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Composers: Keith Bissell
Keith Bissell was a Canadian composer, educator, and conductor. Born February 1912 in Meaford, Ontario, he obtained his BMus in Toronto in 1942. While teaching 1934-48 in Toronto schools he studied composition at the University of Toronto with Leo Smith. He was assistant supervisor in 1948 and supervisor 1949-55 of the school music in Edmonton, where he was organist-choirmaster at Christ Church and founder ca 1952 of the Edmonton Junior Symphony Orchestra. In 1955 he was appointed supervisor of school music in Scarborough (part of Metropolitan Toronto). Using Canadian folk music and his own compositions Bissell effected the transition from the German idiom to the English, thereby increasing the method's usefulness to music educators across the country. He lectured at universities in Canada and the USA. He also founded and conducted the Scarborough Teachers' Chorus (1956-70) and the Scarborough Orff Ensemble (1960-73).
He encouraged educators to use music by Canadian composers. He was president of the Ontario Music Educators Association from 1957-8, and a vice-president of the Canadian Music Council. His compositions bring to traditional forms a modest but graceful sense of renewal and many reflect his interest in music for young people and his belief that writing for amateurs can be more rewarding than writing for professionals. His folksong arrangements for voice and piano and for choir are among the simplest and subtlest by a Canadian, recalling those of Britten in a nearness to artsong that would be risky in a treatment less appreciative of the natural contours and honest expression of the original material.
Mr. Bissell died May 9, 1992 in Newmarket.
*Excerpted from The Encyclopedia of Music in Canada