John Barron’s Life and Legacy of Music

John Barron has been a leader in London and Canadian choral music education for four decades, as a curriculum developer, artistic director, choir member, mentor and teacher to thousands of singers in the schools where he taught and in the choirs in which he has participated. As a co-founder of the Amabile Youth Singers, he has served to make London, Ontario famous for its choral music throughout the world.

Beginning in the 1960’s, John taught secondary school choral music in Toronto and London, where he developed curriculua that brought choral music to the fore, for hundreds of students. He also sang with Canada’s renowned choral composer, Healey Willan, and was a member of the Festival Singers under the direction of Elmer Iseler. In 1976 he took his young family to Késkemét, Hungary for one year where he studied at the famous Kodály Institute.

He became the Music Consultant for the former Middlesex County Board of Education, where he developed a Canadian curriculum using the Kodály method for elementary singing, which has been used all across the country. He is also the editor of several choral books of folk songs which are used in Canadian classrooms. John taught at Westminster Secondary School in 1970, after arriving from Toronto. He was the founding conductor of London Pro Musica. In 1972, he became the Music Consultant for what was the former Middlesex County Board of Education.

He led the Ontario Youth Choir in 1975 when it won the grand prize for both the CBC Biennial Choral competition and the European Broadcasting Union’s “Let the Peoples Sing” competition. Sir David Willcocks, one of the judges, called the OYC the finest youth choir he ever heard. In fact, John Barron is the only choral conductor in the world to win this competition three times, and with two different choirs (youth choir category).

At the end of the 1985 London “Kiwanis Music Festival”, Barron and fellow-music teacher Brenda Zadorsky took their respective triple trios – who had competed against each other – for ice cream at a local mall to celebrate. The twenty-seven girls wandered up onto a set of risers and just for fun, and this impromptu group sang. The blend of voices ignited the spark that the following September became the Amabile Youth Singers. That spur-of-the-moment performance 29 years ago, laid the foundation for what is now, almost 300 choristers are in eight different Amabile choirs – boys and girls, from age 6 to adults.

Under his co-direction, the Amabile Choirs have won the CBC National Choral Competition more times than any other group. Over the years, the choirs have entertained audiences in Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Australia, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Estonia, Finland and New Zealand, and won many international competitions. The Amabile Youth Singers, for example, travelled to Greece in 1999, winning 2 golds at the International Choir Festival of Preveza, Greece; 2 golds in Bremen, Germany at the Choral, and returned this past summer to Greece, bring home 2 more golds.

At Barron’s suggestion, Amabile has placed a huge emphasis on Canadian composers and music, commissioning over 100 new works, including thirty from Stephen Hatfield whom John refers to as Amabile’s “composer in non-residence”. The choirs have recorded or participated in more than 15 CD’s.

John Barron’s publications include a series of arrangements of Canadian folk songs, “Reflections of Canada”, which received an ACCC Outstanding Choral Publications Award, and “How to Make a Recording”, part of Choirs Ontario 2007 “How To…” series. John is also the author of a music textbook called “Ride With Me – A Journey from Unison to Part-Singing”.

In addition to his musical leadership, John is well-known for his generosity, even to providing bus fare, so choristers could make it to rehearsals and performance venues. John’s financial support also extended to providing a choral award for the 2013 Kiwanis Music Festival, but maybe shines brightest in the “John and Lowell Barron Endowment Fund” which currently holds over $360,000 and grows annually. It was established in 2003 to provide bursary assistance to at-risk choristers whose financial challenges might prevent them from joining the Amabile family.

He was named to the Order of Canada in 2007. His investiture as a member was in 2008, with Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean presiding. The citation read:

“John Barron has helped to revolutionize music education in elementary schools in his province. He adapted the Kodaly method – which teaches musical literacy through singing, games, movement and folk songs – and featured Canadian material as a key learning tool. He has also brought international acclaim to Canada as a co-founder of one of the world’s premier youth choirs, the award-winning Amabile Youth Singers. He serves as a model for other conductors and is known for his generosity in helping to develop and promote Canadian composers.”

Throughout his 45 year career, John has been a much sought-after clinician and adjudicator with music organizations and institutions across Canada and the US; he has been recognized with numerous awards. The Jack Richardson Music Awards named John the 2009 “Dennis Brown Lifetime Achievement Award” winner. The award named is after the late London jazz drummer and honours those whose commitment to music is both pervasive and influential.

By coincidence, Barron was a percussionist in high school, and marching to his own beat, John Barron has enriched the Canadian music landscape – choral and otherwise through his commitment, his vision, his support and his leadership.