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Kelsey Jones

*Photo Credit: Rick Braley

KELSEY JONES (b. June 12, 1922 - d. October 10, 2004), naturalized Canadian 1956; composer, harpsichordist, organist, pianist and teacher.

Kelsey was born in South Norwalk, Connecticut, but grew up mainly in Portland, Maine. His early memories of music appreciation began in the early 1930s when he was taken to the Sunday afternoon concerts of the Portland Symphony Orchestra (a Works Progress Administration project). It was at this time that he began studying horn and piano.

He moved to New Brunswick in 1939 and studied with Harold Hamer at Mount Allison University. He later took classes with Sir Ernest MacMillan, Healey Willan, and Leo Smith at the University of Toronto and 1949-50 with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Founder (and conductor 1950-4) of the Saint John Symphony Orchestra, he also taught theory 1948-9 and conducted the student orchestra at Mount Allison University. Moving to Montreal, he began teaching counterpoint and fugue at McGill University in 1954. He was named professor emeritus on his retirement in 1984. Jones was a harpsichordist with the McGill Chamber Orchestra and the MSO and in 1957 he co-founded the Baroque Trio of Montreal, which recorded his Sonata da Camera and Sonata da Chiesa. He also composed for the Montreal Bach Choir and the Montreal Recorder Group and composed on commission from the CBC, the JMC, and the Tudor Singers of Montreal. Notable among works created for the CBC is his comic chamber opera Sam Slick (1967) composed to Rosabelle Jones' libretto based on Thomas Chandler Haliburton's The Clockmaker, or the Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick of Slickville (Halifax 1863). The opera was premiered 5 Sep 1967 in a broadcast performance from Halifax conducted by Ettore Mazzoleni.

Though much of Jones' music reaches back to archaic forms and the contrapuntal devices of earlier eras (Songs of Experience), he took pleasure in folksong (Miramichi Ballad) and made effective use of polytonality (Sam Slick). Jones considered himself 'a dyed-in-the-wool Romantic, 'I express my feelings, because I'm a human being, not a machine... I can only write what has a true meaning for me'. Believing that music should reach directly the aural understanding and emotions of performer and listener, he showed little interest in the avant garde. Yet there there was much dissonance in Jones' music, 'when there's a reason for it - when I want to hit somebody. If everything is dissonant,' he argued, 'you don't hit anybody'. Jones' papers are held by McGill University.

Adapted from Canadian Music Encyclopedia

Nov 2004

Kelsey Jones' website

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Canadian Music Centre