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March 5, 2018

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It’s a bit of a mouthful, but that was the name given to describe the new state of contemporary Canadian music in the mid-1980s. Wilfrid Laurier University, long a centre of musical education and performance, was at the forefront of this musical movement when it hosted the Fifth Steam Festival of Contemporary Music in May 1989.

“Nothing quite like this has been done in Ontario before,” said Laurier Music Professor and festival organizer Peter Hatch at the time of the festival (Hatch enjoyed a long subsequent career at Laurier, retiring from the university in 2017).

Today, visitors to the Laurier Archives can learn more about this intriguing moment in regional musical history in the NUMUS Concerts fonds. The collection contains programmes and promotional material, correspondence, event information, sound recordings, moving images, and scores and librettos from numerous NUMUS performances, including The Salome Dancer.

“The NUMUS fonds are such a valuable addition to our growing collection documenting music in Canada,” said Julia Hendry, head of the Laurier Archives. “They help to document the latest chapter in Kitchener-Waterloo’s long history of nurturing a vibrant musical culture, going back to the Sängerfeste of the 19th century. And the NUMUS records help tell the more recent story of genuine musical innovation in the community and on campus.”

The Fifth Stream Festival was sponsored by NUMUS Concerts, Laurier and the Institute for Canadian Music. It was held in the John Aird Centre on Laurier’s Waterloo campus where over 25 new compositions were performed at six concerts, and 12 academic papers on contemporary music were presented at the festival’s conference.

In the 1950s, composers merged jazz and classical techniques to form a new style of music, coined the ‘Third Stream’ by the late American composer and musician Gunther Schuller. By the 1980s, many musicians found it difficult to group composers into schools of thought because they saw a growing breakdown of traditional boundaries between musical genres and styles. With the explosion of electronic technology since the 1950s and the further merging of classical and popular styles of music, including rock, new wave, folk, and symphonic, ‘Fifth Stream’ was born. It was, above all else, defined by its diversity.

The description and celebration of this music, including the title “Fifth Stream,” was not received well by all contemporary musicians at the time, however. Some admired the broad definition and categorization of the new stream; others saw it as a “meaningless term” which sought to “delineate a field of music that was much too loosely defined.”

NUMUS Concerts, Inc., a not-for-profit organization based in Waterloo, Ontario, was founded in 1985 by Hatch to showcase established and emerging national and international contemporary artists. It continues to produce and present music from diverse genres in contemporary and often improvisational forms.


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