Organ playing and teaching | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Organ playing and teaching

Organ playing and teaching. The various schools of organ playing in Canada have resulted from two generally separate streams of organ teaching over a period of 150 years.

Organ playing and teaching

Organ playing and teaching. The various schools of organ playing in Canada have resulted from two generally separate streams of organ teaching over a period of 150 years. These can be characterized as preparing 'professional concert musicians' and 'amateur church musicians': in fact, while many students have set out to become concert organists, even more have studied to become organists and choir directors in churches, usually a part-time employment. Until about 1970 most Canadians were relatively well-acquainted with the sound of organ music, but since then church attendance has fallen off and a new generation has rarely heard organ music competently played. There are very few organs in Canadian concert halls, and organ recitals held in churches are seldom well-attended. Many churches now find it difficult to recruit well-qualified musicians, and the two streams of teaching are becoming more disparate, with universities and conservatories concentrating on organ performance and the Royal Canadian College of Organists concerning itself in the main with the training of amateur church musicians.


The earliest reference to organ playing occurs in the Jesuit Relations (vol 46, p 163) for February 1661: 'The organ played while the Blessed Sacrament was being taken down, and during benediction.' It mentions further that Pierre Duquet and Michel Feuillon were the musicians who assisted with the musical aspect of the church services. The manuscript rediscovered and named Livre d'orgue de Montréal in 1978, which had been taken to Canada by Jean Girard in 1724, demonstrates the close connection between organ-playing in 18th-century France and in early New France. Louis Jolliet, the Canadian-born explorer of the Mississippi, is known to have played the organ in Quebec City and to have taught others. The names of the first organists at Montreal's Notre-Dame Church have been traced in Le Canada musical (1 Dec 1880), which took them from the Annuaire de Ville-Marie, and, in more detail, by Ovide Lapalice. The first were Jean-Baptiste Poitiers du Buisson and Charles-François Coron, both in the early 18th century, followed by Girard. In Halifax the provincial secretary of Nova Scotia, Richard Bulkeley, acted as organist at St Paul's Anglican Church, and Viere Warner was another 18th-century incumbent. Among the organists at important churches in the early 19th century were Guillaume Mechtler, for nearly 40 years at Notre-Dame in Montreal, John Bentley, at both the Anglican and the Catholic cathedrals in Quebec City, Stephen Codman at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec, F.H. Glackemeyer and T.F. Molt at the Catholic Cathedral in Quebec, and J.-C. Brauneis II at Notre-Dame in Montreal. The first organist in Toronto may have been W. (or M.) Warren, ca 1833-5 at St James' Cathedral. A highly qualified organist, Edward Hodges, was brought from England in 1838 to fill the same position but found conditions so unsatisfactory that he left for New York a few months later. J.P. Clarke, at Christ Church, ca 1844-5, was one of the first organists in Hamilton and served later at St James' in Toronto. Margaret Gilkison, at St James' during the 1840s, was one of Canada's first women organists; another was Esther Fournier (1805-74) of Rigaud, Que, an aunt of the twin brothers Dumouchel.

In the second half of the 19th century the work of several outstanding organ builders testified to the growing numbers of instruments required for churches, halls, and educational institutions and the many organists required. Relatively few Canadian musicians were organists first and foremost. The most outstanding of these was Samuel Prowse Warren, son of the organ builder Samuel Russell Warren. However, like several other talented musicians, he spent most of his adult years in the USA. L.C. Elson, in his The History of American Music (New York 1904), called him 'one of the great concert organists of America... a man who may stand with the church organists of any country and not be relegated to an inferior position.' In New York alone, Warren gave hundreds of recitals. Only a few of the better known organists active in the second part of the 19th century (and in some cases into the 20th) can be named here: Charles Hutton in St John's, Nfld; the brothers Charles H. and Samuel Porter in Halifax; the brothers Ernest and Gustave Gagnon, Edward Arthur Bishop, Antoine Dessane, and Calixa Lavallée in Quebec City; Alcibiade Béique, George Carter, Alexis Contant, Charles A.E. Harriss, Percival Illsley, J.-B. Labelle, R.-O. Pelletier, and F.H. Torrington in Montreal; Herbert R. Fripp and Gustave Smith in Ottawa; John Carter, Edward Fisher, John W.F. Harrison, F.H. Torrington, and A.S. Vogt in Toronto; J.E.P. Aldous, R.S. Ambrose, W.E. Fairclough, C.M.L. Harris, and D.J. O'Brien in Hamilton; A.S. Sippi and Charles E. Wheeler in London, Ont; and P.R. MacLagan in Winnipeg. Some organists were employed in several cities in turn, eg, William Reed in Sherbrooke, Montreal, Toronto, and Quebec City.

It should be noted that in the late 19th century the organ was regarded largely as a substitute orchestra, and, indeed, much of the recital music consisted of transcriptions. A typical program, given by Torrington 23 Mar 1869 at the Wesleyan Church in Montreal ('Grand Concert of Sacred Music') included three organ solos: Mendelssohn's Organ Sonata No. 1, the Andante from Beethoven's Septet, and Rossini's William Tell Overture. It is noteworthy, however, that during the previous year Torrington had played Bach's 'St Anne's' Fugue to an audience whose enthusiasm bewildered at least one of the concert's reviewers: 'We were not a little surprised to find that the severe compositions in the programme, such as the ''Organ Sonata'' [Mendelssohn, No. 3] and the ''Fugue'' by J.S. Bach, received so much applause, when it is considered that it requires a musician to thoroughly understand and appreciate them... Concerts of this description [should] be given once or twice a week at a cheap rate, so as to enable the poorest to hear the best music' (Montreal Gazette, 16 May 1868). The correspondent for the Musical Times of London was more at ease with this phenomenon: 'The Fugue by J.S. Bach excit[ed] especial interest, a fact which speaks strongly for the growing musical taste of the public in Montreal' (MT, 1 Jul 1868).

In any case, Torrington continued to champion the music of Bach. In French Canada some priests discouraged the music of Bach and that of Mendelssohn, not on musical grounds but because the two composers were regarded as 'Protestant musicians.' Despite this attitude, R.-O. Pelletier, like Torrington, and reassured and inspired by a recital by Alexandre Guilmant at the Montreal Cathedral in 1893, also continued to give recitals which included the works of Bach and Mendelssohn.

Royal Canadian College Of Organists

Pelletier and Torrington were among those organists working towards the establishment of a professional organization that would unite organists and help raise standards of performance. The model was the Royal College of Organists, which had been established in England in 1864. The Musical Journal (vol 2, 15 Feb 1888) of Toronto reported with approval that Torrington and such colleagues as J.E.P. Aldous, G.H. Fairclough, and A.S. Sippi were about to form a College of Organists. Under the presidency of Torrington the organization was active for a few years but did not survive, probably a victim of rivalries and dissension. Leadership was provided next by the American Guild of Organists (chartered 1896), the letterhead of which proclaimed the 'United States and Canada' as its territory. Canadian organists, however, had need of an organization of their own and thus the Canadian College of Organists (RCCO) came into being at a meeting in Brantford, Ont, in 1909. Albert Ham was the first president of this organization, which was granted the prefix 'Royal' in 1959.

The RCCO has worked at both professional and amateur levels in organ playing and teaching. As a national examining body, it has offered professional diplomas and has assisted teachers to train their students to qualify at these diploma levels, sometimes leading them to professional careers in music. At the same time, the RCCO at the local level has carried on educational programs aimed at the amateur church musicians who make up the vast majority of organists in Canada.

At the professional level, the RCCO sponsors a bi-annual National Competition for young adult organists aspiring to a concert career, with prizes of up to $5000. It also awards various scholarships.

By the early 1980s, the RCCO had become greatly concerned about the scarcity of trained organists to fill positions in Canadian churches. Some of the reasons have to do with the general trend away from church attendance, the unwillingness or inability of the churches to pay meaningful wages, and the frustrations attached to frequent liturgical change. Given that few young musicians were choosing to enter the field, the RCCO concentrated its efforts and resources on the development of existing amateur church musicians, helping them to upgrade their training and skills. Beginning in 1985, its National Committee on Education has worked with the extension departments of Canadian universities to establish evening courses to assist amateur church musicians (many without formal training in organ-playing) to increase their expertise. These courses, administered by the universities but taught by professional members of the RCCO, cover practical skills such as hymn-playing, sight-reading, transposition, improvisation, choir accompaniment, choral conducting, etc. By 1991 annual six-week courses had been established in Ottawa (Carleton University), Toronto (RCMT), Kingston (Queen's University), Windsor (University of Windsor), Kitchener-Waterloo (University of Waterloo), and Edmonton (University of Alberta).

During the same period, the RCCO began to use the resources of its endowed College Development Fund to award scholarships to teenage piano students for 12 free organ lessons each, with the hope that some at least would continue on to serious organ studies; this program has shown some success, and corresponding scholarship funds have been granted through the RCCO by the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada.

University Teaching

Although much organ teaching at both the professional and amateur levels in Canada is by private teachers, using the instruments in their own churches, most major universities and conservatories have established departments of organ performance leading to the B MUS and M MUS degrees. Most universities seek to keep Canadian students in touch with international standards of studies by inviting organists of international repute, particularly from Europe and the USA, to conduct master classes and workshops, and to give recitals. University music departments also encourage Canadian students to enter international competitions. A few, including McGill University, University of Windsor, and Wilfrid Laurier University, have established degree programs in church music studies.

University and conservatory organ teaching has been heavily influenced by the worldwide organ reform movement in the second half of the 20th century. Whereas many private teachers still use the electro-pneumatic instruments in their churches for teaching purposes, university teaching is generally carried out on mechanical-action instruments, with the intentions both of seeking the most responsive relationship between the player and the instrument, and of approaching music of various historical periods in the most authentic manner possible. By contrast, amateur church musicians playing for church services are much more likely to have only electronic instruments at their disposal, on which it is very difficult to create an authentic sound or touch.

Many universities and conservatories have purchased instruments for teaching purposes: these have ranged from the early Warren electro-pneumatic organ erected in Association Hall by the TCM in 1889, to the mechanical-action instrument installed by Hellmuth Wolff in 1984 in Redpath Hall, McGill U; the latter instrument is an authentic reproduction of a historical French style of organ, and is tuned in unequal temperament.

Diversity Of Church Music Traditions

In the past, organists and organ students in Canada's two major linguistic communities often have had little contact with each other. The RCCO has operated primarily in English, its counterparts in the province of Quebec such as the Amis de l'orgue de Québec largely in French. The apparent cleft has been reinforced also by religious differences, as the francophone musicians have worked mostly in the service of the Roman Catholic Church in Quebec, whose requirements differ not only from those of other denominations but indeed also from those of the anglophone Roman Catholic Church. Some national conventions in central Canada have been held bilingually, however, and some universities carry on bilingual programs.

This cleft is reflected to a certain extent in the perpetuation of organ teaching in Canada based respectively on English or French expertise up to what might be called the undergraduate level. Most serious students from North America, however, move on to study in Europe, in order to come in closer touch with authentic performance tradition, and to widen their expertise and their contacts with other musicians. In the period before World War I, it was common for French-Canadian musicians to study in France and for English-speaking students to study in England. This pattern has gradually changed as more students of both linguistic groups have chosen to study in Austria, Germany, Holland, and Italy; at the same time, many English-speaking Canadian (and US) students choose to study in France. The traditions of the great French organists of the 19th and 20th centuries can be observed to have been carried back to Canada by many students. As performance instruction by 1990 was mostly under university auspices, the streams of English and French traditions have been meeting more and more, while adding in the influences of other national traditions. The cross-fertilization of traditions from England, Germany, Austria, Holland, France, Italy, and the USA has brought a healthy development to Canadian church music, which can be seen in recital programs and church music repertoire lists.

From the early 19th century until about 1980, many English-speaking Canadian churches preferred to import British organists rather than hire Canadian-born musicians, especially the Anglican church, which preferred those with a background in the authentic British 'cathedral' tradition. The largely British-trained musicians taught their students to continue in the same style. Obviously in the decades before 1970 fewer English- than French-speaking students needed to go abroad to study with Europeans. The changing liturgical styles and the preference for congregational participation over choral singing have caused a break in this tradition in many parts of Canada. At the same time, the influence of the British organists, employed in the main by churches rather than by universities, has tended to become localized, limited by the areas in which they worked and taught. Similarly, the reluctance of many large churches to hire women organists came to be less common after 1980.

Healey Willan, who played at the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Toronto for 47 years, was typical of organists of this period who, when they had found congenial church positions, showed lasting loyalty to them. Janis Kalnins was at St Paul's United Church, Fredericton, NB for 42 years; Harry Dean stayed 47 years at Fort Massey Church, Halifax; Godfrey Hewitt was at Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral, Ottawa for 49 years; and Edward Arthur Bishop was 50 years at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Quebec City. Henri Gagnon served 1915-61 at the Basilica in Quebec City, the same position occupied 1864-76 by his uncle, Ernest Gagnon, and 1876-1915 by his father, Gustave Gagnon! Ronald Gibson was at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Winnipeg for 53 years, Vernon Barford at All Saints Cathedral, Edmonton, for 56 years, Gabrielle Bourque at St-Jean Baptiste Roman Catholic Church, Ottawa, for 60 years, Arthur Mews at Cochrane Street Methodist Church in St.John's, Nfld, for 62 years, and Charles Hutton at the (Anglican) Cathedral of St John the Baptist in St John's for 63 years.)

Concert Organists In The 20th Century

The stream of immigrant organists from Great Britain, begun with Codman in the early 19th century, gained momentum after the middle of the century and reached its height in the 25 years before World War I. This group, in addition to those named before, included J. Humfrey Anger, Vernon Barford, John W. Bearder, J. Edgar Birch, Edward Broome, George Coutts, Harry Dean, Arthur Egerton, Albert Ham, W.H. Hewlett, W.A. Montgomery, George Ross, Herbert Sanders, and Alfred Whitehead; these men were active in cities from Alberta to Nova Scotia. The most important musician in this distinguished group was Healey Willan, an organ pupil of Wm Stevenson Hoyte in London. Soon after his arrival in Toronto in 1913 Willan became organist at St Paul's Anglican Church. His recital programs of the period reveal a comprehensive repertoire, including much English music. Willan was heard in many Canadian cities as guest organist.

Two of the most prominent Canadian-born organists of the earlier part of the 20th century were Lynnwood Farnam and Ernest MacMillan. Farnam achieved international recognition for his flawless technique, infallible memory, and profound musicianship. A pupil of Sir Walter Parratt and, like Willan, of Wm Stevenson Hoyte in London, he held church positions in Montreal 1904-13 and then moved to the USA. His playing career reached its climax in 1929, when he played the complete organ works of Bach in New York. MacMillan established his reputation as an organist in the years after World War I before turning to other work. Like Farnam, he was noted for the technical perfection of his playing and was particularly drawn to the music of Bach.

In French Canada most concert organists studied either with the leading organist-teachers of France or with their Quebec pupils. We chart some of these connections, aware that their importance must have varied according to duration and intensity. Among the most influential of the French teachers undoubtedly were Eugène Gigout (teacher of Victoria Cartier, Paul Doyon, J.-D. Dussault, Henri Gagnon, and Alphonse Lavallée-Smith), the illustrious Marcel Dupré (teacher of Françoise Aubut, Jean-Marie Beaudet, Eugène Lapierre, Jean Leduc, D'Alton McLaughlin, Antoine Reboulot, J.-Élie Savaria, and Henri Vallières), Louis Vierne (teacher of Joseph Bonnet, Paul Doyon, Omer Létourneau, Georges Lindsay, J.-Élie Savaria, and G.-E. Tanguay), and Charles-Marie Widor (teacher of Henri Gagnon, Alphonse Lavallée-Smith, D'Alton McLaughlin, and J.-Élie Savaria). However, these were by no means the only ones. Bonnet himself, who moved to Canada in 1943 (and taught, in France or Canada, Conrad Bernier, Henri Gagnon, Magdeleine and Marcelle Martin, and D'Alton McLaughlin), André Marchal (teacher of Gaston Arel, Bernard Lagacé, Claude Lavoie, and Antoine Reboulot), and Gaston Litaize (teacher of Antoine Bouchard, Kenneth Gilbert, Claude Lavoie, and Lucien Poirier) also provided touchstones to the French tradition, as did Charles Letestu (for Gaston Arel and Lucienne L'Heureux-Arel), Xavier Darasse (for Réjean Poirier, André Laberge, and Hélène Panneton), and Marie-Claire Alain (for the young Dutch-Canadian organist Jan Overduin).

The close weave of the Franco-Canadian organ fraternity is evident when we note how many of the French teachers taught the same pupils (for instance, the three giants Dupré, Vierne, and Widor all taught Savaria). It becomes more so when we examine the connections between leading Quebec teachers, their French antecedents, and their established pupils. Henri Gagnon (who taught Jean-Marie Beaudet, Jean-Marie Bussières, Claude Lagacé, Paul-Émile Talbot, and Henri Vallières) and Conrad Letendre (who taught Gaston Arel, Raymond Daveluy, Kenneth Gilbert, Bernard and Mireille Lagacé, and Lucienne L'Heureux-Arel) were among the leading figures to emerge between the world wars, and Romain Pelletier was of particular significance as the teacher of both, and of Georges-Émile Tanguay. Arthur Letondal was another teacher of Letendre and also counted Arel and Doyon among his pupils. Romain-Octave Pelletier, the father of Romain, was himself one of the teachers of Alphonse Lavallée-Smith and Omer Létourneau. Other important teachers active between the wars included Eugène Lapierre, whose pupils included Françoise Aubut, Gérard Caron, and Pierre Grandmaison, and Raoul Paquet, who taught Gérard Caron and Félix-R. Bertrand. After World War II Bernard Lagacé came into prominence as the teacher of a new generation, including Christopher Jackson, André Laberge, Mireille Lagacé, Lucien Poirier, Réjean Poirier, and Denis Regnaud. Georges-Émile Tanguay, who taught organ at the University of Montreal in the post-war era, counted Félix-R. Bertrand, Magdeleine and Marcelle Martin, and André Mérineau among his pupils. Antoine Reboulot, the French organist who moved to Canada in 1967, has been one of the teachers of Antoine Bouchard and Paul-Émile Talbot. Another notable player-teacher, Raymond Daveluy, a pupil of Letendre, E. Power Biggs, and the US organist Hugh Giles, has taught Pierre-Yves Asselin, Paul Crawford, Mireille Lagacé, and Lucienne L'Heureux-Arel.

Of those mainly influential in Toronto, Willan (a teacher of Gordon Jeffery, David Ouchterlony, Charles Peaker, and Ernest White) has been mentioned, and Frederick Geoghegan also should be noted. Geoghegan, a pupil in England of Stanley Curtis and Sir William McKie, was also a teacher of Giles Bryant, Derek Holman, and Douglas Haas. In Winnipeg Hugh Bancroft (a teacher of Douglas Bodle, Donald Hadfield, Hugh McLean, Herbert Sadler, and Winnifred Sim) was a great influence, as was Sadler, English-born but a pupil in Winnipeg of Hugh Ross, Douglas Clarke, and Bancroft, and himself the teacher of more than 20 established Winnipeg church organists. Graham Steed became organist at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria in the 1950s, moved to All Saints Anglican Church in Windsor, Ont, in 1959 and to Truro, NS, in the 1970s. Steed has held appointments as well in Saskatoon and Montreal. The many other English organists who settled in Canada, to a man energetic, capable, and productive, had similar effects on their local ecologies. To name a few who made their names between the wars: Frederick Chubb (a pupil of A.W. Wilson), the aforementioned Douglas Clarke (a pupil of Henry Wood), T.J. Crawford (a pupil of H. Sandiford Turner), Maitland Farmer (a pupil of G.D. Cunningham, as were two other prominent Canadians, Russell Green and David Ouchterlony), H.A. Fricker (a pupil of William Henry Longhurst, Frederick Bridge, and Edwin Henry Lemare), Ronald Gibson (trained in Canada by Arnold Dann), Godfrey Hewitt (a pupil of A.C. Tysoe), Filmer Hubble (a pupil of Hugh Ross), Quentin Maclean (a pupil of Harold Osmund, F.G. Shuttleworth, and Sir Richard Terry), Kenneth Meek (a pupil of Herbert Sanders and Herbert Fricker), Bernard Naylor (trained in England), Charles Peaker (who studied in Canada with Ernest MacMillan, as did Frederick Silvester and Ernest White, and with Willan), Eric Rollinson, Gerald Wheeler (a pupil of Edgar T. Cook), and Leonard Wilson (a pupil of Sydney Nicholson, George Oldroyd, and Dom Anselm Hughes). Among other organists prominent in the early and mid-20th century were George Mackenzie Brewer, Muriel Gidley, and H. William Hawke (a Farnam pupil).

During the last decades of the 20th century, many organists, both those born in Canada and those who have come from other countries, have achieved considerable success. They include Gerald Bales, Sylvain Barrette, Michael Bloss, Douglas Bodle, Antoine Bouchard, Giles Bryant, Barrie Cabena, Melville Cook, Raymond Daveluy, Danielle Dubé, Terence Fullerton, Monique Gendron, Frederick Geoghegan, Kenneth Gilbert, Pierre Grandmaison, Gisèle Guibord, Douglas Haas, Paul Halley, Derek Healey, Derek Holman, Norman Hurrle, Gordon Jeffery, Bernard Lagacé, Mireille Lagacé, Brian Law, David MacDonald, Frances Macdonnell, Hugh McLean, Phillips Motley, Jan Overduin, Roma Page Lynde, David Palmer, Patricia Phillips, Réjean Poirier, Lawrence Ritchie, Winnifred Sim, Jeremy Spurgeon, Graham Steed, Beal Thomas, Mark Toews, John Tuttle, Patrick Wedd, Wesley Warren, and Gerald Wheeler, among many others.

The greatest development in organ playing in Canada in the 20th century is due to the development of professional teaching techniques. The high level of excellence among the best professional Canadian organists has resulted from the standards set by the RCCO, the encouragement and education provided by numerous local Canadian organizations which have funded organ recital series, the international standard of teaching at universities and conservatories, the co-operation of organ builders in producing concert instruments based on research and integrity, and the ability of private teachers to keep abreast of new ideas and techniques.

The National Conventions of the RCCO bring international artists to Canada annually, both to play recitals and to give workshops and master-classes. The International Congress of Organists (jointly sponsored by the RCCO, the Royal College of Organists in England, and the American Guild of Organists) took place in Canada in 1967. The Calgary International Organ Festival was instituted in 1990, featuring a competition; the first winner was England's Kevin Bowyer. The first competition of a new triennial competition in Quebec, Le Concours d'orgue Claude-Lavoie, was scheduled for 1992.

Over the years many outstanding foreign organists have given recitals in Canada, among them Marie-Claire Alain, Feike Asma, Walter Baker, E. Power Biggs, Diane Bish, Jean Boyer, Claire Coci, Catharine Crozier, Xavier Darasse, Marcel Dupré, Rolande Falcinelli, Virgil Fox, Fernando Germani, Gerre Hancock, Anton Heiller, André Isoir, Geraint Jones, William Krumbach, Sigfrid Karg-Elert, André Marchal, Marilyn Mason, Alexander McCurdy, Flor Peeters, Simon Preston, Lionel Rogg, Alexander Schreiner, Frederick Swann, Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, Louis Vierne, Harald Vogel, Clarence Watters, Carl Weinrich, Gillian Weir, and Charles-Marie Widor.

Many organizations sponsor organ recital series, such as the RCCO (with all its local centres), the Amis de l'orgue de Québec, Ars Organi, the Concerts spirituels, the Concerts d'orgue de Montréal, Unimusica in Montreal, Pro Organo in Ottawa and St-Hyacinthe, Que, and the Calgary Cecilian Concerts, among many others, including individual churches. Organ recitals were broadcast regularly on the CBC radio English network until financial cutbacks in the mid-1980s forced the cancellation of the weekly program 'Organists in Recital'; however, the French network in 1991 continued its weekly broadcasts on 'Le tribune de l'orgue.' To some extent, this reflects the different level of audience interest in organ music between English and French Canada.

Organ Reform

The organ reform movement, aiming to sweep aside the orchestra-substitute syndrome of the romantic era and to restore to the organ its baroque sound, began in Europe shortly after World War I and in the USA a decade later. It had little effect in Canada until 1947, when Ernest White returned from New York to establish in London, Ont, the London School of Church Music, in affiliation with the University of Western Ontario, bringing with him an organ of his own design which had been built by the Aeolian-Skinner Company of Boston. With its exposed pipework on light wind pressure, including mild foundations, strong mixtures, prominent mutations, and thin reeds, it was a revelation to all who heard it. Ernest White's teaching emphasized the stylistic performance of traditional organ literature (in so far as this was possible on an instrument with electro-pneumatic action), employing historically accurate registrations, rigorously controlled rhythm, and extensive use of non-legato touches. Although the London School of Church Music was a teaching institution for only a few years, it continued under the direction of its co-founder, Gordon Jeffery, to sponsor organ, choral, and instrumental concerts.

In 1959 an event of far-reaching significance occurred in Montreal with the installation of a two-manual and pedal mechanical-action organ by Rudolf von Beckerath at Queen Mary Road United Church, where Kenneth Gilbert was organist. This was the first mechanical-action organ of fine quality to be installed in Canada since the advent of electro-pneumatic instruments at the end of the 19th century. In 1960 Gilbert, with Bernard and Mireille Lagacé, Gaston and Lucienne Arel, and Raymond Daveluy, established a group known as Ars Organi, dedicated to the performance of the organ literature on fine tracker instruments. These players all acquired new mechanical-action organs in their churches and studios. In 1961 von Beckerath installed what in 1991 was still the largest tracker-action instrument in Canada in Saint Joseph's Oratory, Montreal. Also in 1961 Canada's largest organ building firm, Casavant Frères, established a new department to build modern mechanical-action instruments, one of the first of which went in 1963 to Acadia University in Wolfville, NS, where the Austrian-born organist Eugen F. Gmeiner was teaching. By 1965 John McIntosh, at the University of Western Ontario, had ordered a mechanical-action organ from Gabriel Kney and Company. Only a brief time later Antoine Bouchard acquired new instruments by Paul Ott (of Göttingen) at Laval University in Quebec, and Hugh McLean had a large Casavant tracker installed at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Other universities and conservatories followed suit, so that by 1975 the majority of teaching institutions throughout the country had access to tracker-action instruments for the use of their staffs and students.

Theatre Organists

The phenomenon of the cinema organist, who accompanied silent films and provided intermission entertainment, brought a certain levity into a rather unsmiling profession in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Splendid glamourized instruments designed for appearance (coloured-glass, back-lighted panels to silhouette the performer at his dais console) and sonic surprise (solo stops that trembled like aspens or warbled like canaries) were installed in movie houses in many Canadian towns and cities and became a strong attraction for audiences who enjoyed pop-music recitals (pop in the broad sense, encompassing the Bach-Gounod and Schubert Ave Marias in handy transcriptions, the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, the Berceuse from Jocelyn, and the Toreador Song from Carmen, gems from Stephen Foster, Gershwin, and Porter, Christmas tunes in season, and the current favourites) between showings of the film program. Some organists made careers of the specialized and tolerant virtuosities of the movie-house repertoire; others kept their work as church organists central and supplemented their incomes with a little or a lot of theatre work. Some achieved wide reputations as popular entertainers. Among them were Paul Michelin and Hanley Wells in Victoria, BC; Julian Hayward and Sydney Kelland in Vancouver; Harold Ramsay and Cyril Godwin in Calgary; Charles Peaker in Regina; Allan Caron, Agnes Forsythe, and Ted Walker in Winnipeg; Al Bolington, Colin Corbett, Ernest Dainty, Horace Lapp, Quentin Maclean, Roderick (Sandy) Macpherson, Ronnie Padgett, Kathleen Stokes, and Roland Todd in Toronto; Mack White in Montreal; and Harry Thomas in Halifax. The Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver maintains the Wurlitzer, once used for silent films, upon which Patrick Wedd recorded Strike up the Band: Patrick Wedd Plays Favourites on the Orpheum Grand Wurlitzer (1986, CBC Musica Viva MVCD-1019), recalling the older style of organ performance and programming mentioned earlier. William O'Meara has produced several new concert programs featuring theatre organ music for silent movies, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.


Visiting and immigrant organists from around the world have continued to enrich the Canadian organ-playing heritage, while at the same time Canadian students study in the USA and many European countries and bring their varied experience back to Canada with them. There is not an identifiably 'Canadian' school of organ-playing; the influences on organists are too diversified, the traditions too separate, the distance between major population centres too great, and the lack of interest in organ music among the general population too discouraging. In 1991, however, Canadian instruments, teachers, players, and students were meeting the test of international comparison.

See also Organ building; Organ composition.

Further Reading