ROBINSON, GEORGE RICHARD, musician; b. 10 June 1840 in Weedon, England; m. Catharine Pryke, probably in England, and they had six sons and four daughters; d. 7 April 1917 in Hamilton, Ont.
George Richard Robinson joined the band of the 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade, in 1854 as a flautist. From 1857 to 1859 he was enrolled at the newly opened Royal Military School of Music in Twickenham (London), where he studied theory and composition as well as all band instruments. Robinson came to Canada in 1862 as part of the contingent of troops sent in response to the Trent affair [see Sir Charles Hastings Doyle*], and was stationed in Hamilton for two years before postings at Kingston, Montreal, and Quebec. In 1866 he requested a discharge to enable him to join the 13th Battalion Band, a militia band organized in Hamilton that year by Peter Grossman, who had also founded its predecessor, the Independent Artillery Company Band, the first enlisted one to be organized in Upper Canada, in 1856.
Robinson succeeded Grossman as bandmaster in 1869 but resigned the next year following a dispute over the management of the band. His own successor died after only six months and Robinson agreed to resume as leader in January 1871. He set about the task of recruiting and training musicians, and in 1873 raised $1,800 through subscriptions from the officers and men of the battalion to replace the band’s German brass instruments with modern ones manufactured in England by Besson. Like many others in Britain and the United States, the band was an ensemble of brass and wind instruments, and by 1899 it consisted of some 40 players (11 clarinets, flute, piccolo, oboe, saxophone, bassoon, bass clarinet, 6 cornets, 4 French horns, euphonium, baritone, 3 trombones, 4 bass tubas, bass drum, snare drum, and timpani).
Robinson’s band presented joint concerts with the masonic Knights Templar in Chicago, participated in a festival organized in 1886 by American bandmaster Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore in St Louis, Mo., and visited other American and Canadian cities, including Washington in 1889, Denver, Colo., in 1892, Toronto, and Montreal. In Hamilton its concerts in the Drill Hall and in Gage Park regularly attracted audiences of 2,000. His programs were typical for a band in the late 19th century. The Hamilton Spectator in 1897 gave an account of a concert in which “the selections ran all the way from Wagnerian numbers to coon ditties”; a featured soloist sang favourite songs, and the band performed operatic overtures, marches, two-steps, and excerpts from Victor Herbert’s The wizard of the Nile. Among composers included in concerts in the 1890s were Donizetti, von Weber, Beethoven, Wagner, and Robinson himself, who prepared arrangements and composed original works for the band. He was the first militia bandmaster in Canada to be given the rank of lieutenant. In addition to his role as bandmaster, he was choir master at Wesley Methodist Church and Christ’s Church Cathedral in Hamilton. He also conducted the Sacred Harmonic Society, which presented major sacred choral works accompanied by orchestra and organ; among those it presented between 1878 and 1880 were The creation by Haydn and Stabat mater by Rossini.
When Robinson retired in 1914 (he was followed as bandmaster by one of his sons, all of whom served in the band) he had led the band for 45 years, the longest record of service for a Canadian bandmaster at that time. A plaque in the bandshell named after him in Gage Park honours a life that “was devoted to the advancement of good music.”
Compositions arranged by George Richard Robinson include Military District No.11 two-step (Toronto, 1906) and Nearer my God to thee (Hamilton, Ont., 1908). Both are listed in The catalogue of printed music in the British Library to 1980 (62v., London, 1981–87).
HPL, Scrapbooks, Herald; Times. Hamilton Spectator, 1 Nov. 1894; 3 June 1899; 17 Feb. 1910; 7, 14 April 1917; 3 Oct. 1936. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). DHB, vol.2. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.). Official text-book and programme of the queen’s jubilee musical festival at the Crystal Palace, Hamilton, Canada, June 21st and 22nd, 1887 . . . , comp. F. W. Wodell (Hamilton, Ont., 1887; copy in HPL).