Intent on disproving the simplistic assumption that Indians on the West Coast "had not music," the indepedent ethnomusicologist Ida Halpern recorded more than 300 songs from the Kwakiutl, Haida, Nootka and Coast Salish cultures and published four double albums of their music between 1967 and 1987. She is sometimes considered to have been the first British Columbian to seriously study the music of Aboriginals on the B.C. coast.

Her first musical recordings were made with Chief Billy Assu on the Cape Mudge Reserve on Quadra Island when he was in his seventies. In the late 1940s she recorded 88 of his songs, none of which had been passed along to his three sons. "It was the most exciting time of my life," she said. The next singer she recorded was Mungo Martin, the Kwakiutl carver from Fort Rupert, after he was invited to the University of British Columbia campus to undertake carving work in the early 1950s. He and his wife Abayah became frequent visitors at the home of Ida and Georg Halpern on West 37th Avenue, near the university. Over the course of a year, Mungo Martin recorded 124 songs with Halpern. Squamish elder Louis Maranda shared his music with her in 1974. Between 1977 and 1980, she collected songs from Tom Willie, a Kwakiutl from Blunden Harbour and Hope Island.

Halpern avoided consulting other authorities and secondary citations. "I present the data as I got it from the chiefs," she said. But Halpern was not as much of a pioneer in her field as she sometimes wanted to believe. Others who had collected songs before her included Franz Boas, Livingston Farrand, Frances Densmore, Edward Sapir, Marius Barbeau and Melville Jacobs.

Halpern's music collecting was used as resource material for Lister Sinclair's The World of the Wonderful Dark, performed at the Vancouver International Festival of the Arts in 1956. She first published three songs in 1962 in the Columbia World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, a 14-volume collection prepared by Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress.

An extensive appreciation of the life and work of Ida Halpern (born Ida Ruhdorfer or Ruhd?rfer in Vienna, July 17, 1910) can be found in "Haida Ida": The Musical World of Ida Halpern by Douglas Cole and Christine Mullins [BC Studies, No. 97, Spring 1993]. As a Jew, she fled Hitler's Austria towards the end of 1938. She had stayed in Vienna just long enough to obtain her Ph.D in music, then fled with her new husband to Shanghai where his sister Fanny was working as a psychiatrist. According to SFU Special Collections, "Arriving in Vancouver in August, 1939, the Halperns were initially placed under a deportation order. They succeeded in gaining landed immigrant status through the intervention of R.D. Murray, manager of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia, and China at Shanghai. Murray offered financial guarantees regarding Halpern's proposed business enterprises."

Ida Halpern died at age 76 on February 7, 1987. Unpublished biographical material on Ida Halpbern can be found in the Halpern Family Fonds at SFU Special Collections. The SFU Library states, "Her husband, George Robert Halpern, was born in Krakow, Poland on May 11, 1902. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry and worked in the pharmaceutical industry before marrying Ida Ruhd?rfer in 1936. After immigrating to Canada, George eventually started his own successful business, G.R. Chemicals, and became a successful entrepreneur, noted philanthropist and community activist. He died on November 28, 1989."


Indian music of the Pacific Northwest coast. Collected and recorded by Ida Halpern, Folkways Records FE 4523. 1967. Kwakiutl Indians.

Nootka Indian music of the Pacific Northwest coast. [Sound recordings] Collected, recorded & annotated by Ida Halpern, Folkways Records FE 4524. 1974. Nootka Indians

Indian Music of the Pacfic Northwest Coast: Kwakiutl (New York: Ethnic Folkways Library, 1981).

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2005] "Music" "First Nations"