Born the same year as Glenn Gould, and sharing his piano teacher Alberto Guerrero at the Toronto Conservatory of Music is Ruth Watson Henderson — organist, accompanist, composer and one the many modest, busy, talented ambassadors of music appreciated well beyond Toronto’s city limits.

I thought I’d use Thanksgiving Day to point our thoughts towards Henderson, who turns 80 next month and is still composing and working as director of music at Kingsway-Lambton United Church.

To local fans of choral music, Henderson is probably most recognizable as a dutiful presence at the piano — from Elmer Iseler’s Festival Singers in the 1970s to her nearly 30-year association with the Toronto Childrens’ Chorus since becoming their founding accompanist in 1978.

This year marked the 60th anniversary of her professional début as a pianist in Toronto.

But Henderson is most notable for her compositions for childrens’ voices — the sort of music that gets young hearts and minds hooked on the art of singing for the rest of their lives. Her pieces are sung by thousands of young voices around the world every week of the year.

There is a simplicity to so much of Henderson’s music that belies the careful thought behind it.

You can find more detail on Henderson on the Canadian Music Centre’s new website here.

Here are a few samples of her work — no turkeys here:

The River, sung by the Baylor University A Cappella Choir:

When Music Sounds, sung by Florida’s Atlantic Childrens’ Chorale this past summer:

Gloria, sung by the Girls’ Choir of Rottenburg am Neckar, Germany:

And then there are Henderson’s short non-vocal compositions, such as:

Celebration! for organ:

Lullaby in Black and White, played by University of Iowa’s Alan Huckleberry:

“Waterfall” from Six Miniatures for Piano:

John Terauds

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10 Responses to Thankful thoughts for Toronto organist, accompanist and composer Ruth Watson Henderson

  1. Andrew Ager says:

    For me, her works have always suggested an happy marriage of beautiful lyricism and Hegelian Dialecticism.

  2. Dear John,
    Thank you for including my live recording from Westminster Abbey of Ruth’s award-winning, Celebration!.
    best wishes,
    Maxine Thevenot

  3. Hilary Apfelstadt says:

    Thank you for focusing on Ruth Watson Henderson’s wonderful music. There are two celebration concerts upcoming in her honour: one at the University of Toronto on Saturday, Nov.3 at 7:30 p.m. (MacMillan Singers and The Women’s Chamber Choir; Amy Dodington, soprano accompanied by Ruth) and one at Kingsway Lambton United Church on Sunday, Nov. 18 at 3 p.m. featuring the KLUC choir and several members of Ruth’s family performing as well. Oriana Singers are honouring her in May at their last concert of the season. She is a national treasure!

  4. Kiki says:

    Thanks so much for introducing this fascinating person to me; I learn something every day and I love reading your blog.

  5. Ruth Watson Henderson says:

    What a delightful surprise to see your kind comments and listen to the samples of my work! Many, many thanks!

  6. Alison Mackay and David Fallis says:

    Thank you John for this richly deserved tribute! She is amazing.
    Alison Mackay and David Fallis

  7. Happy birthday, Ruth! I remember when we worked on the staff of the Ontario Youth Choir with Ruth. She was always so interested in us and others, always curious to learn something new. That was a gift.

  8. Gloria Eagle says:

    Dear Ruth,

    I have written a few cosmic poems,especially suited for children’s choir. I wish to submit them for your consideration. I would like you to write music for them. I don’t know how to reach you. Could you please send me your email,so I could email my poems to you?

    Thank you,
    Gloria Eagle

  9. Ruth Watson Henderson says:

    Sorry, Gloria. I cannot post my email address publically.