Norma Marian Beecroft was born in Oshawa, Ontario, on 11 April 1934. Her parents were both active in the artistic field, her father, Julian Balfour Beecroft, was a musician and inventor, and was a pioneer in the development of magnetic tape. Her mother, Eleanor Beecroft Stewart, was trained in music and dance, and enjoyed a successful career as an actress. The second of five offspring, Norma has enjoyed an active life in music, as a composer, producer, broadcaster and administrator. Some of her siblings have pursued occupations in the arts and/or technology, Jane (b. 1932) was a poet and painter, Eric (b.1935) was active in film, and Charles Andrew Stuart (b. 1942) is a noted documentarist in the field of natural sciences.
Norma Beecroft’s early musical studies began with the piano, taking piano lessons from Aladar Ecsedy (1950-52), then between 1952-58 with Gordon Hallett and Weldon Kilburn. At the same time she studied composition with John Weinzweig. The recipient of a bursary from the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1957-58, she began flute studies with Keith Girard as well. She continued her composition studies on scholarship at the Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood, with Aaron Copland and Lukas Foss, and in 1959 was accepted into the Corso di Perfezionamento at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, under Goffredo Petrassi, where she graduated in 1961. The same year she was the recipient of an Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs scholarship. During her three years in Europe she attended lectures given by Bruno Maderna at Darmstadt, Germany, and at the Dartington School of Music in England, and she continued her flute studies with Severino Gazzelloni. Upon her return to Canada, she attended the electronic music classes of Myron Schaeffer at the University of Toronto, and in 1964 spent the summer working with Mario Davidovsky at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, New York.
Concurrent with her composing life, Beecroft has enjoyed a long association with the world of broadcasting. She was first attracted to the then-new world of television and joined the CBC in 1954 as a script assistant for music programs, and later music consultant. After her European studies, she returned to CBC, working as a script assistant 1962-3, then successively as talent relations officer 1963-4, national program organizer for radio 1964-6, and producer 1966-9. In 1969 she resigned from CBC, and began a freelance career as producer and commentator on contemporary music. She was the host of the weekly series Music of Today for many years, and her freelance productions included many documentaries commissioned by the CBC on major Canadian composers of the latter 20th Century, including John Weinzweig, Harry Somers, Harry Freedman, Barbara Pentland, Jean Coulthard-Adams, Bruce Mather, Gilles Tremblay, etc. In 1976 her documentary The Computer in Music received a Major Armstrong Award for excellence in FM broadcasting. Among her numerous freelance projects was the preparation in 1975 of 13 broadcast records Music Canada from tapes in the libraries of RCI and CAPAC, and she contributed numerous documentaries on her Canadian colleagues for the Anthology of Canadian Composers series. Beecroft produced electronic music for the Stratford Festival productions of Macbeth (1982) and Midsummer Night’s Dream (1983), and incidental music for the TVO series Fish On.
Most of Beecroft’s compositions have been commissioned by organizations and individuals, and many combine electronically produced or altered sounds together with live instruments. She regards her particular use of electronic music as an extension of vocal and/or instrumental sounds rather than a contrast of timbres. From Dreams of Brass (1963-4) is the first example of this technique, and her large scale work, the ballet Hedda (1982), is a later illustration. Her musical aesthetic was first influenced by the music of Debussy, then later by her teachers – Weinzweig, Petrassi and Maderna, and during her European years, she was impressed by the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the first composers to combine electronic music with live instruments.
Beecroft has long been active in the promotion of Canadian and contemporary music in addition to her broadcasting and composing career. She was President in 1956-7 of Canadian Music Associates (the Toronto concert committee of the Canadian League of Composers), and in 1965-8 President of Ten Centuries Concerts. In 1971, she co-founded (with Robert Aitken) New Music Concerts, and was its President and General Manager until 1989. For her service to Canadian music, in 1996 she was awarded a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, from York University, Toronto.
Norma Beecroft is a member of the Canadian League of Composers and an associate of the Canadian Music Centre. In 2002, she was awarded an Honorary Membership in the Canadian Electro-acoustic Community.