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PORTER, CHARLES HENRY, musician, educator, composer, and insurance agent; b. 1 Feb. 1856 in Naugatuck, Conn., son of Charles Henry Porter and Isabelle Carter; m. first 20 July 1887 Louisa Maria Wylde in Halifax; m. secondly Elizabeth Chamberlain; d. 27 Sept. 1929 in New Haven, Conn.

Charles H. Porter was active in the musical life of Halifax as early as 1877. In January that year the first three concerts at the new Academy of Music featured the 150-voice Halifax Musical Union with Porter as conductor. These concerts were well received on the whole, but some reviewers were alarmed by Porter’s habit of marking time with his feet. “If he would only keep his feet quiet . . . ,” the critic for the Citizen said. “Perhaps he does not know how disagreeable it is to the audience to hear his unnecessary stamping.”

From 1881 to 1883 and again from 1888 to 1906 Porter served as organist-choirmaster for St Matthew’s Presbyterian Church in Halifax. In between, he spent some time studying music in Leipzig (Germany) with Carl Reinecke and Salomon Jadassohn. His work at St Matthew’s gave great satisfaction to the session and the board of trustees, whose reports in the 1890s praised his able conduct of “the psalmody of the church” and noted that “under his efficient leadership” the choir had been greatly enlarged and musical services much improved. In 1882 Porter had founded the Orpheus Club, a male choir which he conducted, and about 1890, as pianist, he formed the Leipzig Trio with violinist Heinrich Klingenfeld and cellist Ernst Doering. His brother Samuel had preceded him to Halifax and the two had similar careers. Samuel was a violist with the Haydn Quintette Club and organist-choirmaster at St Paul’s Anglican Church. Both taught music as well.

It was in fact as an educator that Porter made what many consider to be his major contribution to the musical life of Halifax: his work as the first director of the Halifax Conservatory of Music. Founded in 1887 in conjunction with the Halifax Ladies’ College, the conservatory boasted 240 students by 1890. In addition to serving as director, Porter taught piano and theory, and eventually composition. In 1898 the conservatory affiliated with Dalhousie University, through which it awarded b.mus. degrees. Porter was among those whom Dalhousie appointed that year to a board of examiners for the degree (he and Frederick Herbert Torrington* of Toronto were responsible for examinations in theory). By the following year the board was apparently no longer considered necessary; success in a series of classes at the conservatory was sufficient to qualify students for the degree. Porter’s work was highly regarded by his contemporaries, one of whom commented that he filled the position of director “with unqualified success . . . combining his musical talent with an ability for business, seldom seen in a musician.” “He might aptly be called one of the Fathers of Music in Halifax,” this observer continued, “for it is through his patient and capable teaching that Halifax can boast of so many home-reared artists in the piano and organ branches.”

Porter had also attracted respect for his musical compositions. He was, according to music historian Helmut Kallmann, a “composer of rank,” whose pieces for piano “are reported to suggest Chopin and to be of great difficulty.” His works, some of which may have been composed in Leipzig, include Violin sonata op.1 (Kistner, 1886), “Serenade” (G. Schirmer, 1887; words by Charles George Douglas Roberts*), Te Deum in C (G. Schirmer, 1891), a symphony, anthems including “Sing unto the Lord,” which was frequently performed at St Matthew’s, and song settings such as “Milkmaid’s song” (words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson). Some of his compositions were performed at recitals given by the conservatory.

In 1900 Porter resigned as director to become Maritime manager for the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. He remained active as a musician, however, continuing to work at St Matthew’s and with the Leipzig Trio and the Orpheus Club. In 1903 he served as associate conductor for the Halifax portion of the Cycle of Musical Festivals of the Dominion of Canada, organized by Charles Albert Edwin Harriss and presented under the baton of Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie. Three years later Porter left Halifax and settled in New Haven, where he served as manager for the Connecticut branch of Equitable Life.

Whether Porter was involved in the musical life of New Haven is not known. He died there of a heart attack in 1929 and was buried in the Union Cemetery at Stratford, Conn. His first wife, Louisa Maria, had died in 1888 after giving birth to a stillborn son. Like Porter, she was a pianist – “one of the most brilliant . . . in this city,” according to the Halifax Morning Herald – who had studied for a time in Germany. Porter was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth.

Nancy F. Vogan

Conn. State Dept. of Health, Bureau of vital statistics (New Haven), Medical certificate of death, 28 Sept. 1929. Evening Mail (Halifax), 30 Sept. 1929. Halifax Herald, 30 Sept. 1929. Morning Herald (Halifax), 2 June 1888. New Haven Evening Register, 28 Sept., 4 Oct. 1929. R. C. Buley, The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 1859–1964 (2v., New York, 1967). Conservatory Journal (Halifax), 1 (1937), no.2. Dalhousie Univ. and College, Calendar (Halifax), 1898/99, 1899/1900. Directory, New Haven, 1908–29. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.). J. P. Green and N. F. Vogan, Music education in Canada: a historical account (Toronto, 1991). Halifax Ladies’ College and Conservatory of Music, Calendar, 1888/89–1900/1. Helmut Kallmann, A history of music in Canada, 1534–1914 (Toronto and London, 1960). Looking backward over two centuries: a short history of St. Matthew’s United Church, Halifax, N.S., from the founding of the city to the bicentenary year (Halifax, 1949). Musical Halifax (Halifax), 1903/4. John Rousmaniere, The life and times of the Equitable (New York, 1995). St. Matthew’s Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia: 225th anniversary celebration, November 17–24, 1974 . . . , comp. M. L. Perry and J. W. Reid (Halifax, 1974). Elizabeth Townsend et al., A sentinel on the street: St. Matthew’s United Church, Halifax, 1749–1999 (Halifax, 1999).

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Cite This Article

Nancy F. Vogan, “PORTER, CHARLES HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/porter_charles_henry_15E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/porter_charles_henry_15E.html
Author of Article:   Nancy F. Vogan
Title of Article:   PORTER, CHARLES HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2005
Year of revision:   2005
Access Date:   December 7, 2023