Musicologist and CPM Community Engagement Manager Dr. Lisa Tkalych sat down with Dr. Kenneth DeLong in December 2023 to learn about his half-century career in teaching at the University of Calgary and his decades-long association with Calgary Pro Musica. In this interview, you will learn about the fluke of his application and hiring process, his breadth of teaching at the University of Calgary and his attendance at nearly every Calgary Pro Musica concert in its 47-year history. Ken delivers CPM’s pre-concert talks and has written CPM’s program notes since the late 1980s! He is a wealth of knowledge and generously shares his institutional knowledge of CPM and its loyal audience.
Q 1: The University of Calgary has been your first and only academic job. What was the hiring process like in 1973?
A 1: Well, lives sometimes have a fluke element, and I can’t deny that some of this had an element of fluke. I was walking down the halls at Stanford one day, and a friend stopped me and said, “You’re from Canada; aren’t you? There’s just a posting that came up for a job in Canada. I thought you might be interested.” So I took a look at it, and it was a position for an instructor in flute with some theory. So, under no logical grounds whatever I applied for the job. And I don’t play the flute at all. But I didn’t let little things like that deter me.
What I couldn’t know at that time but only learned later is that there was a faculty woodwind quintet at the university at that point, and there had been an almighty row with the flutist. And between the time the job was posted and the time they got around to hiring someone, there had been a reconciliation with the flutist. Which is to say they had no need for a flutist. And what they had was a whole file folder full of applications from flutists because the job said it was for a flutist. So what they really needed was someone who could teach music theory but could also perhaps fill in a bit in music history. So I have a master’s degree in music theory, and I was doing a PhD in Musicology, so I think for that reason I ended up on the shortlist, and I ended up coming here in 1974.
Q 2: What were your main areas of teaching at the University of Calgary?
A 2: For the first part of my years here, for the first ten years, I taught music theory almost full-time with some history as needed. And then at a crucial point, two of the historians left. The Head of Department called me in and said, “I need a quick answer. We’re going to hire one person, and it will be in either in History or in Theory. And since you do both here, I want you to decide right this minute that you will be part of the History unit or be part of the Theory unit, and it’s fine either way.” And so I said then, “If you are giving me my choice, I would prefer to be part of the designated History unit.” There comes an upper limit as to how many parallel fifths you want to mark in student papers before it starts to get a little repetitive, and history has always as a subject matter afforded greater opportunities for diversity and for different kinds of things to do. And by temperament I am more of a generalist than a specialist.
Q 3: The University of Calgary was established as an independent institution in 1966. You began your career here in 1974. What advantages did you experience as an early university faculty member?
A 3: The university has, for many of its early years, been in a growth mode, certainly up until the ‘90s. And that has allowed me to pursue quite a number of interests which other kinds of universities might not have afforded me the opportunity. So initially, for example, I was very much interested in choral music. And so I founded an early music choir called the Early Music Singers, and I conducted that for eleven years here. And the continuation of that is the Collegium Musicum that is being done, and Julie Harris who’s directing it, sang in the earlier group at one point.
Q 4: Your career at the University of Calgary began in 1974, and Calgary Pro Musica was established by University of Calgary Cello Professor Talmon Hertz with concerts in the University Theatre. For how long have you attended Calgary Pro Musica concerts?
A 4: I have hardly missed a performance since the very beginning.
Q 5: Would you please talk about the early years of Calgary Pro Musica?
A 5: Talmon Hertz was our cello instructor and came here initially to be first cello of both Calgary Philharmonic and also in Edmonton. And so he came to the city because of that, and he ended up continuing not so much in Edmonton and being Calgary-focused. And from there he became more focused at the university. With his sister Yaela, who was a violinist, and Dale Bartlett who was a very fine Alberta pianist, the three of them performed as the Hertz Trio of which Talmon was largely the administrative functioning part of that.
And so as a result of his interest in chamber music in general, he initiated the idea of there being Calgary Pro Musica using the University of Calgary as its home. And so the Hertz Trio became the house ensemble that usually performed once a year in the Calgary Pro Musica series in the early years. And Talmon quickly became connected to the wider world of, should we say, entrepreneurial chamber music, of chamber music societies that existed, in fact, in most good-sized cities all over North America… And Talmon also was very effective in planning this because Calgary is relatively isolated compared to, say, the East Coast cities, and so therefore the planning of a visit to, let’s say, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary for some particular group meant that the logistics of the concerts could be practicable. And Talmon initiated many of those things and was very astute about all of that.
Q 6: When and why did you start writing Calgary Pro Musica’s program notes?
A 6: I have to guess that I would have started writing program notes in the later 1980s [and I have continued to this day]. I am not quite sure how this all came about, but at one point, the program notes [for the series] stopped, or there was a glitch. And Talmon came to me and asked if I would write the program notes for Pro Musica. And in a rather casual way, which was sort of Talmon’s way of just tossing out ideas, he said that he would appreciate it if I would try to write program notes a little bit differently from the conventional type of program notes that one finds at the Philharmonic or around. And he didn’t specify what that should be. And so, taking Talmon at his word, I have evolved my own approach to this which is perhaps a little more light-hearted than some other forms of program notes and also, perhaps, presumes a little bit upon the general historical cultural knowledge of the audience which is quite a sophisticated audience anyways and treats the notion of what you might read before a concert in a slightly different way from the usual realm of program notes. The sort of present pattern probably is of the last twenty years, roughly.
Q 7: When did you begin giving pre-concert talks for CPM?
A 7: The pre-concert talks just started a few years ago. But when it comes to those things, I did pre-concert talks for the Calgary Philharmonic for fifteen years. And I’ve done pre-concert talks for the Calgary Opera for not less than that.
Q 8: Would you please speak to Calgary Pro Musica and its audience?
A 8: Having lived here a long time, I recognize a number of the long-standing people who have been faithful supporters of Pro Musica. There is a certain culture that has emerged, and I won’t deny that it is the kind of culture that Talmon conceptualized and initiated and Dean has continued which has something to do with aficionados of chamber music blending into what might be called a type of chamber music family in Calgary, people who enjoy music that’s played to an international standard, and that it mixes major, should we say, main repertory works but with imaginative outlying works to keep it fresh. Dean has been particularly engaged in that last part and the whole pressing of things not just into new music but also into early music and to instruments not closely associated with chamber music has been a very large part of his new vision. The Horizons Series is a classic example of that.
Pro Musica has had the benefit of a certain stability which many other somewhat parallel organizations have not enjoyed. And I think that’s been substantially a match between coherent and competent administration on the highest levels and the administration’s understanding and appreciation of the kind of audience they’re trying to serve. When those two things fit together, it all works. Pro Musica for all these many years has been very blessed by a remarkable smoothness in the connection between the kind of audience and the kind of events that are performed.
Q 9: The stability of Calgary Pro Musica must also come from the steadiness of its leadership. Talmon and Dean have been CPM’s only Artistic Directors, and Dean even overlapped with Talmon for some time.
A 9: Talmon had a particular kind of vision which was clear enough and steady enough that when Dean came on, it was quite clear what it was that had been successful. And so that meant that Dean was able to step into well-developed shoes. What he needed to do was to first understand what those shoes were, and then from there he could have his own ideas as to how to grow and expand. And [Dean’s] abilities to be able to both maintain and continue traditions but also to expand has been very impressive to me.
Q 10: How did the switch from the University Theatre to the Rosza Centre in 2011 impact Calgary Pro Musica and its audiences?
A 10: I was just noticing yesterday that the number of concerts has more or less doubled since the early years of Pro Musica. The new hall (it’s not so new now, but the Rozsa Centre as a venue) has been a tremendous boost to Pro Musica. The size of the hall and the whole situation there works very well for Pro Musica and I think has encouraged the steady size of the organization at a time when other arts organizations have suffered quite a considerable fluctuation.
Q 11: How do you feel Calgary Pro Musica fits within the classical music scene in Calgary?
A 11: Only in very special spaces is there a continued demographic large enough to sustain pure classical music events. And Pro Musica comes about as close to that in Calgary as possible. There are people who seem to find enough pleasure in listening to evidently great classical music, specifically music of the classical tradition, in attractive halls performed very well and with a certain evident class to the whole activity. Calgary Pro Musica has been one of the staples of the Calgary music scene at a time when almost all other organizations have had to regroup, to adjust, to find different modes of marketing, and the audience for this is not a large audience but it is one that is very dedicated to this particular kind of refined beauty.
Congratulations to Dr. DeLong on his 50-year career as Professor of Music at the University of Calgary. He begins his final year, a sabbatical year, at the university this month. We are grateful that he plans to continue his involvement with Calgary Pro Musica as our program notes writer and pre-concert lecturer. We look forward to drawing on his rich institutional knowledge as we gear up for our own 50th anniversary season beginning in 2026. Thank you, Dr. DeLong, for your dedication to enriching tens of thousands of Calgarians’ knowledge of and appreciation for classical music.