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Violet Archer


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Violet Louise Archer CM (24 April 1913 – 21 February 2000) was a Canadian composer, teacher, pianist, organist, and percussionist. Born Violet Balestreri in Montreal, Quebec, in 1913, her family changed their name to Archer in 1940. She died in Ottawa on 21 February 2000.

Archer earned a licentiate degree in music from McGill University in 1934, and a bachelor of music degree from McGill in 1936. She studied composition with Douglas Clarke. Archer travelled to New York City in the summer of 1942 and studied composition, including Hungarian folk music and variation technique, with Béla Bartók. She taught at the McGill Conservatory from 1944 to 1947. Later in the 1940s she studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale. She earned a B MUS from Yale in 1948, and a M MUS also from Yale in 1949. From 1950 to 1953 Archer was Composer-in-Residence at the University of North Texas. From 1953 through 1961 she taught at the University of Oklahoma. Returning to Canada in 1961 for doctoral study at the University of Toronto, she set that aside when, in 1962, she joined the Faculty of Music at the University of Alberta. There she would become chairman of the Theory and Composition Department. She remained at the University of Alberta until her retirement. Her notable students include Larry Austin, Jan Randall, Allan Gilliland, and Allan Gordon Bell.

Archer built a career as a musician and composer in addition to her teaching. She played percussion with the Montreal Women's Symphony Orchestra from 1940 to 1947, a time period when major municipal orchestras were not admitting women to their ranks. In addition to percussion, Archer played clarinet and strings, and worked in Montréal as an accompanist and organist. As a composer, Archer's prolific work of more than 330 compositions included traditional and more contemporary works for instrument and voice. Examples of her wide-ranging work include a 1973 comic opera, Sganarelle, the film score for a 1976 documentary, Someone Cares, and experiments with electronic music. Her music includes some 90 compositions for novice musicians, written to acquaint performers and audiences with modern concepts of harmony, melody, and rhythm.


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