Patrick Salah

Seminarian has the music in him

  • March 20, 2021

Deacon Patrick Salah did portray a priest during playtime at home when he was very young, but the Halifax, N.S., product first truly felt the call to serve the Lord shortly after his first year of Bachelor of Music studies at Dalhousie University in 2011.

Salah, 19 at the time, said he was coming off a “pretty difficult first year because “it was a lonely road” to be the only organ student in his year. Accompanying the aloneness was a busy and unrelenting schedule. After all, Salah was tackling a full course load while also serving as the director of music for St. Benedict Parish at least 20 hours per week.

“I kind of had a vision that (my first year) was going to be the most wonderful experience ever and it was kind of not,” admitted Salah, who turns 29 in late April as he prepares to be ordained to the priesthood for the Halifax-Yarmouth archdiocese. “It was overwhelming, challenging and I was discouraged by the whole thing.”

Salah recounted his journey toward the priesthood shortly after the March 2 virtual Ordinadi Dinner hosted by the Serra Club, where he was one of seven men honoured as the Class of 2021 from St. Augustine’s Seminary and Redemptoris Mater Seminary.

Experiencing doubts about his future in music, Salah found himself alone one afternoon in Halifax’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. He knelt down and beseeched God to tell him what to do.

“He said very clearly to me that ‘you are where you need to be for now,’ ” said Salah. “I had a hunch that the ‘for now’ meant the priesthood, and that shocked me because I hadn’t thought about the priesthood since I was a kid. But I took for sure that it was God’s will for me to finish my music degree.”

Reinvigorated, Salah’s enjoyment and performance trajectory at Dalhousie trended upward straight to his convocation in 2015.

Even though Dalhousie is a secular institution, Salah performed religious choral compositions, but the sacred music sound “felt a bit flat” to him in that setting “because they weren’t being sung in the context of faith.”

“Whereas at (St. Benedict) I didn’t have a choir that was as refined as the university choir, it was the parish choral practices I was most excited for because of the knowledge we were singing that music in the way it was intended, which is giving glory to God,” he said.

Following in the footsteps of his older sister Michelle, Salah began his musical education as a pianist under the guidance of Lynda Tyler, who taught music in Halifax for nearly 40 years. Tyler, now 77, has fond memories of mentoring the future priest.

“He was a wonderful student and he was so inquisitive,” said Tyler. “He loved to learn and he would ask a lot of questions, but the questions he asked were valid and were not just to stall time. He puts a lot of thought in everything he does.”

It was Tyler who encouraged Salah to participate in the music ministry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish when he was 12. Salah got increasingly involved and ultimately emerged as the first music director of St. Benedict Parish in 2010 when three parishes merged.

Salah worked with choral members across the age spectrum — some 50 to 60 years his senior — over four years helming the music ministry. Tyler said her former pupil is very gifted at inspiring the singers and instrumentalists he conducts.

“People would have laid down and died for him. He had a smile that would say ‘you are going to do this for me, aren’t you,’” said Tyler with a laugh. “He really is quite a fellow.”

Salah ultimately discerned the priesthood was the path for him to follow after leaving Dalhousie. Attending Toronto’s St. Augustine’s Seminary was a natural choice considering many priests in Halifax-Yarmouth study there. He continued in music ministry, serving as an organist at St. Augustine’s for nearly six years, and he is currently helping four brother seminarians learn the instrument.

Salah will also be one of the seminarian musicians who will perform at Songs from the Seminary, An Evening of Music in honour of Our Blessed Mother, a fundraising concert on April 15. The proceeds from this event are going towards purchasing a new altar for the seminary.

While incorporating organ playing into liturgical services that features him as the presider is not in his future, singing and instrumentality will be.

“You can take Patrick out of music, but you can’t take the music out of Patrick. It will always be a part of me and how I encounter the Lord and it will be an avenue on how I will help others experience the Lord as well,” he said.

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