Don Wright Scholarships in Music Education

Don Wright (1908-2006)

With sponsorship of 34 inflation-proof scholarships for music students in 13 different universities across Canada every year, musician Don Wright has certainly earned a right to describe himself as a developer and benefactor of music education. His curriculum vitae also describes him as a pioneer, innovator, musician, arranger, composer, conductor, and educator, and details of the life of this multi-faceted man do bear this out.

Don Wright was born and educated in Strathroy, Ontario. He began his music career by learning to play the cello at age seven, and soon achieved success by winning a gold medal in a Canada-wide competition at age 14. By this point, he had also learned to play trumpet, and was on his way to eventually learning to play almost all musical instruments. He was encouraged in these endeavours by his musical family; his family had so many musicians that they provided music for their own garden parties, and Don and his brothers performed as an orchestra for 15 years.

Don attended the University of Western Ontario, and graduated in 1933 with an Honours degree in Classics. While there he earned accolades as an athlete, led the university orchestra and introduced such innovative concepts as herald trumpets and female drum majors. He then spent one year in attendance at the College of Education in Toronto, where he was elected student body president, and went on to teach secondary school at Sir Adam Beck Collegiate in London, Ontario in 1934. He taught classics and history, and was active in the glee club, with the orchestra, and as a vocalist and composer. In 1935 he married Lillian Meighen.

In 1940, Don Wright was Director of Music for London, and the methods he had devised for handling a changing voice in music were being put into words in the form of a book series called Youthful Voices, for Grades 6 through 13. This was followed by a very active time during the war years, in which he not only taught school, but also conducted three troop shows each week, organized and trained all London Air Cadet Bands organized in secondary schools, and served as an officer. After the war, he began work as a manager in the radio industry, and his drive to discover local talent through auditioning led to the uncovering of such notable talents as Max Ferguson, Tommie Hunter, Ward Cornell and Pat Murray. The Don Wright Chorus was born, and grew in stature to the point where the group received North American coverage. The next decade was filled with composing, orchestration, publication of more educational material, and Don's career reached out through the medium of television. He was in demand as a guest speaker, and by 1966 had moved into the field of philanthropy by organizing a charitable foundation to provide scholarships for music students. He continued composing and performing, and was presented to the Queen on Parliament Hill on July 1, 1967, on the occasion of Canada's Centennial.

A most ambitious undertaking was the compilation of a thesaurus of his life's work in music for education purposes: 20 volumes of explanations, lists of principles and devices and scores, as well as 24 hours of sound on cassettes to illustrate this material. Complete sets of Fifty Years of Music with Don Wright are now housed in 13 universities across Canada, and the National Library.

Other musical triumphs of his career include composing, arranging and conducting the music for such films as Trail of '98, Opening of Seaway, A Day to Remember, The Unknown Country, and many CBC documentaries. In 1983 Don Wright was granted the Award of Merit, the University of Western Ontario (UWO) Alumni's highest award, and the university's International Track Meet also honoured him by changing their name to the Don Wright Invitational. In 1986, he was awarded an honourary doctorate of music from UWO, and in 1990 was inducted into the UWO Athletic Hall of Fame.

Certainly all the accomplishments of this remarkable man cannot be contained in one brief biography, but the details of his life and work have been preserved in such places as the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, Who's Who in Canada, and Music Education in Canada. Don Wright passed away in 2006. He left an immense legacy in the field of music. 

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