignity and hardship: drank of the bitter wells of Marah before they found their Canaan on the Scotch Line in West Guillimbury township below Barrie.

The music certainly conveys feelings of suffering and hardship. An overview of the piece on the CMC website reads, in part: "It is an interesting study in contrasts and in tone painting suggesting a film score. The link with Canadian history is also of interest." As Gayfer himself said, "Give me a 'tune', and I'll follow you anywhere!" The themes and scoring in this work provide aural images that stir the soul. The final crescendo is a natural resolution to the suffering and congers up visions and feelings arriving in a promised land.

The Canadian nature of his work is also seen in his arrangement of Red River Valley for the Fort Garry Horse Regiment , the decidedly Irish flavour of St John Ambulance Canadian Centennial March, and certainly his portrayal of Yukon Summer.

The 1985 score of Yukon Summer is a scrapbook of Canadian Yukon scenes and adventures. There are snapshots with notes on the back and scenes from postcards and calendars, all describing people and places Gayfer loved. Good friends, mountains, flowers, rivers, cadets, are taped to the score at various points in the music. It all stands out as a wonderful depiction of life in a frontier setting.

Each of the 4 sections, in addition to being named, carries a quotation. The first of these Yukonna - Great River, surrounded by pictures, contains a Robert Service quote:

There's a land where the mountains are nameless,
 And the rivers all run God knows where

Basically an ABA' format, the section opens with a ppp timpani roll, the majesty of the mountains is introduced by the horn melody (A), with intervals and descending lines shaped like the mountains, all underscored by the ostinato strings and harp creating the sound of constant running, bubbling water. The woodwinds and harp present the B theme, again rising and falling like mountain contours, this time to the accompaniment of a fanfare-like line in the low brass and strings. The intensity builds to a brief return of a diminished version of the A theme, ending with the fanfare played by full orchestra fff to end the section.

Section II March: "Cadet Camp Whitehorse" This movement's quote is from an unidentified Whitehorse resident, "Like swallows, each summer the Cadets keep returning". It opens with solo snare drum, and with the entry of the piccolo solo the sound is reminiscent of the early days of British military music of the fife and drum (Keillor, 77). Eventually this gives way to a more or less standard march with a trio in the subdominant key.

Another Robert Service quote introduces Section III Pastorale-"Fort Selkirk" with 

The summer - no sweeter was over;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap on the river;
And the big-horn asleep on the hill. 

The scene is portrayed with open, spacious scoring, often associated with Canadian writing (Keillor, 368). The minor/modal themes, once briefly accompanied by a snare drum with the snares off, bear some resemblance to First Peoples  music and drumming, with descending lines beginning at the highest point, sometimes with a range of only a fifth. The melodies echo sadness for the end of another summer in a much-loved place.

The final movement IV Bonanza! Dawson Discovery Days! pays tribute to the annual festival in that northern city. Again a Robert Service quote:

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up at the Malamute Saloon&ldots; 

Here we see a more boisterous side of Gayfer. The opening pentatonic horn solo is in a Scottish jig style (Keillor, 82) marked Allegro giocoso, energetico e ritmico.  Echoed by the orchestra, the melody continues to a "hoe-down style" section. This western square dance harks back to the Scottish country dances brought to Canada in the 1800's (McGee, 24). The festive mood prevails through the section. A brief return to the opening theme of the first section suggests the majesty of the mountains all around. The section comes full circle, ending as the first movement began, with a whisper timpani roll and unison strings.

Full Circle

Throughout his life James McDonald Gayfer always had a number of musical adventures on the go. In addition to fulfilling his teaching responsibilities , he seemed to have time left over to organize and conduct choirs, play organ for church services in Lindsay, organize and conduct concert bands , and write new pieces for a variety of ensembles and soloists. He pursued his dream with vigour, dedication, and confidence, and when he died in 1997 he left a legacy of music, written in Canada, with Canadian reflections and themes, for everyone to enjoy.

In his music teaching he gave many people a sense of accomplishment and purpose. In his compositions, he gave us a look into his world and country. In his life, he demonstrated commitment to his goal and to its achievement.  

 SOURCES

Canadian Guards Band (2002, Oct 29). An unofficial history of the Canadian Guards Band <http://personal.nbnet.nb.ca/jstutt/index.htm>  [2002, November 29]

Canadian Music Centre. James MacDonald Gayfer (1999, August 15) <http://www.musiccentre.ca/CMC/dac_rca/BiosSet.html> [2002, November 25]

CBC Records, SMCD 5079 Edmonton Wind Ensemble, Harry Pinchin Conductor. Concert in the Park (1988) <http://cbcrecords.cbc.ca/smcd/5079.html> [2002, November 29]

Gayfer, James McDonald. [Journals, papers, scores, sketch books, and other documents written by the composer, 1916-1997] Property of James Gayfer, Ottawa, Canada

Gayfer, James (2002) (Son of James McDonald Gayfer) [Interviewed by Lloyd Hiscock]. Ottawa, Canada

Hiscock, E F Lloyd. (2002) James McDonald Gayfer: Life Events and Compositions. Unpublished chronological list of events and works in the composer's life (in progress). Ottawa, Canada. 

Kitchener Musical Society Band (2002, November 22) <http://haiggy.mine.nu/kmsb/History/Leaders.html>  [2002, November 29]

Keillor, Elane 2002. Vignettes on Music in Canada. Course Pack for 30.313/MUSI 3103, 30.314/MUSI 3104, 30.510/MUSI 5100. Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

McGee, Timothy J. (1985) The Music of Canada. Norton & Company, London, UK

National Defense. (2001, May 17) <http://www.army.dnd.ca/38cbg_hq/about/units/armoured/fort_garry_horse.htm#3> [2002, November 27]

National Library of Canada. Ettore Mazzoleni  (2001, May 14) <http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/4/7/m15-420-e.html> [2002, November 25]

Military Bands and Military Music World Wide (2002, October 30) <http://www.worldmilitarybands.com/canmus.html> [2002, November 29]

Petawawa Community Band (1998, January 28) <http://www.valleynet.on.ca/~aa096/plcb/> [2002, November 30]

Toronto Phiharmonia (2002, September 10) <http://www.torontophil.on.ca/tp/private/schedule.htm> 

Life Events

Dates

Works

Notes

Genre

Born, Toronto, ON

March 26, 1916

 

1936

*Carol: Here we are In Bethlehem

For sister Elizabeth Gayfer words by F J Moore

Piano and voice

1937-38

Two Passion Chorales "And did he die?' and "Blessed Jesu"

*Poem by E.A. Powell
Poem by JMG

choir

Music Baccalaureate

1942

Canadian Army, England, MW Europe, Germany, Korea, Japan

1942-67

1943

*Loveliest of Trees

to H.M Smith

Vocal with piano

1943

Canada Overseas

*Recorded by Governor General's Foot Guards, Ottawa Published by Whaley Royce 1954 (out of print)

Band***

1943

Quartet in A Minor

Premiere: 1944, CBC Radio, Parlow String Quartet.

string quartet

Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall

1945-47

ARCM, LRAM

1946

Command Bandmaster,HQ Central Command, Oakville, ON

1947

1947

*Pastorale for Clarinet and Small Orchestra

Awarded 2nd prize for arranging, and bronze medal for best church service

1947

Suite for Woodwind Quintette

Published: Toronto: Boosey & Hawkes, 1950

Chamber

1947

Symphony No 1 in Bb

April 10 see review

Orchestra

University of Toronto Doctorate of Music

1950

Lt Director of Music

1950

Command Inspector of Bands, Captain

1951

Summer courses for Reserve Force Bandsmen at Camp Petawawa and Valcartier

1949-50

1950

*Symphony No 2. in Eb

First performance April 5 and 6th, 1964

Orchestra

1941-1951

Six Chinese Poems

Flute, harp, strings

Appointed first Director of Music, Regimental Band of the Canadian Guards

1953

1953

*Salute From Canada

Music for rhythm movements: composed for the Toronto Women's League of Health and Beauty Demonstration team which performed in the Royal Albert Hall, London, during the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II June 1953

One or two pianos

1954

Blithe and Busy

Intermezzo for Band

Band

1954

Canadian Landscape

Sound track

Band

1954

Cloak and Dagger

Quick march

Band

1955

From to sea to Sea

Regimental slow march

Band

1956

The Boys March for Jimmy and Johnny

For his sons at bedtime

Piano

1957

Royal Visit

Grand March Published: Toronto: Boosey & Hawkes

Band

1959

*Hymn Tune "Melfa"

Choir

1959

The Canadian Infantryman

Band***

First Musical Training Officer, Canadian Forces School of Music, Esquimalt, BC19

1961-1966

1961

Joyeuse

 

Solo Piano

1963

*The Riddle of Love

words from old English-American Folk song

Medium voice

1963

Canadian Landscape

Symphonic piece

Orchestra

1964

Rhapsody in E minor

Piano

Retired from the armyTaught at Southwood Secondary School, Cambridge, and at Champlain High School, Pembroke in Ontario

1967

1967

*Christmas Bells are Telling

Poem by Frank G Light

Voice and piano 

1967

Psalm 150

SATB chorus, trumpet percussion and organ

1968

*Gloria

1968

Southwood Ceremonial

Grand march

Band

1969

*May Music

Piano

1970

*Alas, So All Things Now

Pub B&H 1970

Piano

1970

*When Raging Love

Pub B&H 1970

1970

Award of Merit

Ceremonial march

Band ***

1970?

*Song 34 (angels' song) .. Angel Spirits of Sleep?

Hymn by Orlando Gibbons arr JMGPub B&H 1970

Hymn

1971

*Carol of the Kingdom

Words Steuart Wilson

Choir

Associate Prof Instrumental Music Education, Dalhousie

Founder, Director, Associate Professor of Music Education, Dalhousie University

1972 -1974

1972

*Andante Felice: In memory of a loving friend

For Constance Lorraine Davidson Griffith 1921-1972

Piano

1972

*Autumn Gold

Piano

1972

*Quick march: Fight, Sabres

Dedicated to Southwood Secondary School, Galt Ontario

Band

1972

*Quintet Concertante

Commissioned by Paul Brodie (prof at U of T) for the world congress of Saxophones, U of T 1972

Saxophone quintet

1972

Canadian Landscape

Sound track recorded by Canadian Guards Band 1954Orchestral version Tone poem for concert band.First orchestra performance Halifax 1973Published: Toronto: Boosey & Hawkes, 1975

Orchestra and Symph Band#Versions***+

1972

Sonatina in F

Piano

1972

The Wells of Marah

Commissioned by Barrie Central Collegiate Band

Band

1974

*Holiday Waltz

Piano

1974

'Streight' From Canada

Ceremonial march

Band

 

1974

Symphony No.1 in B-Flat

revised

Orchestra

Head of Music, Champlain High School, Pembroke ON

1975-1980

Director of Cadet Bandsman Summer Courses in Whitehorse, YK

1976-1985

1976

A Celebration of Wisdom

Text from John I, Job 28, and the Te Deum from the Book of Common Prayer

SATB chorus, SA chorus (or Jr Choir) Orchestra, with solo or Concert Band

1977

*Cadet Camp Whitehorse

later incorporated into Yukon Summer Suite

Band

1977

*Creed .. (would you believe)

Choir

1977

*Tomorrow's Dreams

Trombone solo

Band***+

1978

Fanfare, toccata and march

Band***

1980

*Reflections at Year's End

Piano

1982

Petawawa Legion Five Seventeen

Quick march

Band

1982

Revised Southwood Ceremonial

Grand march

Band

1982

*Red River Valley

Slow march of the Fort Garry horse Regiment - from folk song

Band

Awarded Order of St John (Serving Brother)

1982-1983

St John Ambulance Canadian Centennial March

Quick march commissioned by St John Ambulance

Band***+

Honoured by Canadian Band Association for prize-winning march On Parliament Hill and his Toccata and March

1983

On Parliament Hill

Quick march

Band

Organist and choir director of Cambridge Street Baptist Church, Lindsay, Ontario

1983-??

1984

*Remembering

Words and music JMG

Piano and voice

1985

Yukon Summer

Comissioned by the Yukon Territorial Government

Orchestra

Died, Lindsay,  ON

April 7, 1997

Unk

*Hymn Tune no 42

Harmonization

Unk

*Non Nobis, Domine

Choir

Unk

*O Canada

Reharmonization

Unk

*Two Rounds

Songs

Voice

Unk

Unk

March

Brass Band

Unk

Royal Canadian Dental Corps

Quick march

Band***

Unk

**Venite

Song

Solo voice

Unk

Movements 1-5

Short sketches, perhaps intended as part of a larger work

Band***

Unk

Green Fields and White Hawthorne

Country ballad

Band***+

Unk

Silver and Green

March

Band***

Unk

Unk

March

Band***

 

Notes:

*Source is the composer's journals, papers, scores and interviews with family

** From the Boosey & Hawkes score of Canadian Landscape

*** Courtesy recording by the Central Command Band, Ottawa 

# recorded by the Edmonton Wind Ensemble

+ transcribed and arranged for brass band by the author

Band means concert band; Brass Band means British Style Brass Band

Unk: These items are referred to by name only, except for the penultimate entry which is on the courtesy tape as simply "March".

This list is intended to correlate events or significant happenings in Gayfer's life with the music he composed. Since this list was compiled a number of other compositions have come to light and will be included in the next version.