Elske Albarda

Pianist, Teacher


Published, EAC Communiqué, May 1991


Even in the early morning the Albarda’s old stone house by the Grand River fills with music. This is Elske’s favourite time of day to practice for trios, duets, and accompaniments, or just to play for pleasure. Beside her RÖSLER grand piano is a small, graceful spinet built by her husband Jan. Arranged in brackets on a wall of her music room are the baroque instruments which Elske also plays: polished wood recorders and a viola da gamba. Shelves of books, sheet music and records range in rows to the high ceiling opposite a large window. Surely students who come for piano lessons to the Albarda’s home will never forget the experience of learning music in this room.

Elske came to Canada from Holland in 1951, but her early life was spent for the most part in the Dutch East Indies. She was born in Bandung, situated on the slope of a volcano on the isle of Java. Her father was an educator, charged with setting up an education system for all of Indonesia. Her mother, born on the island of Bali, was a Governess in the Resident’s household before she married. The youngest of three children, Elske has happy memories of the freedom of life in the tropics, close to nature. Her parents, both Theosophists and Vegetarians tried to give Elske and her brothers a special sense of values. She attributes to their influence much of the awareness and direction of her life.

At 15 years old, Elske finally settled in Holland She had already attended ten different schools there or in Indonesia. By the end of High School in the Dutch system she spoke four languages. To these she added written and spoken Javanese when she studied Dutch-Indonesian Law at University, intending to return to Indonesia and make her life in the Far East. But marriage, a daughter, Karen, and the advent of World War II changed her direction.

Elske had studied piano from the age of nine. Her home had been filled with the music of her brothers’ violin duets, and piano accompaniments by an aunt. She had also performed in Modern Dance for several summers while at University. During the long days of the German occupation of Holland, Elske found a focus of concentration in continuing her music studies. She attended the Conservatory  in Rotterdam, until the family was forced to go execution by the Nazis. Elske remembers the last days before the Canadian liberation of Holland, when the family occupied a small corner of the attic in a country chateau crowded with people. She was playing the piano in a concert designed to keep everyone busy in stressing times, when she glanced out the window and saw the first allied bombs falling: after years of German occupation, the liberation of Holland had begun.

Following the war, their son Hans was born and Elske and Jan decided to emigrate to Canada. Through the war years and the liberation Dutch people developed a special feeling for Canada, and Jan had hoped since he was a boy to come to the “new world’’. The Albarda family went first to Peterborough, then Thistletown. With young children, Elske helped in the co-op nursery school. Subsequently she attended the Institute of Child Studies and became supervisor of this school. She retains a strikingly direct contact with children when teaching them music today.


In Thistletown Elske was asked to be the organist in a small church. Together with the choir she performed many rewarding cantatas and oratorios. Urged on by this and the desire to teach more advanced grades of piano, Elske became a student again, finishing a degree in Music at the Conservatory in Toronto. Shortly after she was asked to teach for a new branch of the Conservatory in North West Toronto. At this time Elske also enjoyed participation in the visual arts through painting classes with the Franklin Carmichael art group.

In 1975 Elske and Jan Albarda moved to Elora, seeking a more rural lifestyle. They bought a classic stone home, which had once belonged to the Dalby Brewery and Tannery. Here Jan built harpsichords, while Elske continued to teach a wide range of piano students. Since arriving in Elora, Elske has been very active in the community, serving for a time on the Boards of the Arts Council, Gallery Music Group and the Elora Environmental Action Group (being a co-founder of the latter two).

Lithe and energetic, she has been active in many sports, encouraged by her mother who was a strong proponent of women’s rights and equality. She played basketball and field hockey, skied at a time when people climbed a mountain before enjoying the exhilarating descent, swam, played tennis, and in recent years took up squash.

In her personal style and elegance Elske is contemporary. Sometimes she dreams of living in a small solar house, and a time with more leisure, when she can set to music the distilled eloquence of many short poems. The fine quality of her life is based on simplicity and essentials. The birds at the feeder by the window, the fire in the hearth, a flower in bloom, the good design of a cup or bowl, these are meaningful accents that add colour. But music is a special enrichment of every passing day.

by Beverley Cairns, May 1991

… music is a special enrichment of every passing day.

UPDATE – 1997

After Jan passed away in September 1993, Elske sold their lovely old house by the river and moved with her grand piano into first an apartment, then to a small, central house in Elora. A large part of her music collection went to Wilfred Laurier University where it is being put to good use.

IN MEMORIAM – December 2003

Elske Albarda’s remarkable life ended in December 2003. It was always her wish that her RÖSLER Grand Piano, on which so many local students had learned to play the instrument, be donated to the new Elora Centre For The Arts.

Elske’s family generously agreed to donate her piano. In December 2004, Elske’s piano returned to Elora, to be part of community life at the Centre and was dedicated April 30, 2005. Many friends, admirers and former pupils have contributed to the partial rebuilding of the piano. It will be a wonderful resource for concerts, receptions, master classes, and teaching. The Centre is very grateful to all who have made this acquisition possible.