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The WSO and The Guess Who: Winnipeg Makes Musical History.

"Winnipeg makes musical history," pronounced John Murphy at the end of his "Spins 'n' Needles" newspaper column one day in September 1968. (1) Murphy had been discussing the upcoming concert that was to be held on 26 October of that year in Centennial Concert Hall, which would feature a merger between the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Winnipeg-born rock band, The Guess Who. There had been earlier experiments with rock music and orchestral arrangements. For example, the Beatles recorded Yesterday in 1965 backed by a string quartet, and performed it on the Ed Sullivan Show backed by the studio orchestra--but this was not a concert. (2) The Moody Blues had recorded the Days of Future Passed album with the London Festival orchestra in 1967. (3) It was moderately successful upon release, though five years later Knights in White Satin from that album became a top ten hit. But nobody had put a live rock band on a stage with a live orchestra before--and not only to have the two disparate ensembles perform together, but as then-WSO manager Leonard Stone noted, to do it "within the classical ambience of a bona fide concert hall." (4) This was a historical moment that, apart from John Murphy's voice crying in the wilderness of the Winnipeg Free Press newsprint, went by without the public at large noticing a significant event had occurred. Was this concert indeed history making? Has the event faded into obscurity, without public recognition of just how important this concert really was? This article will examine those questions, and introduce the major players whose contributions made the concert the successful venture that it was.

Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO)

The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as we know it today came into being in 1948, after extensive fundraising by "prominent local investors," coupled with $5 shares sold to the public at large, allowed organizers to reach the goal of $50,000, the amount deemed necessary to begin the venture. (5) Previously, dating all the way back to 1880, orchestras had been organized in the city, but then disbanded as the winds of fortune changed. (6) Music as a part of cultural life had always been important to Winnipeggers, but it took many years to build sufficient momentum to enable the support of a permanent orchestra, hi 1968, twenty years into the life of the WSO, Victor Feldbrill, who had conducted the WSO since 1958, was getting ready to pass the baton to George Cleve. Feldbrill conducted his last concert on 25 April, in the new Manitoba Centennial Concert Hall, where a hall that was "filled to capacity" gave a standing ovation to the conductor and his orchestra. (7)

The announcement that George Cleve had been selected for the position of WSO conductor was made in May, and Cleve conducted his first concert in the fall of 1968. (8) Cleve was reported as having "no misgivings about the WSO embarking on a new venture this fall with the symphony orchestra playing rock music with the Guess Who group," and some of the public may have thought, since Cleve was young and particularly popular with Winnipeg teenagers, that the concert was his idea--but the decision had been made long before Cleve's appointment to the WSO. (9) Plans for the concert had been "formally conceived at a board meeting last December"--which would have been in 1967, while Feldbrill was still conductor. (10)

From Pops to Rock

Symphony orchestras have been playing popular music or Pops concerts since 1885, beginning in Boston, a tradition that took off in Winnipeg as well. During the years before the WSO existed, the city's Board of Trade would occasionally sponsor Pops concerts so that audiences could enjoy the popular music of the day in orchestral arrangements. (11) The WSO added a Pops series as a part of their regular schedule in 1951. (12) However, Pops concerts did not include rock n' roll: that genre was not deemed to be the province of the orchestra. "Roll over Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news" was the rock n' roll message, making it clear that rock music was in its own distinct category: there was symphony music and there was rock music, co-existing but never intermingling. (13) Certainly never sharing a stage.

In 1967, Canada's centennial year, across the nation, people and communities were excitedly planning and carrying out projects to memorialize this historic year.

In Winnipeg, the Centennial Concert Hall was being built, a project conceived in 1960 and brought to fruition after intensive fund raising to which the general public contributed. Construction was well under way, but the building did not open until 1968. This magnificent edifice became the new home of the WSO, for both its classical and its Pops programs, in a hall seating 2,305. (14)

In the fall of 1967, newly hired orchestra manager Leonard Stone was planning for the 1968 season of the WSO, to take place in the new venue. Stone, a Winnipeg native, had an idea: why not invite Winnipeg's own rock royalty, The Guess Who, to be guest artists with the orchestra? Stone did not personally know the members of the band, but he knew that Bob McMullin did. Stone had worked with McMullin at the Rainbow Stage through several seasons; Bob McMullin had worked with The Guess Who on the CBC television program Let's Go. Here was an opportunity to bring all of these musicians together--the classical ones and the rock ones--and do something that had never been done before.

The Guess Who

By 1967, The Guess Who were becoming a Big Deal. At this early date, they were not yet world famous as they would be in a few years, but they were definitely famous in Winnipeg. Between the radio success of their 1966 single "Shakin' all over" and their weekly television exposure as the house band on Let's Go, their fame had spread throughout the province, and then throughout Canada. Canadian teenagers were very invested in this Canadian group who were heading for the big time--they were so inured to seeing American and British groups hit the top of the radio charts that they took personal pride when a Canadian group looked likely to break into the international rock music scene. Many Canadian teenagers felt like these guys, Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Jim Kale, and Garry Peterson, belonged to them. In the words of Leonard Stone, the whole province, if not the whole country "took glory in their success." (15)

When Leonard Stone approached Bob McMullin with the idea of pairing The Guess Who with the WSO in a concert, McMullin thought it was a great idea. He even offered to do the orchestrations. McMullin had worked with the orchestra before, both as an arranger and orchestrator, and as a conductor for various of the Pops concerts. McMullin had also been the guy doing the arrangements for CBC's Let's Go, so he understood very well what the Guess Who musicians were capable of. McMullin was a consummate musician who could work in any idiom; he "understood rock and roll, jazz, blues, symphony ...he was very comfortable walking from one strata to another." (16) After the December WSO board meeting, McMullin began working on the assignment to create this unique concert for the 1968/69 concert season, which he later said "turned out to be one of the easiest I've had, considering that it (was) a first for me, undertaking so many different components. But, they all fit. They (came) together without being forced. The Guess Who and the Contemporary Dancers are tightly knit and well-rehearsed. I know what they can do and can write accordingly." (17)

Contemporary Dancers

At this late date, more than fifty years after the fact, there seems to be no way of knowing precisely how the decision was made to include Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers in the Guess Who/WSO collaboration. Rachel Browne was the founder of the group, which gave its inaugural performance at the University of Manitoba in February 1964. (18) Previous to this, Rachel Browne would have become acquainted with Bob McMullin on the set of Pajama Game, as performed on the Rainbow Stage in 1960. (19) McMullin was the musical director for that show; while Rachel was originally cast as a member of the chorus, she "became the understudy for Lillian Lewis, the actor playing the part of Adelaide." (20) This role would have put Rachel into meaningful contact with the musical director, McMullin. Rachel also had a close connection with Leonard Stone, since he declares, "Rachel Stone, the late founder of the Contemporary Dancers, and I were friends." (21)

Since the concert was the brainchild of Stone, aided and abetted by McMullin's original conception, it is not surprising that they decided to include their friend Rachel Browne on the program. Both men were inclined to be inclusive, and to delight in providing opportunities for talented performers to shine, and Rachel Browne had proven herself to be both talented and innovative. She was a good fit for this out-of-the-box concert Stone and McMullin were planning. McMullin composed a new piece specifically to be premiered at this concert by The Guess Who and the WSO, and to be danced by the Contemporary Dancers, with choreography by Rachel Browne. The work was titled Theme and Gyrations, a play upon the more usual musical term of "theme and variations." (22)

Leonard Stone

Leonard David Stone, a Winnipeg native, graduated from the University of Manitoba, taught in the public school system in Winnipeg, and then moved on to a career in arts management. He began as the marketing and public relations director for the Rainbow Stage from 1959-1965, neatly positioning him there at the right time to be involved in the Pajama Game production with McMullin and Browne. When Stone left the Rainbow Stage, it was for his first assignment as general manager of an orchestra, with the Edmonton Symphony, a position he took "with little knowledge of how an orchestra was to be managed, but with lots of "chutzpah." (23) Stone remained in Edmonton for one year before the management spot opened in Winnipeg. When Stone began his new role at the WSO in the fall of 1967, the season was already planned. He therefore "immediately went to work" on plans for the 1968-1969 orchestra season, which included his idea about a Guess Who feature. (24) He knew exactly who would be receptive to, and enthusiastic about, this idea: his old Rainbow Stage colleague, Robert (Bob) McMullin.

Robert McMullin

Robert McMullin, better known as Bob, had relocated to Winnipeg from Alberta in 1955, along with his radio show, The Bob McMullin Show. Winnipeg would become his artistic home; the place where his family would put down roots. Known for his versatility, Bob worked in radio and television for the CBC; he created orchestral arrangements and did conducting for the University of Manitoba, the Winnipeg Ballet, the Rainbow Stage and the WSO. McMullin was also active in producing and arranging for various recording artists in the Manitoba arts community. (25) When the musicians of the WSO were informed that they would be sharing the concert stage with The Guess Who they "didn't know what to expect, but trusted the integrity of Bob McMullin, who all of us knew and liked. [He was a] very solid, experienced arranger and professional," explained James Manishen, who was a clarinetist in the WSO at the time of this event. (26)

WSO Women's Committee

The WSO had a very active educational arm, spearheaded by the Women's Committee, which had been actively reaching out to the school-aged set since 1948, either by taking members of the symphony to the schools, or by bringing schoolchildren to the symphony. (27) The Guess Who/WSO collaboration would be an opportunity for them to help sponsor an event especially geared to high school aged students. Mrs. A. C. Moffatt, a member of the Women's committee, told the Winnipeg Tribune reporter, "It's an entirely new venture--teeners' music played by a full symphony orchestra. We think it's just great and we think they're (students) going to like it." (28)

The women's committee's contribution to this concert was only cursory--Leonard Stone claims that while these women were "aggressive, sharp doers," his staff did most of the marketing for the event. (29) However, one of the main roles of the women's committee was to raise money to financially support WSO efforts aimed at schoolchildren, and in this case, that probably included subsidizing the price of tickets, recruiting "a full force of ushers" and underwriting the cost of bus transportation to and from the concert venue. (30)

High Schools and the WSO/Guess Who Concerts

WSO general manager Leonard Stone's target market for the concerts was the high school audience. A decision was made that there would be two performances: one for students within a 300 mile radius of Winnipeg, to be held mid-day on Saturday, 26 October 1968; and a later performance for students from within the metropolitan area. (31) In an effort to reach this audience, Stone created a campaign in the high schools called "Date-A-Mate." (32) This was essentially a buy one, get one for free arrangement, which was piloted in the schools in May of 1968. (33) By late September, thirty of Winnipeg's high schools were participating, and most had already reached their sales quota. (34) Stone depended on a WSO booster club called "The Group" to create buzz within the schools about the impending concert.

"The Group" was a new appellation given to what had originally been a George Cleve fan club, composed of youth who found the newly appointed WSO conductor highly attractive--after all, he was described in the newspaper as a handsome bachelor who was "powerfully built." (35) Stone made the most of Cleve's popularity by having him give the press announcement about the WSO collaboration with The Guess Who, even though Cleve had nothing to do with the planning and would not be the conductor for the performances. At a reception in his honor, Cleve said of the concert plan, "This type of concert will show the young people what music really is...they'll want to come back." (36) The person who would actually be conducting the orchestra at the concerts, Bob McMullin, later told reporters that the Guess Who event would be "a musical happening of the first order." (37)

Advertising for Mow Music '68

Now Music '68 was the title given to this musical happening. Although high school students may have received the heads up about the approaching event in May through "The Group" and the Date-A-Mate ticket campaign, newspaper advertising began in earnest after George Cleve's official press announcement on September 9. (38) John Murphy, who wrote the "Spins 'n' Needles" column for the Winnipeg Free Press, made a point of including a reminder of the concert's approach in many of his columns, predicting a "groovy season" at the concert hall. (39) Another reporter wrote, "One of the most popular rock groups in Canada, The Guess Who, will bring its "Wheatfield Soul" sound to music scored by Bob McMullin, well known arranger and composer. This will be the premiere performance of a rock group in a concert with a full symphony orchestra in Canada." (40) The Winnipeg Tribune's Showcase, the Saturday entertainment insert to the paper, notified readers of the "program of modern sound music with the ever popular Guess Who as special guests," calling attention to the probability that this was "the first time a rock group has appeared with a full symphony orchestra in Canada." (41)

In the advertising, the Contemporary Dancers were not forgotten, either. Ted Allen of the Winnipeg Tribune penned a lengthy interview with Bob McMullin in which he quoted Bob as saying, "Music has been 'liberated,' if you'll permit me that current cliche. Now, anything is possible. It is evolving in a natural way, eclectically, drawing from all musical sources, not just those of traditional form. It's no longer hidebound by labels." (42) This statement was meant to include the orchestra, the rock group, and the contemporary dancers who would be dancing to music especially composed for this diverse collection of performers. Bob went on to explain that in doing something experimental, they were aiming to make the merger of art forms "palatable to the audience. We can't be too daring, so we have to play it fairly safe." (43) Frank Morriss, in his regular "Show Beat" column in the Winnipeg Tribune, wrote, "If you haven't seen the Contemporary Dancers, a very promising group of modern performers, you'll have a chance when they appear with the Winnipeg Symphony orchestra and Guess Who ... They'll perform a new work written by Bob McMullin, who conducts the program, and they say it really "swings." (44)

Articles about the concerts, including quotes from McMullin, George Cleve or Leonard Stone were abundant, reminding the Manitoba public that this event, these two concerts, were coming, and would bring music "for the young in years and the young at heart." (45) In addition, actual advertisements began to appear in newspapers, calling out to potential audience members in boldface type featuring a who, what, where, when format to quickly dispense the needed information. It would be "Who? The fabulous Guess Who, appearing with the Winnipeg Symphony, conducted by Bob McMullin, featuring the Contemporary Dancers. What? Now Music!! Where? Centennial Concert Hall. When? Saturday October 26." (46) Ticket prices were low, even for 1968, at $1.00. Within Winnipeg, advertisements listed only the 3:00 PM concert, since the 1:00 PM concert was only for people coming into Winnipeg from outlying areas.

Attendance at Now Music '68

Both of the performances were sold out: 2,305 seats times two, for a total audience of 4,610 attendees. Bill Trebilcoe, in the Winnipeg Free Press column "Coffee Break" observed that the full house crowd of teens at the concert seemed to "like rock and the "Wheatfield Soul" style of groups like the Guess Who. ... but they also like the symphony." (47) In his Winnipeg Tribune column, Gene Telpner reported that before the second of the two concerts, "the sold-out signs were up and there were teenagers crying in the lobby because they couldn't get tickets." (48)

A cursory search of newspapers in the outlying areas yields evidence of busloads of high school students making the trek to Winnipeg for the 1:00 PM concert. Cheryl Clarke of the class of 1970 at Glenboro High School reported in her column, "Collegiate Chatter," in her hometown paper, "A bus load of Glenboro students went into Winnipeg to the Centennial Concert Hall to watch the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra appearing with the Guess Who. It was a tremendous show and a good time was had by all. A special thanks goes to Mrs. L. Christie for putting up with us the whole day, and still remaining in good humour. We surely appreciated it." (49)

The Strathclair Collegiate school representative reported to the Shoal Lake Star that 63 students attended the 1:00 PM concert, with three adult chaperones, with school board support for the cost of bus transportation. (50) Donna Hogeland was the teen entertainment correspondent for the Brandon Sun from 1967-1968, but was not able to attend the WSO/Guess Who concert herself. (51) However, in her column "It's Happening...with Donna Hogeland," she reported that "the Guess Who played a widely publicized stint with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, receiving a very favorable reception. When a rock group like the Guess Who can play with a symphony orchestra, this only goes in show they are a very talented group, indeed." (52) And that was really what all the buzz was about, after all--the novelty of a popular rock band performing with an orchestra.

Historical Significance

John Murphy of the Winnipeg Free Press immediately recognized that this concert held historical significance. In a September column, he wrote, "I hope you realize the forthcoming concert of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Guess Who is one of the biggest happenings on the music scene, pop or otherwise, in all of Canada since Bobby Gimby tore up the whole country with Ca--na--da. (53) Musically this concert is a fantastic experiment; culturally it represents a major breakthrough and commercially it's loaded with potential." (54) Murphy, in each of his columns leading up to the performance date about a month later, pressed for someone to record this event. He felt that the province should step forward, or the country--that this was a history-making concert deserving of a Canada Council grant. He recognized that to record it was a massively expensive undertaking, so the cost could not be borne by either of the groups that were performing.

Unfortunately, nobody stepped up to the plate with plans to record either of the two concerts. If such an event happened today, there might at least be bootleg recordings available, but this was 1968, and the technology was just not available. As noted earlier, newspaper reports indicated that an event such as this had never been undertaken in Canada before. One reporter, Michael Kostelnuk, noting the uniqueness of the performance, wrote "The idea was to have a rock group play rock music, aided and abetted by a genuine and continuing symphony orchestra (as opposed to an orchestra put together for a special occasion). An interesting idea, and one that, to my knowledge, has never been tried anywhere before." (55) Yet, despite the pretty universal acknowledgement that this was a "first," no recording was made.

After this unremarked-by-the-world Guess Who/WSO collaboration, the concert concept was embraced by other rock band/orchestra combinations. Deep Purple likes to claim that they were the first to stage "an elaborate collaboration between a rock band and an orchestra," as they did with the Royal Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Malcolm Arnold. (56) To quote Wikipedia, the source many people commonly turn to first, "The 1969 performance was the first ever combination of rock music and a complete orchestra and paved the way for other rock/orchestra performances such as Metallica's S&M concert and Roger Waters' The Wall--Live in Berlin performance." (57) But that performance was 24 September 1969--and The Guess Who's performance with the WSO was 26 October 1968--so guess who was first? (Pun intended.) Another important early collaboration between a rock band and an orchestra included Frank Zappa and the Mother of Invention with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1970, under the baton of Zubin Mehta, though that was in the usual rock band setting of an arena rather than in a concert hall. (58)

When a collaboration such as this was entered into by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra in 1972, with Procol Harum, they both put on a concert and made a recording that became a million seller. (59) In comparison, the earlier WSO/Guess Who collaboration went unrecorded, and pretty much unnoticed. A CBC radio interview was done, as announced in the Ottawa journal in November 1968, in which Bob McMullin talked with the members of the band--Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Jim Kale and Garry Peterson--"about their concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra," but that interview was either not permanently archived or has been lost, and cannot be located today. (60)

The Guess Who and Concert Reaction

It would be interesting to see what the rock band's perception of the concert was when it was still fresh in their minds, had the CBC interview been preserved. Randy Bachman has written briefly about the concert in Tales from Beyond the Tap.
"Burton and I were approached several years ago to do a symphony show
of our greatest hits, but he wouldn't do it. Ever since the Guess Who
played with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra back in January 1968, he's
regarded the symphony players as snobs. It had been a great experience
hearing our songs accompanied by a full 90 piece orchestra, but Burton
was disgusted when he saw a couple players putting their fingers in
their ears while we were playing. He vowed never to play again with a
symphony orchestra. But I don't think they were doing that to be snobs;
I think they just weren't used to the volume of rock instruments and
amplifiers." (61)

This was Bachman's memory, written in 2014, nearly fifty years later. He did not remember the date accurately--the program itself, as well as all the promotional material and newspaper articles place the concert in October 1968--but he did remember that for him, it was a great experience. Burton Cummings, on the other hand, seems to have taken away negative memories. When Cummings was interviewed by John Einarson for his book American Woman, Cummings said:
"Bob McMullin banged out the charts for all this stuff. We also did
half the Sgt. Pepper album with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra at the
Centennial Concert Hall with us set up in the middle and those sons of
bitches were holding their ears, the guys in the orchestra. Shame on
them. It really pissed me off." (62)

According to Einarson, the quote used in the book was shortened from his interview with Cummings, who used strong language to express how seriously offended he was by what he perceived as rude behaviour by orchestra members. (63) And he was not the only one who noticed. Winnipeg concert promoter Bruce Rathbone noticed, too, and wrote,
"I do have one strong criticism, one I never expected. During the
performance of the Guess Who, I noticed several members of the Symphony
Orchestra plugging their ears and making rude gestures. This not only
showed bad manners on the part of those at fault but also a definite
lack of discipline in our pampered Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. I do
not feel that any group in Canada could have bettered the performance
of our own Guess Who." (64)

James Manishen, currently an artistic operations associate for the WSO, was a clarinetist in the orchestra in 1968. He, being aware of both Bachman's and Cummings take on orchestra players covering their ears, adds his voice to the story, saying "Randy is absolutely right, as I was one of those players. We were seated directly in front of one of the speakers and the volume was unbearable. No disrespect intended at all, and the concert was very well received." (65) Once again, this misunderstanding points to the newness of the endeavour--all the people involved were new to the concept of putting the accoutrements of a rock band and those of a symphony orchestra side by side. With only one rehearsal before they were live on the stage, mistakes and miscalculations were bound to happen. The symphony members were just people reacting to the shock of the amplified sounds being much louder than expected.

Critical Reception to Now Music '68

Critical reactions were mixed, as would be expected for an unusual venture such as this was at the time. Madeleine Bernier, the Winnipeg Tribune reporter, gave a mainly favourable report, though she showed some confusion about who had done the musical arrangements, giving credit to Burton Cummings for work that was clearly Bob McMullin's. (66) Knowing that this concert was going to be something unusual, Bernier attended it with "an attitude of receptivity" which, she wrote, "is probably the most sensible, and in the interest of music of the future." Bernier commented on the orchestra's opening act--they played Sabre Dance by Khachaturian, Die Libelle by J. Strauss, and a James Bond Medley by Barry--as brilliant, stating that they "maintained interest at a high pitch and rhythm pulsated under a master's hand," which nodded to Bob McMullin's skill as a conductor. Bernier had high praise for Rock and Gyrations, the McMullin piece (which she falsely attributes to Cummings) on which The Guess Who, the WSO and the Contemporary Dancers all collaborated, saying the "dancers in electric pink and orange transposed into visual dimension the engaging theme and beat" of the music. Bernier loved the Beatles arrangements for band with orchestra, and hoped for more of the same. Her favorite piece performed by The Guess Who alone was Love and a Yellow Rose. (67)

The Winnipeg Free Press critic panned the entire concert, stating that "the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and rock music's The Guess Who tried to do some musical trail-blazing together Saturday afternoon, but instead took a short stroll to Dullsville." Michael Kostelnuk went on to state that the entire program was plagued by politeness, that no new ground was broken, it was unadventurous, dominated by stuffiness, oddly stiff and with no outstanding songs. Kostelnuk did not appreciate the Contemporary Dancers either, saying that their act, Theme and Gyrations, "looked as bad as it sounds." He had especially unpleasant things to say about the music of The Guess Who--for example, he said the "songs ranged from adequate (Wednesday in Your Garden and I Found Her in a Star) to dreadful (These Eyes), much too reminiscent of the adolescent twaddle which used to dominate rock music." (68)

History, of course, does not agree with Kostelnuk's opinion of the music of The Guess Who--subsequent to its performance at the Centennial Concert Hall in October, These Eyes was released as a single on the Nimbus 9 label in December 1968 and quickly rose to #7 on the Canadian hit parade. When the Wheatfield Soul album, including These Eyes, was released in the United States in 1969, it became a million seller. (69) The Canadian Encyclopedia cites The Guess Who as "the most successful Canadian Rock Group of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Canada's first rock superstars," listing These Eyes with Laughing and American Woman as classics by the group. (70)

As mentioned, the WSO/Guess Who collaboration concert did not generate much press outside of Manitoba--with the exception of one national publication, Canadian Composer. The reviewer, Fran Morriss, was initially unsure what the reaction to the concert would be, but came away from the experience "turned on" and impressed both by the music that she heard, and the behaviour of the mostly teenage audience. When the orchestra played alone, Morriss felt the music was "admirably styled to appeal to people who haven't been exposed to symphonic music," to which the audience responded enthusiastically. She loved The Guess Who, saying that when the rock group "joined the orchestra, the heat was really on! It was a magnificent vital sound." Harking back to the statements by Cummings, Bachman, and Manishen about the volume, however--even from the audience, Morriss felt like some of the amplification was overdone. She praised Bob McMullin as a conductor and arranger; she felt his work was "first rate, musicianly, and right." She agreed with the Winnipeg Tribune's Bernier that "the best merger of sound was when they did Theme and Gryrations, with the Rachel Browne Contemporary Dancers as soloists. Everything worked." (71)

Concert Organizer Reaction to the Event

For Leonard Stone, WSO general manager, the concert was a marketing success, yielding two sold-out concerts. The idea had been that introducing teenagers to symphonic music through the conduit of the rock music they liked to listen to might keep them coming back to hear more. Others thought this might be the outcome as well--Winnipeg Free Press writer Jimmy King, who did not think that the concert was a musical success, necessarily, did observe that "the concert was successful in wooing rock and roll fans and exposing them, many for the first time, to the rich sounds of a symphony orchestra." (72) With this idea in mind, Bob McMullin was contracted to provide the musical arrangements for and conduct another Now Music event in April 1969. (73)

That second concert series on 5 April 1969, however, did not turn out to be as well attended as the first Now Music event in 1968. They had the same orchestra, the same conductor and arranger, the same Contemporary Dancers--but while they had Chad Allan (the original founder of the group that would become The Guess Who) they had no Guess Who. (74) Takeaway for the organizers: the draw for the teenage audience had not been that it was rock music, it had been that it was specifically The Guess Who. Further, reflecting back on many such experiments with rock music and the symphony over a forty-year career, Leonard Stone believes that gimmicks don't keep people coming back to the symphony. Guest artists draw their own audiences, but this does not often translate into loyalty to the symphony--such events provide no "Damascus moment or life changing activity." (75)

Another aspect of organizer reaction to the event was the happy surprise experienced by Leonard Stone in working with The Guess Who. As stated earlier, though it was his idea to retain them for this venture, he did not know them, and did not know what it would be like to work with them. Since this collaboration was a first, he had no experience upon which to judge what it even might be like to work with a rock group. Stone stated, "I observed them to be very respectful of the aura of the symphonic world. These were a group of guys earning huge dollars, being adored by youngsters all over the world. They knew they were working with a different skill set, and they were very respectful, highly respectful." (76) Stone described how there is usually only one rehearsal for such an event, with the hope that timing can be rigidly adhered to since bringing so many performers and technicians together is costly. Including performers who are not used to the way things work in a symphony can be awkward and confusing. But The Guess Who--they understood. "These four were ultra-professional," Stone recalls. Because of that professionalism, no overtime was needed. As Stone moved on in his career, he would have occasion to work with other rock groups or other performers outside of the symphony orchestra tradition, and could look back on the Guess Who experience as an anomaly.

Leonard Stone and Burton Cummings were both alumni of Winnipeg's St. John's High School, though from different years. When the 100th anniversary of the school was celebrated in 2010, both men attended. Stone made an effort to talk to Cummings, hoping to express his excellent memories of the WSO/Guess Who collaboration, and the favourable impression left with Stone as the orchestra members and crew interacted with The Guess Who in 1968. Stone recalls, "There were a ton of people milling around him (Cummings). I edged in and said, 'Burton, you may not remember me, but I am the one who put you together with the WSO ... and then the crowd moved him out of my range. That was the closest I came to talking about it (the concert) after the fact." (77) Perhaps if Burton Cummings understood how well-perceived he and his compatriots had been by the symphony, his negative opinion of playing with the WSO again would change.

Randy Bachman has had no qualms about performing with the WSO after the 1968 experience. In 2014, Bachman was "eager" to perform again in Centennial Concert Hall in an event called Randy Bachman's Symphonic Overdrive. He explained to the Winnipeg Free Press reporter, Jen Zoratti, about what a rock musician encounters when playing with an orchestra: "When I'm playing with my band and I do something different, they follow me. With the symphony, you can't do that; they are tied lock, stock and barrel to what's on the page. If a fly lands on the paper, they play it because it looks like a whole note." (78) The 2014 performance with the WSO followed runs with two Ontario orchestras: Orchestra London and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony; and in 2015, Bachman took the Symphonic Overdrive program into a collaboration with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. (79) He is not alone: rock musicians performing with symphonies, if not an everyday occurrence, is no longer unusual, as it was in 1968.


The WSO/Guess Who collaboration in October 1968 represented an opportunity to develop an idea: that a rock group and a symphony orchestra could share a concert stage, blend their different styles and instrumentation, and attract an audience. Leonard Stone conceived the idea, Bob McMullin brought it to fruition through his orchestrations, based on his familiarity with both idioms of music. (80) Because The Guess Who were so well loved in Winnipeg and beyond, the concert hall was filled to capacity--twice--with adoring fans. Some people liked the concert; some people did not. George Cleve, for example, who announced the concert and supported the idea to the press, did not particularly enjoy the performance itself. His opinion, as expressed to Leonard Stone, was "Well, it's like chocolate and garlic. Just because you think chocolate is good, and just because you think garlic is good--doesn't mean they taste good together." (81) Despite what worked and what did not work in the collaboration between The Guess Who and the WSO, supported by the Contemporary Dancers, it was still an important historical event in the musical life of Winnipeg. That no recording was made, and that the event goes unrecognized for the "first" that it was does not detract from the value of the experiment.


(1.) Murphy, John. "Spins 'n' Needles," Winnipeg Free Press, 21 September 1968, p. 6.

(2.) Souster, Tim. "Notes on Pop Music," Tempo no. 87, Winter 1968-1969, P. 3.

(3.) Perone James E. "The Moody Blues: Days of Future Passsed (1967)" in The Album: A Guide to Pop Music's Most Provocative, Influential, and Important Creations, I: Country, Rock, Soul, Pop, and Blues, the Sixties. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, 2012, p. 117-122.

(4.) Phone interview with Leonard Stone, 29 April 2019.

(5.) Anderson, Don. Tuning the Forks: A Celebration of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. [Winnipeg: Donald Anderson], 2007, p. 8-9.

(6.) Ibid, p. 4-7 gives an overview of past attempts at orchestra building in Winnipeg.

(7.) Ibid, p. 30-31.

(8.) Ibid, p. 36-38.

(9.) Bernier, Madeleine. "No Democracy in Music," Winnipeg Free Press, 10 September 1968, p. 17.

(10.) Allen, Ted. "Will Beethoven Roll Over When WSO Plays Jazz-Rock?" Winnipeg Tribune, 5 October 1968, p. 15.

(11.) Anderson, Don. Tuning the Forks: A Celebration of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg: Donald Anderson, 2007, p. 4-5.

(12.) "WSO Timeline: Looking Back on 70 Years," Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Blog, 5 September 2017. Accessed 10 May 2019 from: See also:

(13.) Pegg, Bruce. "Roll Over Beethoven--Chuck Berry (1956)" Library of Congress, 2003. Accessed 10 May 2019 from

(14.) For an overview of the construction of the Centennial Concert Hall, see Chapter 4 "Entr'Acte 1: A Tale of Two Halls" in Anderson, Don. Tuning the Forks: A Celebration of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, Winnipeg: Donald Anderson, 2007, p. 32-35.

(15.) Phone interview with Leonard Stone, 29 April 2019.

(16.) Ibid.

(17.) Allen, Ted. "Will Beethoven Roll Over When WSO Plays Jazz-Rock?" Winnipeg Tribune, 5 October 1968, p. 15.

(18.) Anderson, Carol. Rachel Browne: Dancing Toward the Light, Manitoba: J. Gordon Shillingford, 1999, p. 51.

(19.) Telpner, Gene. "Full of Entertainment, but Pajama Game Slow," Winnipeg Free Press, 5 July 1960, p. 2.

(20.) Anderson, Carol. Rachel Browne: Dancing Toward the Light, Manitoba: J. Gordon Shillingford, 1999, p. 44.

(21.) Email to the author from Leonard Stone, 3 May 2019.

(22.) In Carol Anderson's book, the citation for this work among Rachel Browne's choreographic works contains a few errors, which is unsurprising since the list was developed from Browne's memory, not from documentation. There, on page 149, this work is dated 1969, and titled Theme and Rock, instead of the correct 1968 Theme and Gyrations. However, the event (WSO and The Guess Who) and composer (McMullin) are listed correctly.

(23.) Email to the author from Leonard Stone, 2 May 2019.

(24.) Ibid.

(25.) For a more full exposition of the career of Bob McMullin see: Lay ton, Myrna. "Remembering Bob McMullin," Manitoba History no.84, Summer 2017, p. 20-28.

(26.) Email to the author from James Manishen, 23 April 2019.

(27.) Date is based on their 70th anniversary of service, held in 2018. See:

(28.) "Symphony Orchestra Turns to Rock," Winnipeg Tribune, 7 September 1968, p. 13

(29.) Phone interview with Leonard Stone, 29 April 2019.

(30.) "WSO School Concert Series Begins," Winnipeg Tribune, 26 September 1968, p. 12.

(31.) Ibid.

(32.) "Date-A-Mate," Winnipeg Tribune, 23 September 1968, p. 32

(33.) "Symphony's Youth Drive Paying Dividends," Winnipeg Free Press, 25 September 1968, p. 38.

(34.) Ibid.

(35.) Bernier, Madeleine. "No Democracy in Music," Winnipeg Free Press, 10 September 1968, p. 17.

(36.) "Guess Who is Playing?" Winnipeg Free Press, 10 September 1968, p. 1.

(37.) "Symphony's Youth Drive Paying Dividends," Winnipeg Free Press, 25 September 1968, p.38.

(38.) The only anomaly that predated Cleve's announcement was two days earlier, in: "Symphony Orchestra Turns to Rock," Winnipeg Tribune, 7 September 1968, p. 13.

(39.) Murphy, John. "Spins 'n' Needles," Winnipeg Free Press, 21 September 1968, p. 6.

(40.) "Seasons of Change for Symphony," Winnipeg Free Press, 21 September 1968, p. 77.

(41.) "Bright New Season for Music Lovers," Winnipeg Tribune's Showcase, 21 September 1968, p. 7.

(42.) Allen, Ted. "Will Beethoven Roll Over When WSO Plays Jazz-Rock?" Winnipeg Tribune, 5 October 1968, p. 15.

(43.) Ibid.

(44.) Morriss, Frank. "Show Beat," Winnipeg Tribune, 25 October 1968, p. 25.

(45.) Leonard Stone, as quoted in "Symphony's Youth Drive Paying Dividends," Winnipeg Free Press, 25 September 1968, p. 38.

(46.) Examples of advertisements such as this can be found in Winnipeg Tribune, 19 October 1968, p. 15 or 22 October 1968, p. 25; in the Winnipeg Free Press, 25 October 1968, p. 13.

(47.) Trebilcoe, Bill. "Coffee Break," Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1968, p.l.

(48.) Telpner, Gene. "Gene Telpner," Winnipeg Tribune, 31 October 1968, p. 7.

(49.) Clarke, Cheryl. "Collegiate Chatter," Glenboro Gazette, 31 October 1968, p. 4.

(50.) "Strathclair Collegiate News," Shoal Lake Star, 31 October 1968, p. 2.

(51.) Email correspondence with Donna Hogeland, 4 May 2019.

(52.) Hogeland, Donna. "It's Happening...With Donna Hogeland," Brandon Sun, 1 November 1968, p. 11.

(53.) The reference to Bobby Gimby refers to the song he wrote for Canada's Centennial in 1967, which became a cross-country hit. See for example Peacock, Kurt. "CA-NA-DA: The Song that Sold the Centennial," Beaver vol.84 no.3, Jun/Jul 2004, pp. 14-19.

(54.) Murphy, John. "Spins 'n' Needles," Winnipeg Free Press, 21 September 1968, p. 6.

(55.) Kostelnuk, Michael. "WSO Hosts Rock Group at Dull Youth Concert," Winnipeg Free Press, 29 October 1968, p. 31.

(56.) "Looking Back," Goldmine vol. 35 no. 20, 25 September 2009, p. 5.

(57.) "Concerto for Group and Orchestra,", accessed 8 May 2019.

(58.) "Hit it, Zubin," Time, ol. 95 no. 22, June 1970, p. 78.

(59.) "Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra," Rolling Stone no. 110, 8 June 1972, p. 56.

(60.) "CBC Metronome," Ottawa journal, 8 November 1968, p. 37. The author contacted the CBC in hopes that there would be an archival tape or transcripts of this interview, but nothing of this sort was located in the archives.

(61.) Bachman, Randy. Tales from Beyond the Tap, Toronto: Viking, 2014, p. 104.

(62.) Einarson, John. American Woman: the Story of The Guess Who, Kingston, ON: Quarry Press, 1995, p. 74.

(63.) Email to the author from John Einarson, 1 May 2019.

(64.) Rathbone, Bruce. "By Bones," Winnipeg Tribune, 2 November 1968, p. 16.

(65.) Email to the author from James Manishen, 8 April 2019.

(66.) An example of attributing this work to McMullin can be found in: Murphy, John. "Spins 'n' Needles," Winnipeg Free Press, 21 September 1968, p. 6. In a phone call with Leonard Stone on 29 April, 2019, Stone stated that the work of the arrangements and orchestrations had been assigned to McMullin from the beginning of the idea.

(67.) Bernier, Madeleine. "They Staged a Musical Communication," Winnipeg Tribune, 28 October 1968, p. 5.

(68.) Kostelnuk, Michael. "WSO Hosts Rock Group at Dull Youth Concert," Winnipeg Free Press, 29 October 1968, p. 31.

(69.) Cobb, David. "Lighthouse: And on the Next Page, at Far Less Expense, a Preview of Four Other Canadian Rock Groups That Sound as Though They'll Make it to the Top, Too." Winnipeg Tribune, 19 July 1969, p. 69.

(70.) McLean, Steve. "The Guess Who," The Canadian Encyclopedia. 7 Feburary 2006, updated 14 February 2017 by Andrew Mcintosh. Accessed 9 May 2019 from:

(71.) Morriss, Fran. "Now," Canadian Composer, December 1968, p. 8-10.

(72.) King, Jimmy. "Night Beat," Winnipeg Free Press, 2 November 1968, p. 30.

(73.) Trebilcoe, Bill. "Coffee Break", Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1968, p.l.

(74.) "Centennial Concert Hall," Leisure Magazine of the Winnipeg Free Press, 5 April 1969, p. 9.

(75.) Email to the author from Leonard Stone, 1 May 2019.

(76.) Phone interview with Leonard Stone, 29 April 2019.

(77.) Ibid.

(78.) Zoratti, Jen. "This Time, BTO Means Bachman Turns Orchestral," Winnipeg Free Press, 5 December 2014, p. D5.

(79.) Conner, Shawn. "Symphonic Overdrive--Randy Bachman with the VSO This Wednesday," Inside Vancouver: Entertainment, 17 May 2015. Accessed 10 May 2019 from

(80.) These words paraphrase remarks made by Leonard Stone in a phone interview on 29 April 2019.

(81.) Phone interview with Leonard Stone, 29 April 2019.

by Myrna Layton

Brigham Young University

An Alberta native, Myrna has taught world music at Utah Valley University, and currently tenches a Topics in Music class at BYU. Her main assignment at BYU is as performing arts librarian, where she is also responsible for the Primrose International Viola Archive. She enjoys researching about people who have made a contribution to musical life, especially Canadians.
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Title Annotation:Pageant
Author:Layton, Myrna
Publication:Manitoba History
Geographic Code:1CMAN
Date:Sep 22, 2019
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