Glebe-St. James seeks funds for new digital organ

James Caswell at the console of the organ at Glebe-St. James United Church. The church is raising funds for a state-of-the art, hand-built digital organ to underpin a renewed post-pandemic music vision.   Photo: Pam Fitch

By Elizabeth Elton

Imagine one instrument with a range of sounds and colours that can represent all the voices of an orchestra and choir. That instrument is an organ, a much-loved part of the music program at Glebe-St. James United Church. James Caswell, minister of music at the church, suggests “the sound of the organ supports the congregation and community in times of deep sadness, great joy and everything in between.”

On March 22, the church embarked on a major fundraising campaign to purchase a new Phoenix digital organ for about $150,000. Within a week, the congregation received more than $90,000 in pledges. This new organ with 2021 technology will replace the existing Casavant Freres pipe organ that was installed in the sanctuary almost one hundred years ago.

The new organ will be hand built by the Phoenix company in Peterborough, Ontario. Current digital technology allows for complex sound sampling that mirrors some of the greatest organs ever constructed. Each digital organ installation is unique because sound engineers build the organ to match the church’s acoustics. The Phoenix system ensures that every note is responsive, even when playing very fast passages. These organs require little maintenance and retain their value for many years. The whole organ, excluding speakers, is about the size of the current console. To learn more about the Phoenix digital organ system or to hear samples of their installations, go to phoenixorgans.com.

Caswell perceives the importance of the organ as fundamental to expanding Glebe-St. James’s musical outreach. “We can build a music program that reaches beyond the walls of Glebe-St. James into the community and invites the community into our space,” he said. “There is energy right now to do this.” As part of this expansion of the role of music at the church, he is producing a series of podcasts about organs and the renewal project. They can be found at glebestjames.ca/the-organ-in-worship-a-podcast.

“Glebe-St. James is an ama

zing church with a long history of music-making,” said Pam Fitch, a long-time choir member and coordinator of the fundraising campaign. “We have a wonderful community choir and even during this pandemic, our numbers continue to grow. We’d like to widen our reach into the community with more musical opportunities. The organ is not the only part of our music program, but it is essential to developing music in worship.”

As with everything during the pandemic, this time has provided significant challenges as well as opportunities. One year ago, when church doors were closed, live choral singing was silenced and worship moved online, music became more important than ever for the congregation. The Worship Committee acquired the expertise and equipment to produce virtual and live-streamed services. Music in different forms continues to be a significant part of worship, and three singers sing from the sanctuary during each livestreamed service. Under Caswell’s leadership, the choir continues practising using Zoom and has even expanded its numbers, drawing new members and old friends from across the country. They have prepared numerous virtual anthems that have been shared hundreds of times. You can hear one of these anthems here: youtube.com/watch?v=aFmLHVEOeNM.

After the new organ is installed and when it is safe to do so, the community will be invited to visit to see and hear the new organ and to be part of a new vision of music at Glebe-St. James and beyond.

Elizabeth Elton is a long-time member of the choir at Glebe-St. James United Church.

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