When The Piano Met Toronto: The Making Of Four Seasons Of Music

In 2008, a crystal piano was built to be played in the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics for a record breaking 3.2 million dollars! This beautiful and original looking piano was created by the Toronto company Heintzman, a trusted name in the world of pianos that stretches back more than a century through it’s legendary piano factory on what is now Heintzman St, Toronto.

Heintzman began building pianos for Toronto consumers in the late 1800’s, a time when nearly every middle class family had a set of ivories in their home. It’s hard to imagine now, but before recorded music existed the only way to hear it was to play it! 

Prior to the Toronto based company’s inception, pianos had to be imported from Europe. Since these beautiful instruments are made with natural materials the change in climate across the ocean caused them to continually go out of tune and even physically crack! What made Heintzman pianos special is they were made with the sporadic and ever temperamental Canadian weather in mind. 

Thanks to this foresight the brand took over not just the Toronto, but the whole Canadian home market. A testament to the quality of their famous uprights, there are many Heinztman pianos that are over a hundred years old and still in use today. Next time you see a set of keys in a friend or family member’s home give the name in the centre a glance, it could very well be a piece of Toronto history! 

As the new century came into focus music and pianos were changing, and thanks to Heinztman citizens all across the country had a family instrument to group around. With perfect timing Canada was gifted with not one, but two musical heroes to look up to and emulate; Glen Gould and Oscar Peterson

Glen Gould was born in Toronto in 1932 and was quickly recognized as a child prodigy, earning his conservatory diploma before his 13th birthday. Gould brought Toronto and Canada to the world stage of classical music as he quickly became one of the most famous pianists in modern history. 

As an artist, he contributed to the world of piano with his unique ability to have complete simultaneous control over both of his hands. This skill allowed him to bring out parts of pieces that had never been heard in such a clear way before. Beyond this, he added a “cool factor” to the playing of classical piano by being an eccentric and interesting performer

Gould famously would often hum as he played, adding a personality to his concerts and recordings. He also played sitting in a chair as opposed to the traditional bench which allowed him to sit very low at the keyboard and gain an extra level of control, as well as providing a singularity to his image as a performer. 

A mere 500 km away the world was also graced with the advent of Oscar Peterson in Montreal. Another child prodigy, Peterson was playing at professional level by the age of 9. However, unlike Gould he was drawn to jazz music, which was just beginning to evolve into the genre we know it as today. 

Peterson led many trios and worked with almost every jazz artist of note at the time, including Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. As a player, he was known for his virtuosic speed of improvisation and the range he could cover with his large hands. 

Just as Glen Gould proved Canada as a cultural force for classical music, Peterson did the same for jazz, inspiring a whole generation of players. He also had an active role in the spreading of jazz in Canada, as he taught for many years in Toronto at the Advanced School of Contemporary Music, a school which he also founded. Though touring and recording often called him away, he eventually returned to Toronto to head York University’s jazz program in the early nineties and continue the dissemination of his knowledge to new Canadian musicians

Soon the 70’s arrived, and though many things changed in popular culture the piano stuck around, becoming a focal point of the popular music of the day. Famously, Winnipeg rock band The Guess Who brought the instrument into their sound with the addition of keyboardist and singer Burton Cummings. With his hard hitting octave riffs, Cummings’ exposed the black and whites to a whole new audience. 

In the 90’s Canadian songstresses like Diana Krall and Chantel Kreviazuk picked up the torch, with Krall directly pulling from Peterson and Kreviazuk from Cummings. In 2004, Krall was inducted into Canada’s walk of Fame in Toronto.

Today, the piano is just as much a part of Canada’s musical landscape as it ever was. Whether it’s being used in the critically acclaimed chamber pop of Patrick Watson, the top 40 balladry of Alessia Cara or the backdrop to the amazing voice of Rose Cousins, the roots of the piano in Canadian music run deep! 

Want to join the lineage? There’s no better time than the present! At Toronto Arts Academy we have a faculty of outstanding pianists in all styles of music and state of the art keyboards in our lesson rooms to work it out on.

Give us a call today and we’ll get you started on your journey!

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