A Musical Gift

By Thomas Bell, Music Director

Join us at St. Paul's for Organ Recitals on March 6, April 10 and June 5.

Posted on February 24, 2016

What is over a hundred years old, is between one inch and 32 feet high, speaks with a voice both virtually inaudible and nearly deafening, and weighs approximately 30 tons? The answer is... the St. Paul’s pipe organ!

Behind the rows of massive grey organ pipes we see in the Sanctuary lies one of the most interesting and treasured musical instruments in Toronto.

We are delighted that a series of Sunday afternoon recitals will allow us to uncover some of the hidden artistry of the organ – sounds which are often left unheard. These free concerts, starting on March 6 and lasting an hour each, will provide not only time to listen to some wonderful music, but more importantly time to listen to ourselves and, above all, to God.

The organ at St. Paul’s has a fascinating history. When it was donated by Mrs. T. Gibbs Blackstock and her family, it was reputed to be the fifth largest organ in the world. The plans for the new organ had to match the ambitious scale of the building. But what sounds should fill the massive neo-Gothic church?

Responsibility for this delightful problem was given to an English organ consultant by the name of Lt. Col. George Dixon (who later designed many famous instruments including organs at Norwich and Carlisle cathedrals, and the colossus at the Royal Albert Hall). Not only the size of the instrument (and the cost!) had to be assessed, but the tone of the various sounds, their combinations, and – crucially – the physical placement of each pipe had to be carefully considered. The design at St. Paul’s was quite an accomplishment as there are 7,461 pipes in the organ. These were arranged into seven different ‘families’ of related sounds, each occupying a chamber or ‘room’ in the organ. Each month or two the organ tuners must clamber around the very tight spaces in the organ gallery to adjust various pipes that have slipped out of place, often due to changes in temperature.

We are blessed at St. Paul's to have such a unique and distinctive instrument.

Everyone is most welcome to attend the upcoming recitals. If you are unable to come, but would simply like to investigate the instrument a little further and to ask a few questions, please speak to me after any 11 a.m. Sunday services. I would be delighted to introduce you to one of St. Paul’s oldest, loudest, and least-known assets, the ‘Blackstock Memorial Organ’.

The recitals are as follows:

Sunday, March 6 at 3 p.m.
Matthew Whitfield, Director of Music at St. John’s Norway Anglican Church and past Peaker Organ Scholar at St. Paul’s
Music by Bach and Messiaen

Sunday, April 10 at 3 p.m.
Thomas Bell, Director of Music at St. Paul’s
Music by Bach, Boellmann and Widor

Sunday, June 5 at 3 p.m.
Sarah Svendson, Director of Music at Collier Street United Church, Barrie
Music by Bach and Willan, including music written for the St. Paul’s organ.