I remember first becoming interested in the organ after having heard Stanford’s Morning, Communion, and Evening Service in C at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, ON,; I’d quite literally never heard anything like it and I was floored. I was doing my undergraduate at Queen’s University at the time in piano and composition, and I decided to apply for the introductory organ scholarship with the local RCCO Centre. I thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted to continue studying after the scholarship had ended, but I soon found myself having to prioritize preparing piano recitals and composition commissions. So, unfortunately, organ fell by the wayside.
A few years later, after having finished my master’s in composition at the University of Toronto, I found myself looking for work in the city. I’d been playing the piano in churches since starting music in my teens, and given my (albeit very limited) experience on the organ, it made sense to me that I apply to church music positions in the area. I ended up landing at Graceview Presbyterian Church, Etobicoke, where I still serve as music director today. Shortly after starting the job though, it hit me that I should really know how to play this instrument properly if I wanted to succeed as a church musician. Dr. Pat Wright (whose choir I had spent some time in a year or two earlier) recommended that I reach out to Aaron James about lessons. All I can say is he has been an outstanding friend and teacher, and I’m happy to have been working with him ever since. I continue to have amazing experiences with the organ, including my first concert as a guest organist this past fall, and certainly not least of which was the incredible festival I was able to attend last summer.
More than anything, I think the organ (and church music, more generally) interests me because it offers a medium for music-making that’s very different from other activities I engage in as an artist. I value the fact that the music I make on Sunday morning is not commodified in the same sense as my other work, even if I do earn a wage from it in the end. At the same time, the reason why I make music in this setting is crystal-clear. Despite the fact that I don’t believe the same things as most church-goers, for me and for many other RCCO members, I know that purpose is to create an environment which makes it easier for these community members to worship, reflect, pray, and maybe occasionally doze off. As I was sitting in the basement during the pandemic, sketching, composing, wondering who was ever going to hear the music I was writing, the organ gave me a sense of personal and artistic grounding that I desperately needed. Without that experience, I don’t think I would be a musician today.