JOHN GREER is a professional accompanist, vocal coach, conductor, arranger and composer, heard in these various capacities throughout Canada and abroad. He is an honoured music graduate of both the University of Manitoba where he studied piano and composition with Boyd McDonald and of the University of Southern California where he was a student of pianists Gwendolyn Koldofsky and Brooks Smith and harpsichordist Malcolm Hamilton. His conducting teachers have included James Fraser-Craig and Boris Goldofsky.
Mr. Greer has been fortunate to have worked in recital with many of Canada’s most talented young singers of his generation: Nancy Argenta, Tracy Dahl, Rosemarie Landry, Linda McGuire, Kevin McMillan, Mark Pedrotti, Catherine Robbin, Michael Schade and Monica Whicher, to name a few, as well as the renowned American singers/teachers Carmen Balthrope, Linda Mabbs, Carmen Pelton, Ashley Putnam, William Sharp, Carol Webber and Delores Ziegler.
As a conductor and/or head coach Mr. Greer has prepared and performed over one hundred different operas and operettas, including several premier performances. As a faculty member of the University of Toronto opera division he made his conducting debut in 1983. Subsequently he worked for Victoria’s Opera Piccola, Ottawa’s Opera Lyra, The Banff School of Fine Arts, the Toronto Gilbert & Sullivan Society and Mirvish Productions. He has worked on numerous productions with Opera (Hamilton) Ontario and the Canadian Opera Company where he was Chorus Master for their 1989 productions of Un Ballo in Maschera and Il Barbiere di Siviglia and assistant conductor for their 1990 production of Suor Angelica. The majority of his career was spent as Music Director at various prestigious American music schools: at the Eastman Opera Theatre in Rochester, New York and the Opera Studio at the University of Maryland followed by a decade as Director and Chair of Opera Studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He was visiting Head Vocal Coach for the University of Kentucky voice and opera in Lexington, KY for three years and for ten seasons his summers were occupied with his duties as General Manager and Head of Music Staff for the Janiec Opera Workshop at the Brevard Music Centre in North Carolina. He has also served on the music staff of Glimmerglass and Chautauqua Opera companies.
Mr. Greer’s compositions include twelve song cycles written for Canadian singers such as Catherine Robbin, Kevin McMillan, Mark Dubois, Tracy Dahl, Monica Whicher, and Adrianne Pieczonka, numerous works based on Canadian folk song and many pieces of diversely-scored vocal chamber music. He has written two operas for the Canadian Children’s Opera Chorus; The Snow Queen based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale with a libretto by Jeremy James Taylor of Britain’s National Youth Music Theatre, and an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s fairy tale The Star-Child with librettist Ned Dickens. He revised and orchestrated the 1889 Canadian operetta Leo the Royal Cadet by O. F. Telgmann in an adaptation commissioned by Toronto Operetta Theatre. His most recent short comic opera, A Tall Order, was written for the Boston Opera Collaborative and premiered in 2016.
I use the more progressive composing techniques of the last century (atonality, twelve-tone writing, etc.) in my songs only when that sort of extreme expression is called for by the text or emotional situation. Despite a relatively traditional creative palette, I attempt to write or arrange songs that fill a significant and specific need on the contemporary recital platform. My ultimate goal is to create music that is worthy of and that encourage repeated performances and that, despite the performing challenges, is as rewarding for the performers as for their audiences.
I am a democrat in the world of vocal music. I respect art song and opera equally, acknowledging their individual demands but also informing each, both as a composer and performer, with an in-depth knowledge of the other. Likewise, I don’t eschew popular music in the face of "high art”. To me, there is only good/effective/imaginative/innovative composition with form/content matching function. I often observe snobbism on all sides of these various fences and this sort of musical “racism” always saddens me.
Training & Pedagogy
Much of my career has been spent training young singers (and pianists, orchestral musicians, composers, etc.) in their art. Little else has been so challenging but also so rewarding. It’s exciting so see talented singers, especially at the stage of their graduate education, when they have accumulated enough of the basics of their craft to really begin fully expressing themselves, absorbing ideas and transforming their performances to higher and higher levels.
Taken for granted in the training of a young singer or collaborative pianist are the various disciplines that require full attention, especially in the early stages of study: performance technique, analysis skills, both comprehensive and diction-specific lingual skills, literary and historic study, musicianship, ensemble skills, interpretive and stylistic awareness, etc. I like to work chronologically through repertoire if I can to help young performers understand the changing traditions of musical performance and to put them in their clearest context. One of the most important things to learn are the attributes of each style that distinguish it from the others and also the means an interpreter has within these styles for personal creativity and expression. Creativity is a key word in my pedagogical style. I think it is important that the student have the greatest scope possible for exploration and experimentation, and most importantly, that there be a feeling of enjoyment and freeing joy in this creativity, the essential ingredient that will be passed on to an audience. Of course, this creativity gets its most rewarding outlet in the ornamenting of early music, the adaptation of bel canto cadenzas, the pacing of secco recitative, etc., but a performing creativity should be nurtured and encouraged in every moment of the rehearsal room when the works of great artists are concerned and once the basics of any work are mastered.