Elinor Dunsmuir (right) pictured with her mother Laura, likely in the 1930s on the family’s property at Hatley Park. Elinor’s life and music will be the subject of a presentation this weekend by UVic graduate Elizabeth Gerow. (Royal Roads University archives)

Elinor Dunsmuir’s music was unique for the time period

University of Victoria graduate will perform pieces written by Elinor at Hatley Castle

Although Elinor Dunsmuir died nearly 80 years ago, University of Victoria graduate Elizabeth Gerow feels a strong connection to the early 20th century noblewoman and her music.

“It’s like I’m reliving the early 1900s through Elinor’s music,” she said. “It’s like time travel.”

Gerow, who majored in vocal performance, recalls visiting Craigdarroch and Hatley castles throughout her youth, but it wasn’t until she started to research Elinor’s music that her interest in the daughter of James and Laura Dunsmuir really took off.

Put simply, Elinor’s compositions didn’t match what one might expect to hear from an era dominated by jazz, swing and big band.

“The first song that I sung was called Somebody and Nobody,” she recalled. “It was short but it was so complete in itself … it was so unexpected for the 1920s.”

“When I heard this song it just sounded really different. This had not fit into any of the categories that I remembered learning about [at university].”

Add in the fact that there is strong evidence to suggest that she was gay and that she threw away much of her riches at the casinos of Monte Carlo, and Elinor makes for an all-around intriguing personality to match her unique music.

Lately, Gerow has spent much of her time transposing the manuscripts of Elinor’s compositions using Sibelius, a popular scorewriter computer program.

These handwritten songs have included pieces of all lengths, even full ballets.

While it wasn’t for a lack of trying – she is known to have pitched her work to Ballets Russes founder Sergei Diaghilev –much of Elinor’s music never made it beyond Hatley Castle and has remained unknown to the public to this day.

Gerow hopes that can change and that the Dunsmuir daughter can gain some posthumous notoriety for her work.

“I would just like famous scholars and people who are learning about music history and writing about music history to know about Elinor. I would like people to hear what I hear, to hear how unique it is.”

Gerow, accompanied by pianist Jannie Burdeti, will give an audience at Hatley Castle a chance to discover Elinor’s music and learn more about her life this Saturday in a soldout event organized by the West Shore Arts Council.

Whatever the Cost – Hatley Park and the Dunsmuirs, a documentary produced by Victoria filmmakers David Springbett and Heather MacAndrew will also be shown as part of the event.

joel.tansey@goldstream

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