Some have asked, “Why was the Royal Canadian College of Organists’ annual convention held in Winnipeg?”
Winnipeg, an ancient meeting place at the intersection of two rivers, is richly layered with history and culture, boasting many fine organs, choirs and orchestral players who provided us with a thrilling week of workshops and concerts this July.
The organizers of this year’s RCCO convention brilliantly linked our small musical fellowship with the wider urban community, connecting our festival with the world-class Museum of Human Rights, recently opened right around the corner from the Via Rail train station. The Museum is a thought-provoking examination of the history of human rights through the latest curatorial techniques, with high-tech interactive exhibits. Beyond the exhaustive, informative material, the building itself provides a peerless architectural experience, with a soaring tower, accessible ramps lined with alabaster, the strength of stone and movement of water all congealing in a glorious, modern re-interpretation of nature.
Some have asked, “Why is this museum in Winnipeg?” I found the museum fairly critical of Canada’s human rights record, so perhaps being out West gives it a little physical arms’ length from the Nation’s capital, and the autonomy required for a rigorous examination of such politically charged topics.
Our conference was enlivened by the presence of many young people participating in the RCCO Organ Academy for students, and the bi-annual organ performance competition. The finalists competing for prizes displayed a very high standard of playing, and their innovative repertoire and energy provided gripping entertainment for those of us in the audience cheering them on.
Three newly commissioned works were performed during the week. Fellow composers Len Enns, Tim Corlis and I were tasked with writing new works for choir and organ that reflected the theme of human rights. We all took up the challenge, and thanks to Elroy Friesen and his accomplished choir Canzona, each of the new works was performed masterfully. My piece, They shall pass through the land,is now published by Kelman Hall in Waterloo.
James David Christie was the engaging resource person for the conference. Through master classes and recitals he imparted such depth of knowledge and passion for the organ and its repertoire that I shall go back to school with renewed enthusiasm for teaching my own harpsichord and organ students at York University!
In my spare time I visited the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG). To my delight an abbreviated Shakespeare play was performed that afternoon within the gallery. Also highly recommended: historic Fort Garry Hotel with an elegant spa boasting a rare “Hamam” turkish bath, many great walks along the river, poignant ruins of St. Boniface cathedral, and a plethora of 19th century architecture.
It was a particular joy to meet Lottie Enns one of the key Winnipeg organizers, whose committee was very successful in welcoming the entire community to the concerts. Each event was basically sold out – a real triumph in connecting organ and choral music enthusiasts from across the city.