For more than 45 years, world-renown musicians have been visiting the U of G campus to perform in a small concert hall tucked away in the MacKinnon Building,
The Thursdays At Noon Concert Series was established in 1967 as a way to bring a weekly cultural experience to the University community and over the years has attracted top performers from the Canadian Opera Company to famous classical guitarist Leona Boyd and baritone Kevin McMillan.
“The University of Guelph was the first university to have this type of concert series,” says Vicki Isotamm, event co-ordinator for the College of Arts and the Science Complex atrium. Hosted by the School of Fine Art and Music (SOFAM), Thursdays At Noon has been copied by numerous other schools.
The weekly program has become “an important tradition for the University,” she says. “It attracts faculty, staff, students and people in the community who are interested in hearing all different kinds of music.”
Despite its long history, the concert series hasn’t changed much since it was first established by Ralph and Edith Kidd 46 years ago. Musicians still perform a 50-minute concert in MacKinnon 107, a tiered classroom designed with the acoustics for performances and seating for 99 people. There are also still 20 performers scheduled each year.
“The only real difference is that when the series began, the purpose was to provide an opportunity to expose the University community to classical music,” says Isotamm. “But in recent years it has evolved to include a broad range of music.”
She selects the performers a year in advance and aims to get the widest variety possible. “I don’t want all jazz or all contemporary, but rather a nice expansive mix throughout the year,” she says. “We have everything from a Korean drumming band to a hip hop DJ to a Spanish classical guitarist.”
And she has no problem filling the spots. Musicians and their agents often contact her requesting a slot in next year’s schedule.
While a majority of the performers are from outside the U of G community, the series has expanded to include three special concerts featuring student soloists, says Isotamm. “This gives the students an opportunity to perform in front of an audience, and it also allows our regulars to see what our students are doing.”
There are also a couple of concerts dedicated to U of G faculty.
“We like to have faculty perform each year because it’s good for the students to see faculty translate what they are teaching into some type of performance.”
Prof. James Harley has performed as part of the series a couple of times. The SOFAM professor has years of experience as a composer but recently is experimenting with improvised music that incorporates environmental sounds.
“It’s fun,” says Harley. “The audience is open to listening to music of all kinds of styles. I like that the concerts are short so no one will get too fidgety if they find the music unusual.”
Harley says he appreciates the variety of performers the concert series brings to campus. “The visiting musicians all have various styles, enabling us to experience different musical traditions live, which is always the best way to listen. The concerts benefit not only music students but many other people from the University and surrounding community.”
Although the concerts are free, the musicians are paid to perform through SOFAM funding, and attendees are welcome to make donations.
Isotamm says attendance can vary depending on the performer. “The classical, jazz, vocalists and unique cultural performances are popular,” she says. “The smallest audience we’ve had would be 40, but other times we will be at capacity with people standing and sitting in the isles.”
Despite the fluctuation in crowd numbers, there are some concert-goers who have been coming weekly for years, she adds. “We welcome everyone from both on and off campus to attend. In fact, we have a number of people who regularly come from off campus and bring their lunch with them. Over the years, the concert series has really become a great way for the University to connect with the city.”
This year’s Thursdays At Noon Concert Series begins Sept. 12 with baritone Adrian Kramer and pianist Anna Ronai performing some of Schubert’s greatest Lieder compositions. Click for the complete fall schedule and a history of the Thursdays At Noon Concert Series.