James Hiscott
B.Sc. (Honours) 1970, M.Sc. 1971 (UoT), BFA 1976 (York)

I was born in St. Catharines, and studied physics at Brock University, with the Honours year of the Brock B.Sc. (1969-70) taken at the University of Lancaster, England, on a Rotary Foundation Graduate Fellowship. I received the Governor General's medal for highest grades on graduating from Brock (in 1969, after regular B. SC. program). In 1971 I obtained an M.Sc. in Theoretical (Particle) Physics from the University of Toronto.

After the M.Sc. degree I left the academic world for several years. I decided that music was to be my pursuit, and joined a rock band based on St. Catharines, and then Toronto. The band was called Yenmor Blue, was fronted by singer Fraser Loveman, and eventually did rock versions of 20s blues and popular music. We played the C.N.E., and travelled to various places around Ontario and the U.S. I played Hammond organ. In the mid-70s I played piano for several years with Kid Bastien's Camelia Jazz Band in Toronto. We went twice to New Orleans and played with some of the greats of the New Orleans jazz revival.

In 1971 I began private studies in Music Composition with Samuel Dolin at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and concurrently went to York Unviersity, where I obtained a B.F.A. in Music Composition in 1976. In that year I was the Fine Art department's nominee for the Governor General's medal.

In 1977 I began work at C.B.C. as a music producer, and have worked in Toronto, Edmonton, and Winnipeg for the past twenty years. I've been in Winnipeg since 1980, where I've produced two annual CBC co- presented concert series for over a decade: the Virtuosi Series with the University of Winnipeg and the CBC/MCO Series with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. These series have featured many Canadian musicians as well as Internationally-known artists over the years, and given opportunities to younger Canadian performers. Over 30 new works by Canadian composers have been written for the CBC/MCO Series.

In 1991 I began the "Sandbox Series" in Winnipeg. This weekly show allowed producers and hosts to make experimental radio--stretch their creative legs a little. The series was the beginning of several nationwide series (now "Limited Edition", Sunday evenings at five on CBC Radio 2) which focused on new ideas and creativity.

I've been involved for many years with "world" music (traditional/pop/classical), preparing sample DATs of pieces which would work well alongside classical music, and trying to encourage more air play of this music on CBC Radio.

Finally, I've recently hosted/produced series of specials and profile shows on Canadian traditional music-- The Traditional Metis Fiddle Festival from Carman, Manitoba; the CBC 60th Anniversary Accordion Festival from Iqaluit, NWT (featuring Inuit button accordion players); "The View From the Bridge" ; "One of a Kind"; and coming up, a six-part series profiling Canadian musicians in "non-western" musical traditions (a Nootka composer/singer from Vancouver Island; a pipa player from Vancouver; a button accordion player from Inukjuak; etc.).

All through this time I've also been a composer. My style has a lot of influence from world traditional and popular music styles. In several compositions I use the two-row diatonic button accordion, which I picked up following a trip to Newfoundland in 1979 (I also play Irish/Basque/other traditional music).

I have written about 70 chamber, orchestral, and solo works, which have been performed across Canada, as well as in the U.S. and Europe. Several pieces have been commissioned and premiered at the WSO's very successful New Music Festival. In one of these, "Dancing on Wings of Fire", I was also the soloist, playing the button accordion with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Bramwell Tovey. I have also performed across Canada, including "The Big Squeeze" Festival, the Vancouver New Music Society, and the main stage of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. In 1994 I was composer-in-residence for a week at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. That year I was also named "composer of the year" by the Winnipeg Free Press.

Some of my button accordion pieces are recorded on the CD "Spirit Reel", available from the Canadian Music Centre. Other works have been recorded commercially by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Bramwell Tovey, pianist Shirley Sawatzky, and violist Rivka Golani.

This December 31st ('97), I began a new phase of my life, leaving CBC to concentrate full-time on music composition, which I'll supplement with freelance recording and other work. Right now I'm working on a wind band piece.

On the personal front, I've been married for eleven years to Andrea Ratuski, who's from Winnipeg. She's also a CBC producer and radio host in Winnipeg, and we enjoy cooking (mostly French, Italian, and American), travel (mostly Europe, as well as Bali, where we bought a set of `gender', Balinese musical instruments, that we later played in the WSO New Music Festival), and weekends at Lake of the Woods near Kenora. Andrea is a music graduate of the University of Manitoba and Michigan State (Ann Arbor). She is a flute player and a singer, and we often perform folk music as a duo around Winnipeg.

Although Physics has not been at the centre of my life, I feel my training in the concepts and ideas of physics and mathematics has been very helpful in the field of musical composition. Like physics, you could say that music composition involves a practical application of mathematics: in this case the practical aspect might be called the realization of abstract ideas as aesthetic sound creations. Of course there are also dimensions of emotion and psychology, and the unconscious; but math and theoretical physics can sometimes be poetic and are hopefully often elegant and beautiful.

Jim Hiscott, 21-January-1998

More recent activities include among other things a performance of my piece "Dancing on Wings of Fire" Jan.14, 2001 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra cond. Marco Parisotto (with myself on button accordion) and a number of CBC radio documentaries about a September trip to Kivalliq (western Nunavut) and Northern Manitoba I went on as part of a trio of musicians playing for schoolchildren.

Jim Hiscott, 27-December-2000


Jim Hiscott has been maintaining links with St.Catharines, and with the Physics Department. His works have been performed several times by the Niagara Symphony, with Jim as a soloist, including the gala public event at the opening of the CAP'06 Annual Congress that took place at Brock in July, 2006.