By RON FANFAIR
The Nathaniel Dett Chorale’s founding artistic director and conductor, Brainerd Blyden-Taylor, is among 14 prominent Canadians who will receive honorary degrees from York University during its spring convocation, which starts next week.
Blyden-Taylor came to Canada from Trinidad & Tobago in 1973 and 15 years later established Canada’s first professional chamber choir dedicated to the creation and performance of various styles of Afrocentric music, including classical, spiritual, gospel, jazz and blues.
He said he was inspired by African-Canadian composer, R. Nathaniel Dett, who promoted an awareness of Black musical heritage by composing new works, exploring new musical forms and fostering an appreciation of existing spirituals and folk songs, before he died in 1943.
In addition to his work with the choir – which has toured extensively and was invited to Washington D.C. last year to take part in events marking Martin Luther King Day and the inauguration of Barack Obama as the United States’ first Black president – he works frequently as a guest conductor with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, the Hannaford Street Silver Band, the Nova Scotia and Ontario Youth Choirs and the New Brunswick Choral Federation Youth Sing.
Blyden-Taylor, who recently completed 25 years with The Orpheus Choir of Toronto, is a member of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music teaching staff and a Master Teacher with the Toronto District School Board, coaching teachers and students in conducting and choral technique. He also serves as music director at St. Timothy’s Anglican Church and artistic adviser to the Roots festival in Chatham-Kent.
Honorary degrees will also be conferred on business leader and philanthropist Michael Lee-Chin, retired Ontario Court judge, Vibert Lampkin, Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, David Onley and former Canadian prime minister, Joe Clark.
“We are proud to mark the 50th anniversary of York University by honouring such an extraordinary group of individuals,” said the university’s president and vice-chancellor, Mamdouh Shoukri. “Their remarkable achievements are an inspiration to our graduates as they embark upon their own careers.”