Eleanor Daley, Mus’78

A choral music star

In the world of choral music, Eleanor Daley, Mus’78, is an eminent figure. She is considered one of Canada’s most successful composers. Choir directors and musical scholars around the world sing her praises.

Dr. Kent Tritle, an organist with the New York Philharmonic and a Juilliard School faculty member, describes Daley as “one of the finest musicians of our era.” South Dakota University Music Professor Andrew Robinette says “it would be difficult to overstate the global reach and impact of Eleanor’s work. She is famous in my field and her music is beloved around the world.”

Daley has more than 150 published compositions and has been commissioned to write music by choirs in Canada, U.S., Europe and South Africa. A 2022 Order of Canada recipient, her works have been printed by 15 music publishing houses. 

Type “Eleanor Daley” into YouTube and you will find thousands of videos of choirs around the world singing her music. Seeing so many people enjoy her music warms her heart.

“It’s incredible and very humbling,” says Daley, who is receiving an honorary degree from Queen’s this spring. “One of the biggest impacts I hope I have made in the lives of singers and listeners is that my music brings them joy or comfort. Sometimes I hear from people that a piece I wrote helped them get through a certain situation. Some of the younger people I worked with have now grown up and have their own music careers. They said I had an impact on their lives and that’s very important to me.”

The road to becoming a famous choral composer happened by accident. Daley’s career started in 1982 when she became the director of music at Fairlawn Avenue United Church in Toronto – where she still works four decades later.

The music library at Fairlawn only had one set of introit books – short choral pieces sung at the beginning of a worship service – and Daley was getting tired of the choir singing the same ones over and over.

So, she began writing her own introits every week. The constant writing and having a choir at her disposal allowed her to experiment, learn, and fine-tune her compositional skills. 

As her career continued, her first publication by a publishing house was a book of introits, to be used for different occasions in the church year. She was also working with other choirs in the Toronto area – including the Amadeus Choir and Bach Children’s Chorus – who were very supportive and began commissioning her to compose music specifically for them.

Her reputation spread and she began receiving awards. Her Rose Trilogy received the National Choral Award for Outstanding Choral Composition of the Year from the Association of Canadian Choral Communities in 2004. Requiem, recorded by the Amadeus Choir, received the same honour in 1994. 

At the Queen’s University Alumni Association Award Gala on June 17, she will receive the association’s highest honour, Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. 

Previous recipients include NASA astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station, Drew Feustel, PhD’95, DSc’16; MSNBC journalist Ali Velshi, Artsci’94, LLD’16; the former president of Princeton University, Shirley Tilghman, Arts’68, DSc’02; and Peter Milliken, Arts’68, LLD ’12, the longest serving Speaker of the House in Canadian Parliament history.

“It’s a huge honour to receive this award, especially looking at some of the past recipients,” Daley says. “I am over the moon thrilled, as are colleagues and friends, and of course, my family.”

The Queen’s Alumni community is invited to join in the QUAA Gala celebration on June 17. Watch the event virtually for free or purchase tickets to attend the Kingston event in person. Visit the Gala website for more details.