The Epistle of Q — Chapter 118

Music in Cathedrals & Other Great Places of Worship…

Is it because I am a sinner that I receive such good vibes when I hear powerful ecclesiastical music coming from choirs and/or pipe organs? Often these presentations are as moving as good sermons. I was reminded of this recently as I sat outside Westminster Presbyterian in Smiths Falls, Ontario. In 1964 my father was inducted into the pulpit of this church and he served it and the congregation for nine years. He loved the music that the organist, the choir and the magnificent organ produced on a weekly basis. I had the good fortune of actually preaching in that pulpit in the spring of 1965 and the memories of that Sunday also returned this week – I don’t recall the sermon I preached, but I do remember being thoroughly uplifted by the music.

Every so often friends and colleagues will send me references to good music that can be found somewhere on the internet. Not too long ago I was directed to some performances from the choirs at Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago. Now I must admit to a bias here; next to St. Andrew & St. Paul in Montreal, Fourth is my favourite church in which to worship in the world. I have enjoyed many a great sermon since I first found the place back in the eighties and now if I am anywhere near Chicago on a Sunday I go there. The music is great and if you don’t believe me, get out your old DVD (or VHS) of My Best Friend’s Wedding and enjoy for yourself. The music I was fortunate enough to hear the other day was a series of variations of a wonderful anthem by voices who obviously love to sing.

It got me thinking about how lucky I am to have access to YouTube and even specific church sites, and not just because of Covid-19. A&P have made a number of their choral productions available. Many churches, including Zion in Charlottetown are placing year-old services on their site so that the full worship experience, including music, can be enjoyed. While I enjoy getting an entire service, I can sit and listen for hours to the musicals productions, especially if there is a good pipe organ accompanying a good choir. Sometimes it does not even have to be music specific to a religious moment.

But it also reminds me of another sad aspect of the evolving CBC Stereo/Radio 2 experiment. The revamping that has been going on seems mindless. Ruining the early morning with Tom Allen by replacing with music that sounds like it could be any number of pop-type stations; then adding insult to injury by allowing him only one hour of classical music in the afternoon before he shifts to other genres that only remind me of how good Jorgen Goethe was with DiscDrive (where I can still remember the day he introduced us all to Diana Krall). But the real disaster (in addition to losing Ross Porter and his jazz show) is what they’ve done to Choral Concert. Getting Kathryn Duncan to host was a very smart move; but, reducing the time slot to one hour is a travesty. Howard Dyck was not my favourite host, but at least we were treated to such a wide variety of choral music from all over the world. Choral competitions, presentations backed by great pipe organs, and hearing from a multitude of festivals and concert halls made this a Sunday morning must listen. Now Ms. Duncan barely has a chance to get through a small play list and the show is over. Does CBC think that too many sinners were tuning in? Were the suits worried that we would miss the screeching that the early Sunday show has and so it got to have the extra hour at the expense of the cathedrals? Who do they think actually gets up early on Sunday?

Oh well, I shouldn’t complain. I now have satellite radios in my vehicles and Stingray on my tv and my phone. So I can tune out CBC whenever I wish and still remain a sinner and get my fill of great ecclesiastical music. But don’t expect me to keep supporting the huge government subsidies. One thing that Covid-19 has taught me: I no longer need CBC but I do need great moments of choirs & pipe organs. Thank you YouTube, thank you churches that post on the internet, and thank you composers who have made life so much better for those of us who have yet to gain access to angelic wings…