Royal Canadian College of Organists/Collège royal canadien des organistes | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Royal Canadian College of Organists/Collège royal canadien des organistes

Royal Canadian College of Organists/Le Collège royal canadien des organistes.

Royal Canadian College of Organists/Collège royal canadien des organistes

Royal Canadian College of Organists/Le Collège royal canadien des organistes. A national association of organists and church musicians founded 1909 as the Canadian Guild of Organists, renamed the Canadian College of Organists in 1920, and granted the prefix 'Royal' in 1959 (although the name was not legally changed until 1980). Headquarters are in Toronto, and in 1990 there were 1455 members.

RCCO membership is open to organists, choirmasters, and all those who support its aims:

a. To promote a high standard of organ playing, choral directing, church music, and composition.

b. To hold examinations in organ playing, choir directing, theory, and general knowledge of music; to grant diplomas to members of the college who pass such examinations.

c. To encourage organ recitals and other public musical events and to afford opportunities among members for discussion of topics of musical interest.

d. To increase the understanding and appreciation among church musicians, church authorities, and the public at large of matters related to church music.

The college is governed by an elected national council with a president and executive committee.

The college is divided into 31 local centres, each with its own executive. Individual centres have special projects such as the Organ Resource Centre maintained by the Edmonton Centre, and university extension courses first initiated between the Ottawa Centre and Carleton University in 1985. In 1990 such courses were offered in six centres: Edmonton, Kingston, London, Ottawa, Toronto, and Windsor. Conventions are held annually.

Although not a teaching institution, the RCCO hosts examinations that offer certificates in Service Playing and Choral Training as well as diplomas at the levels of Fellow (FRCCO, before 1959 FCCO), Associate (ARCCO, before 1959 ACCO), and Colleague (CRCCO, introduced in 1987). The RCCO also offers a Professional Diploma in Choral Conducting. The Diploma of Fellowship (honoris causa) is also granted. Scholarships in memory of Healey Willan, Eric Rollinson, Charles Peaker, John Sidgwick, and others are awarded annually, and for members and students there are educational resources, workshops, recitals, and tours of organ installations.

The RCCO thus combines various functions served in other countries by separate organizations (as in Great Britain by the Royal College of Organists, the Royal School of Church Music, and the Organ Club). It is a professional organization for church musicians and has functioned as a mediating group on behalf of its members. It fosters the interests of young musicians through student groups, scholarships for organ lessons for young pianists, and competitions in performance and composition. The college's national placement service aids development of the parish music program. The college archives are held at the college Toronto offices. The RCCO is a member of the CCA.


Though organists had attempted to form a professional organization in the 19th century, the first concrete step toward founding the RCCO was taken 27 Oct 1909 by eight musicians who met at the Conservatory of Music in Brantford, Ont, and passed a resolution recognizing 'the importance of establishing a college of organists, similar to that of England, in Canada' (Brantford Daily Expositor, 28 Oct 1909). Their desire was realized in December 1909 when the Canadian Guild of Organists was founded, with Albert Ham as president. Frederick C. Thomas of Brantford was secretary and designed the guild's crest, which has continued in use. By the first convention, held in Toronto in 1911, members had enrolled from all nine provinces except New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, and a scheme of examinations had evolved similar to that of the RCO of Great Britain. The first fellow of the guild, by examination, was Alfred Whitehead and the first associate was Charles Duff.

In 1920, with the change of name to the Canadian College of Organists, the college absorbed Canadian members of the American Guild of Organists. Although in 1939 there were only 245 members in eight centres, the period following saw steady expansion. By the college's 50th anniversary in 1959, membership had reached 1300 in 32 centres.

One of the college's most significant achievements was its British Organ Restoration Fund (1943-52), under the chairmanship of Healey Willan, which raised more than $30,000, for the installation of a new organ at Coventry Cathedral. An 'RCCO Headquarters Building Fund' was established in 1954.

The RCCO since 1959 has sought solutions to problems peculiar to the practice of church music in Canada. Convention sites have been diversified (eg., Vancouver 1969, Halifax 1973, Montreal 1985), and presidents have travelled to centres across the country. The examination system has been revised in accordance with the Canadian church music situation. A nation-wide study was conducted (1974-6) of the professional life of church musicians, and special project grants were and continue to be awarded as incentives for local centre development. Steps were taken to inaugurate a program and examination in French to meet the special needs of the Quebec Roman Catholic parish, a field that previously had not been a concern of an association built upon British and American models. With large and active centres in both Ottawa and Montreal, in 1990 the college began to offer publications and examinations in both official languages.

The college has fostered international relations. It has hosted the International Congress of Organists in London (1957), Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and London (1967) and in Montreal (1993).


The National Library of Canada holds a copy (vol 5, Dec 1916) of The Canadian Guild of Organists' Journal, which was published twice a year. Since ca 1923 the college has issued intermittent bulletins and newsletters. A yearbook, which was introduced in 1939, containing the membership roll, examination regulations, and sample exam papers, and the RCCO Newsletter that appeared in 1968 merged to become the RCCO Quarterly (1973-8). After the Quarterly ceased, the RCCO began to publish the Yearbook (1978-). The college subsequently introduced the Digest (1980-2), a newsletter entitled Stretto (1980-2) and then Newsletter (1983-). During the 1990s the RCCO published the periodical Pipelines/ Bouches et anches, followed by Organ Canada/ Orgue Canada (1997-). The college has published separate reports on church acoustics, console standardization, and, of particular importance to the college in its role as a professional organization, The Employment of a Church Musician: A Guide for Canadian Churches (1985). The college has also published a biography of Healey Willan (1979), Technique for Choirs by John Cook (1960, reprinted 1985), and William Wright's Let's commission a work! (1985). News of the college's activities have been published in Musical Canada (1921-33), the US monthly The Diapason (1933-68), and in the American Guild of Organists' official magazines, Music (1967-78) and The American Organist (1979-). The latter is co-published by the RCCO and the AGO and is the official journal of both organizations.