Voices United: The Contributions of Eleanor Mews Jerrett to Choral Singing in Newfoundland

Glenn D. Colton

Abstract


This paper explores the pioneering contributions of Eleanor Mews Jerrett (1895-1996) to the development of choral singing traditions in early to mid-twentieth century Newfoundland. Mews Jerretts story is an inspirational one. After suffering severe burns to her face and body during a childhood accident, she persevered to become an accomplished singer and pianist, graduating from the Methodist College in her native St. Johns in 1913 and pursuing further study at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto (where she studied voice with Ethel Shepherd and harmony and counterpoint with Healey Willan).
After receiving her Licentiate of Trinity College of Music, London (LTCL), diploma, she taught voice at the conservatory and began concertizing extensively, including a series of costume recitals in St. Johns during the 1920s. Subsequent studies were undertaken abroad in Denmark, England, and the United States. The Toronto music critic, Augustus Bridle, once remarked of her voice that the young singer possessed an excellent sense of phrase and sentence, adding (with reference to her Newfoundland roots) the sea colours her voice, while Saturday Night commentator, Hector Charlesworth, hailed her as the mistress of perfect diction.
After serving as director of the A Cappella Choir of the University of West Virginia during the early 1930s, she returned to Newfoundland in 1933 on the invitation of John Lewis Paton (the first President of Memorial University College, the early precursor to Memorial University of Newfoundland) to establish a special choral group for students at the college. It was due in large measure to Mews Jerrett that a program of vocal music was established at the fledgling college and the growth and the development of the college Glee Cluban integral facet of college life in the 1930swas entirely due to her tireless dedication.
Following an extended hiatus brought on by her marriage to Eric Jerrett, she returned to the podium in the 1950s to lead the newly founded St. Johns Glee Club. In an impressive career that extended into the 1970s, Mews Jerrett taught generations of young voices as a private teacher, among them accomplished Newfoundland singers Stuart Godfrey, Joan McNamara, and much later Catherine Cornick. In honour of her still largely unsung contributions to music and music education in Newfoundland, a rehearsal room in the Memorial University School of Music was named for her. This paper will draw upon interviews, archival documents, concert programs, and reviews, to provide a comprehensive overview of Mews Jerretts remarkable life in music.

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