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Staples, Rj (1904–72)

Rj Staples.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A10937

Rj Staples is regarded as one of Canada’s outstanding music educators. Born in Grenfell, Saskatchewan in 1904, he went on to graduate from the University of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Teachers’ College. He continued studies at the University of Saskatchewan, Columbia University, and Florida State University. He studied under Ernest von Dohnányi (considered one of the top ten of the older school of musicians living at that time), Robert Shaw, Irvin Cooper, Marion Atkinson, and Harvey Brooks, a trumpet teacher and pupil of one of the world’s greatest trumpet players, Herbert L. Clarke. After teaching at several elementary schools throughout Saskatchewan and Manitoba between the years 1924 and 1932, Staples was appointed director of Music at Central Collegiate in Regina. He was also the advisor on School Music Courses to the provincial Department of Education from 1935 to 1940, and served as provincial supervisor of Music from 1945 until 1969. He felt it was important for children to respond to music through free physical movement and through making and playing their own instruments. He created for broadcast Making Music Together (1945), and with Gertrude Murray worked closely to produce for the primary levels the series Rhythmic Patterns (1950) and Sounds and Songs, for which he worked as script writer, arranger, and commentator (1948–66).

Staples’ extensive involvement in music throughout his lifetime did much to promote music education in Canada. He directed choirs, bands and orchestras, and authored forty-two works in the field of school music, published in Canada and the United States. He was a pioneer in the use of the recorder in schools on this continent, and the inventor of the “Record Indicator” and “Chord Indicator” devices. He also conducted workshops in school music methods in several provinces and in seven different states.

As an alternative to competitive music festivals, Staples organized a series of Saskatchewan “music meets” that would involve both classroom performance and massed singing. A guest commentator would offer advice for improvement, and sometimes hold workshops for classroom teachers. Staples often prepared the students for the massed singing through a series of records prepared for school broadcasts that he wrote, narrated, and produced. His long association with summer school courses through the University of Saskatchewan, which were started in 1946 and featured total involvement in all aspects of classroom music, were extremely popular; and when they were established at Fort Qu’Appelle, his dream of an arts centre was partially realized.

Staples was also a scriptwriter and commentator for CBC Music Broadcasts from 1948 until his retirement in 1969. He passed away in British Columbia on November 15, 1972.

Gail Saunders

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