Hans-Ola Ericsson, right, passes on his wisdom to young organ enthusiasts. Photo courtesy of Hans-Ola Ericsson

Organ enjoying a renaissance in Canada, in and out of the church

By 
  • November 17, 2012

TORONTO - The pipe organ has held an inimitable place in Western musical canon since the 16th century. However, the instrument that is the cornerstone of the Church’s sacred musical practice is in the midst of an undeniable renaissance, both in Canada and abroad, in and out of the Church.

An indicator is the appointment of several internationally revered organ masters to prominent appointments in Canadian institutions — most notably Hans-Ola Ericsson, Swedish organist, composer and technician who has been appointed to the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal. Ericsson will be reaching Toronto audiences on Nov. 23 when he performs at the Church of the Holy Trinity.

“I’m obviously looking forward, very much, to performing in Toronto since it’s one of the big centres of Canadian music, and a very respected school of music,” said Ericsson of his first engagement outside of Montreal since his appointment at McGill.

Ericsson will be performing works from Bach and Messaien amongst others at Holy Trinity. He is also hosting a master class for some of the University of Toronto’s organ students. He notes the pedigree of young organists in Canada is laudable.

“I have been very impressed, I must say. The undergraduates that I teach here at McGill, they are very fine and they know their way around (the instrument),” said Ericsson. “They’re very capable… They are very eager at the ages of 18 and 19 and have a great working capacity.”

The trend towards an emerging talent pool of organists is blossoming across the country and outside the spectrum of the universities as well.

“We have had several young pianists introduced to the organ over the past decade and they are all doing really well in their careers as professional organists,” said Gordon Mansell, founder of the ORGANIX organ festival and member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.

This interest has thrown weight behind, and perhaps fostered, a number of new organ-related projects in the country.

“Here in Montreal… due to the fabulous work of my predecessor John Grew, we have the Montreal Summer Organ Academy… which is a great thing for reaching out to young people,” said Ericsson. “Also of course, the CIOC (Canadian International Organ Competition), which is happening next year for the third time in Montreal. I see a lot of initiatives happening.”

In addition to the organ’s prominence in Canadian academic study and performance, the instrument is moving up in the liturgical landscape as well.

“We had a vibrant organ culture through the mid- to late-1970s,” said Mansell. “However, as the demographics of Canada changed with many people coming from places where either Western art music or organ music are foreign to their practise of faith — such as the case of people arriving from hot climates — then the preferred instrumentation for church services is more likely to be guitars.”

Ericsson also stresses the organ’s vitality within the liturgical context. His own achievements and compositions with the instrument are also highly regarded in the church. He was an integral part of the Project Studio Acusticum in Pitea, Sweden.

“It’s everything as an instrument within the service, within the Mass,” said Ericsson.

“An instrument underlining the worship and the service, as such, that can give colour, but also be able to be an instrument that can stand on its own, this is so important.”

With local innovators like Mansell already established in Canada, the hope is that the injection of international credential will only further the already prolific field of organists.

“Their experience is different from ours. Perhaps a bit exotic,” said Mansell of his European contemporaries.

“They are confident, well balanced in their musical tastes and can deliver an exciting program. They are quite accustomed to large audiences and know how to reach out to them to make them feel welcomed and entertained.

“Likewise, when an institution settles on a talent that has a more international base of experience, that institution is saying that they are serious about the future of the organ and they are interested in developing an organ culture of high international status.”

Ericsson echoes this sentiment.

“I hope, and I think, that there will be a great future for organ music. There are many wonderful young players that reach out to an audience that perhaps is a new audience.”

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.