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"ELT" 2006 Obituary


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ELTON o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2006-02-27 published
Pearl PALMASON, Musician (1915-2006)
Daughter of Icelandic immigrants took childhood lessons from her brother, Sandra MARTIN writes. Later, she broke gender barriers to become one of Canada's first female solo violinists and a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concertmaster
By Sandra MARTIN, Page S7
This is a story about two women and a violin. In 2003, Judy KANG needed an instrument worthy of her prodigious talents. Pearl PALMASON, a trailblazing musician who broke gender barriers at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra back in the 1940s, could no longer play her precious 1747 Gagliano violin to her own demanding standards. She agreed to lend it to the Canada Council so that younger fingers could make it sing.
"I've always wanted a warm, dark, deep quality in a violin," Ms. KANG, 26, said this week. She loved the sound of the Gagliano and the way it made her feel when she was playing it. "It made me think I could really push my limits."
Ms. PALMASON went to the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto to hear Ms. KANG play during a competition and to watch the bow being passed from one dedicated player to another. But Ms. KANG was far from the only female musician to be touched by Ms. PALMASON through her long career as a violinist.
"I saw her when I was seven years old at Maple Leaf Gardens at a concert with Fritz Kreisel as the soloist," said violinist Andrea HANSEN. "I couldn't take my eyes off this redhead -- this beautiful regal person -- sitting there in a flowing black gown playing the violin with the Toronto Symphony. I was just smitten."
It was 1947 and Ms. HANSEN, who had already been playing the violin for four years, knew what she wanted to do for a career. Nearly 30 years later, the two women became neighbours, Friends and colleagues in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. "We were the only two Scandinavian ones in the orchestra," said Ms. HANSEN who is of Finnish descent. "I was even more in awe then because of the kind of person she was. She opened the door for the rest of us."
Pearl PALMASON was born during the First World War in Winnipeg. She was the third of four children of Icelandic immigrants Sveinn and Growa PALMASON (née SVEINNSDOTTIR.) Her architect father prospered in construction, but the Depression wiped him out financially and the family moved to a farm.
No matter how stretched they were, the PALMASONs always found money for violin lessons for their eldest son Palmi, who was six years older than Pearl. He studied with the violin builder and teacher Olafur Thorsteinsson in Husavick, Manitoba, and then with John Waterhouse in Winnipeg before becoming a member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
Palmi would walk five miles home from his lessons and then teach everything he had learned to his little sister Pearl. From the time she was nine years old, she was officially her brother's student, acquiring both her Associate, Toronto Conservatory of Music and Licentiate, Royal Schools of Music qualifications and winning four medals from the Toronto Conservatory of Music for having the highest examination marks in the country.
They both performed at the Manitoba Music Competition Festival in Winnipeg and played with what would later be called the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
"My uncle Palmi would perform very respectably and get high marks, but never win, and Pearl always won in her class, and she would win overall," said her niece Valerie THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON. She was awarded both the Rose Bowl and an Aikens Memorial Trophy and won a scholarship at age 18 to study for three years with Elie SPIVAK, concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and a teacher at the Royal Conservatory of Music.
In the late 1930s she went to England to study with Carl Flesch, the Hungarian-born violinist and also played solo concerts in Iceland in 1938 and in London. Years later she described Mr. Flesch as "a genius with the violin but not in his practical life." She also complained that he "had pupils from all over the world and he wiped the floor with every one of them."
She returned to Toronto when the Second World War broke out and studied briefly with Kathleen PARLOW, before moving to New York to be instructed by Demetrious Dounis. She found him secretive and mysterious. "You went in one door and out through another," she remembered. Apparently, concert masters studied privately with him and didn't want anybody to know so "it was very hush-hush."
In 1941, she left New York and joined the Toronto Symphony Orchestra at $25 a week for a five-month season. "The burning question," she said later, "was how to survive the other seven months of the year and pay the rent." Even so, she managed to find the money to buy a violin made in 1666, that had previously been owned by violinist Alexander Chuhaldin, and was thought (incorrectly) to be a Stradivarius.
Ms. PALMASON was married in the 1940s, after she joined the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and supported her husband who lived in New York and studied with her former teacher, Dr. Dounis. By all accounts, the marriage was disastrous and quickly ended. On September 19, 1948, she performed a solo recital at the Town Hall in New York. "A metropolitan debut of promise," concluded the Musical Courier.
She considered pursuing a career as a concert violinist, but decided against it, partly because, as she said later, "you have to be absolutely great to be a concert performer and I knew I wasn't." There was another reason: the loneliness of the long-distance concert circuit. "I wouldn't have all this -- my home, my possessions and my Friends around me."
Essentially, Ms. PALMASON chose career over marriage in an era when it was extremely difficult to have both. "In those days, what happened to women violin soloists was that they got married and had children. Their career was put on hold for a while and then they tried to make a comeback, but it was never the same," she said in an interview in the 1950s.
Instead, she built a life around music, travel, a huge circle of Friends and her sister Ruby's children. "When my mother died, Pearl made the announcement that she now had three children," said her niece Valerie THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON. "We were all past the age of majority, but she said she was adopting us."
By the mid 1950s, she was one of eight women playing with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and was the first female to serve as assistant concert master and to slip into the senior role when her male colleague Hyman GOODMAN was unavailable. From 1960 to 1962, she played principal second violin. She also played with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Symphony (after having confronted the conductor about his male-only hiring policy), the Singing Stars Orchestra, the Hart House Orchestra and the York Concert Society group.
An article by Florence SCHILL in The Globe and Mail in October of 1954, under the tag "Earning a Living," focused on Ms. PALMASON. The column began by quoting Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961). Apparently, the famous British conductor liked to explain the paucity of women in his orchestra by saying: "If they're pretty, they bother the men; if they aren't, they bother me."
Jack ELTON, manager of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, denied there was discrimination against women. "We have never said: Let's not take her because she's a woman -- especially if they look like Pearl." And she was definitely a looker, with flaming red hair, usually called Titian in newspaper clippings from the era, striking blue eyes and luscious red lips.
In 1960, she bought the Gennaro Gagliano violin with the rich velvet sound for $3,500 (U.S.) -- about the price of a new car at the time, according to violin-maker and restorer Ric HEINL of the Toronto firm George Heinl and Co. It was made in Naples, Italy, in 1747 by Gennaro Gagliano, who was arguably the best in a large family of expert violin-makers.
A salesman for the Rembrandt Wurlitzer company in New York brought the violin to Toronto to show to a potential client, who declined to purchase it. Ms. PALMASON fell in love with it "at first play" and insisted the instrument wasn't going back, according to Mr. HEINL. The violin is now insured for $220,000.
After her farewell concert in front of 10,000 people at Ontario Place in August of 1981, she told The Globe that she had "spent more of my life at Massey Hall than at home." Although she had reached retirement age, she had no intention of putting her violin away. She played with the Canadian Opera Company orchestra from 1981 to 1985, and continued to teach privately, play with chamber groups, give recitals with her string group. In 1987 she became concertmaster of the Oakville Symphony Orchestra.
Ms. PALMASON lived in a spacious home in North Toronto until the mid-to-late 1990s when she moved into a large retirement condominium with her Boesendorfer piano and her beloved violins. She continued to have "drinkie winkies" (Beefeater gin with a splash of tonic and one ice cube) with Friends and gave at least two concerts in her condo for her neighbours.
She practised every day, but after she broke her ankle in 2002, life became harder. After she agreed to lend her Gagliano to the Canada Council instrument bank, she played every day on her "second" violin. A year ago in January, Ms. KANG, who had been sending Ms. PALMASON letters regularly, paid the woman she calls "her angel" a visit. "She was very warm and very sweet," Ms. KANG said. "It was really moving to see her playing the violin," she said, and "inspiring to see somebody who loves music so much that she plays every day just to have it in her life."
Pearl PALMASON was born on October 2, 1915, in Winnipeg. She died in Toronto of heart failure on February 17, 2006, after having suffered a stroke in September. She was 90. She is survived by a niece, two nephews and their families.

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ELTON o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2006-11-25 published
TANNER, Benjamin " Ben" F. (1927-2006)
Benjamin F. (Ben) TANNER beloved husband of Barbara, passed away peacefully in his home in Calgary after a short battle with cancer on Thursday, November 23, 2006 at the age of 79 years. Ben was born on June 15, 1927 in Cardston, Alberta. He received a B.A. from the University of British Columbia and received an L.L.B. from the University of Alberta. Ben married Barbara FISHER and moved to Toronto, Ontario where together they raised four children. Ben's greatest passion in life was his love of horses which he shared and enjoyed at his farm in Caledon, Ontario. Besides his loving wife Barbara, Ben is survived by his four children, Connie, Elizabeth, Nathan and Robert; son-in-law Curtis DASHIELL; daughter-in-law Traci TANNER; and by his seven beautiful grandchildren, Merrill, Benjamin, Elizabeth and Christina DASHIELL, Noah Tanner ARMSTRONG, and Kennedy and Haven TANNER. He is also survived by his two sisters, Irene and Ann; brother-in-law Dalt ELTON; as well as by numerous other relatives and Friends. Ben was predeceased by his brother Chester and sister Arlene. Funeral Services will be held at McInnis and Holloway'S Fish Creek Chapel (14441 Bannister Road S.E., Calgary, Alberta) on Sunday, November 26, 2006 at 2: 30 p.m. Forward condolences through www.mcinnisandholloway.com In living memory of Ben TANNER, a tree will be planted at Fish Creek Provincial Park by McInnis and Holloway Funeral Homes Fish Creek Chapel, 14441 Bannister Road S.E., Calgary, Alberta T2X 3J3 Telephone: (403) 256-9575.

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