The music professor known as “the voice of McGill” has died.
Winston Purdy was born in February 1941 in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and studied performance and composition at McGill University in Montreal (1959-64). He was initially a clarinettist and performed in the National Youth Orchestra of Canada but also took extracurricular vocal lessons with the distinguished baritone Jan Simons. On graduation, he decided to concentrate on singing and went on to further training in Germany and England, where he sang with choirs and performed in concerts ranging from Bach to contemporary music.
In 1971, Professor Purdy returned to Montreal to set up as a voice teacher and performer. Two years later, he returned to McGill as professor of voice at the Schulich School of Music. He would remain there until his death, although he took a leave of absence in 1975-76 to obtain a master’s in voice performance and literature from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
A highly successful singer, Professor Purdy performed most of the major oratorio roles for baritone and bass, gave many song recitals, including all three of the Schubert song cycles, and premiered a number of contemporary works. At McGill, he established the university’s vocal techniques courses and taught studio voice and vocal pedagogy. Yet he was best known for singing the university anthem, Hail, Alma Mater, at the start of almost every convocation ceremony since 1999. The fact that he had taken over this role from his late wife, Kathleen Anderson, made it “very significant” for him. It was only in spring 2017 that he decided to hand on the baton to a fellow music professor, Tracy Smith Bessette.
“As a member of the voice faculty at McGill since 1973, Winston Purdy has inspired several generations of young singers,” said Stéphane Lemelin, chair of performance at the Schulich School. A number have gone on to have successful international careers.
Dominique Labelle, for example, who also teaches voice at McGill, has recently sung solo roles at New York’s Carnegie Hall. “Winston Purdy loved everything about singing,” she recalled. “He was a beautiful baritone who cared deeply about music. He was also a splendid teacher who spent his lifetime exploring and researching the complex universe of the human voice, and its purpose in communicating the human condition.”
Professor Purdy died on 14 November and is survived by his partner, Cécile Gendron, a daughter, two stepdaughters and three grandchildren.