The Canadian Music Competition was founded in Montreal in 1958 by Claude Deschamps, Pierre Emond and Charles Charrère. At the time, it was known as the Festival national de musique. The first months were truly intense. Not only did the structure of this new and ambitious festival have to be established, but the execution and success of the festival also had to be seen to. Since the young founders were inexperienced, they relied greatly on the cooperation of music students and professors to make the event a success, as well as on volunteers who put all their energy into making preparations. The work involved was gargantuan. Because of the large number of participants, the organizers had to adapt quickly to the situation and establish new rules, appoint new judges, find new auditoriums, and extend the length of the performance periods. The number of music schools represented also did little to simplify the work of the organizers and volunteers. In 1959, there were already 75 music schools represented, and in 1964, 191 with over 3,000 professors.
The organizers surrounded themselves with competent and extremely dedicated people, such as Hélène M. Stevens and Denyse Raymond, who went on to support and nourish the festivals for many years (and then subsequently the Competition), as well as a large number of volunteers. Fortunately, the organizers thought to consult the nuns who, as it happened, made up the bulk of the music teaching staff at the time. Many of these nuns were consulted at the inception of the Festival national de musique and were of invaluable assistance.
The first prospectus was published on January 10, 1959 and all of the committees―the honorary, solicitation, reception and auxiliary committees―were formed as of February 1; registration closed on March 7 and the competition began on April 20; finally, the first gala concert was held on April 30 at the Université de Montréal auditorium and was broadcast by Radio-Canada.
Following the expansion of the activities of the Festival national de musique to other cities in Quebec, a new name was found, and in 1960, the Festivals de musique du Québec was born. Over the years, almost all the pieces were imposed and selected by a music committee formed for the occasion. This committee was an important element in elevating the Competition’s requirements. The program of music pieces, the elimination system, the manner of awarding prizes, the method for judging competitors―all of these were sources of pride for the Festivals de musique du Québec, which was propelled to the avant-garde of festivals in the entire country, where no equal was to be found. The Festivals de musique du Québec was the only event that required competitors to take a sight-reading exam.
In 1969, the organizers reviewed the rules and the program to expand the requirements and allow only the best to compete. As a result, the number of participants decreased sharply, but the calibre of the participants and the prestige of the Competition were considerably enhanced. When the Stepping Stone was founded in 1971, two music programs were designed: one for competitors in the Stepping Stone, and another for competitors in the Canadian Music Competition and the Festivals de musique du Québec. The pieces imposed as well as the participation rules and musical requirements were approved annually by the majority of professors and music teaching institutions across the country.
By founding the Canadian Music Competition and the Stepping Stone in 1971, Claude Deschamps, Hélène M. Stevens and Denyse Raymond raised the bar a notch. With the Stepping Stone, talented musicians had the opportunity to prove themselves under conditions that were very similar to those found in international competition. In its first year, the CMC was held in Toronto from April 30 to May 7, 1971. On this occasion, the city welcomed competitors from across Canada, with the exception of competitors from Quebec who, due to the existence of the FMQ, held their own final in Montreal from May 26 to 30. The winners of this final then met up with those who were crowned in Toronto. The Canadian Music Competition would go on to partner with the Festival de musique du Québec for many years, until the latter was abolished in 1982.
Chapters established across Canada
- 1958 Montréal
- 1959 Québec
- 1960 Rimouski et Chicoutimi
- 1961 Sherbrooke et Hull
- 1963 Rivière-du-Loup, Carleton et Dalhousie
- 1964 Baie-Comeau et Roberval
- 1965 Trois-Rivières et Rouyn-Noranda
- 1967 Dolbeau et Val d’Or
- 1971 Toronto
- 1972 Winnipeg, Edmonton et Calgary
- 1973 Vancouver
- 1977 Moncton et Halifax
- 1978 Regina et Ottawa
- 1979 London
- 1980 Saskatoon
- 1981 St. John’s
- 1983 Charlottetown
- 1995 Oakville
The Canadian Music Competition has remained strong over the last 50 years because it was founded on solid principles and has always adapted to changing conditions in society, not to mention because its organizers have remained imaginative, passionate and determined. There are very few cultural organizations that can boast of existing for so long while holding on to the key aspects of their objectives and mission. Year after year, the Competition continues to encourage and support young musicians from across Canada and give them a taste for excellence. Every year, as part of their academic activities, some 550 young people register for the Competition and receive more than $100,000 in prizes at all levels―regional, provincial and national. To better root this recognition in the community, every possible means is taken to encourage the best candidates to take part in recitals and concerts organized in the milieu, in inter-regional exchanges as well as in various cultural and artistic performances. The Competition sees to all of this because its aim is also to prepare young musicians for professional life and to serve as a stepping stone.