Chapter 5: Ministry of Music

Introduction

Music has enriched worship and most other facets of congregational life at Elmwood. A quote from the 1975 History "From the early days when everyone sang out heartily to support the piano in the school auditorium, to the present time when they have books with music and can readily follow an unfamiliar tune, Elmwood has been a singing congregation. This response has made the Ministry of Music in our church a joyful and enriching experience".

Instruments

Congregational singing was accompanied by a piano in Victoria School and in the new church sanctuary until the new organ was installed in 1928. The Karn-Warren two-manual pipe organ, built in 1901, was purchased from Chalmers Church in Woodstock. Thus it was a Presbyterian organ.

By 1967 it became apparent that much work was required to keep the instrument in repair, and as well a more modern instrument with greater choice of stops for more variety in registration was sought. An organ committee was appointed at the Annual Meeting in 1968. After more deliberation, professional consultation from the London organ builder Gabriel Kney, and the highly regarded local organist, Barrie Cabena was obtained.

Mr. Kney's assessment of the condition of the organ and suggestions for a new instrument are contained in a letter dated June 9, 1967.

"When the organ was built, around the turn of the century, the builders Karn-Warren of Woodstock were unaware of the climatic problems to which their instruments were to be exposed in later years, such as very dry air as a result of central heating during the winter, and the contrasting high humidity during the summer months. As a result they did not consider problems which could arise due to expansion and contraction of the wooden parts of the windchests. The shrinkage of the topboards, which are connected pneumatically to the rest of the chest action, is bound to result in minute leakages of air and hence cyphers. Such cyphers may sometimes be cured on a temporary basis, but cannot be eliminated as long as these chests are retained. In addition to the chest design problem, the leather of the pneumatic valves inside the chests has become too fragile and porous and will no longer respond in a reliable fashion.

"In view of the above findings it is my considered opinion that most of the organ should be replaced with a newly designed instrument. The attached sample specification might serve as a starting point for further discussions and I would be pleased to meet with you or your committee at any time to discuss any questions in regard to my suggestions."

After due consideration a decision was made to have Gabriel Kney build a new organ at a cost of about $20,000. Installation took place in 1969 and dedication in December of that year. Don McGhee, as chairperson of the Board of Managers during this period was in fact the chairperson of the Organ Committee in 1968 - 1970. Don can take much credit for the planning concerning the new organ, and financing of the project. He also deserves a lot of credit for piloting the organ project through some rough waters to completion. After all, everyone does not have the same level of appreciation of sacred choral and organ music and "one of the electric instruments would be a lot less expensive". From the first service, everyone realized what a blessing had fallen to Elmwood with the new organ. Since the new organ was installed, a greater variety of sacred music and much more from the organ literature has enriched the musical experience of the Elmwood congregation.

In recent years, on several occasions each year, guest instrumentalists have taken part in services, especially string and brass ensembles, further adding to the joy of music.

Engaging guest musicians has been made possible through the Joyce McGhee Music Fund, established in 1990 as a memorial to a long-time choir member and occasional soloist. The interest and 10% of the principle annually may be used on authority of the Director of Music. Joyce McGhee possessed a rich mezzo-soprano voice which delighted all who heard her, not only during worship services, but at various concerts and social events. Her husband, Don, has already been mentioned as the person who provided leadership on the Organ Committee. Their son Alistair has inherited his mother's talent for singing. A choir member for 35 years, Alistair's robust baritone regularly enhances worship and adds much pleasure to musical concerts and entertainments which still take place often.

Organists

The Elmwood congregation has been blessed by exceptional musical leaders for almost 90 years. The tradition of high quality choral and instrumental music has richly enhanced and complemented strong preaching and teaching to create a meaningful, worshipful atmosphere. Bert Van der Hoek  has been the most remarkable of those leaders, having held the position of organist and choir director at Elmwood for 49 years. However, he had numerous predecessors who helped to build that tradition and he has been succeeded by Lorraine Clark, who has very capably maintained Elmwood's strong musical standards.

Margaret (McLeish) Turville, pianist, 1925 - 1928

One of several members of the McLeish family who remained active members of Elmwood for many years. Mrs. Turville played piano for the twenty-one months of services held at Victoria School.

George Downs, 1928 - 1929

First organist and choir director.

Ernest O'Dell, 1929 - 1930

Little is known of this man whose term was brief.

Luther Jackson, 1930 - 1947

Expanded the musical programme to include regular spring concerts, and for a few years, a small orchestra. Ethel McAlpine, a charter member, when she was 15 or 16 years old, remembers playing cello in the orchestra. She remembers Mr. Jackson as a rather outgoing, flamboyant man with drive and enthusiasm for his work. She also remembers sitting in the back row in church with other young people when occasionally they would have a good giggle when Mr. Jackson made mistakes in the playing of hymns.

Lincoln Cooper, 1947 - 1948

A temporary replacement following Mr. Jackson's resignation.

Kathleen McGilton, 1949 - 1960

Remembered by several present members as a quiet, dignified lady who provided strong, steady leadership for the choir and during worship services until her retirement in 1960.

Bert Van der Hoek, 1960 - 2009

Bert Van der Hoek Image

Bert came as a young man to Elmwood from St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, Ingersoll. In many respects he put Elmwood "on the map" musically in London. His knowledge of sacred and secular choral music and the high standards he set for choristers and soloists alike spelled "quality". His competence as an organist meant that hymn singing became and remains a vital part of each service at Elmwood. His skills at the keyboard made for seamless worship services with improvised interludes to lead from one portion of the service to another. Several of his choral compositions have been published and some have been recorded by various choirs. Choirs from London and area have performed some of Bert's compositions while on tour in the United Kingdom at locations such as St. Paul's Cathedral. The following is a sampling of the titles written by Bert: Love Divine (1967), My God and Is Thy Table Spread (1967), Let All The World (1976), O Splendour of God's Glory Bright (Commissioned by RCCO for 2005 Convention in London), O Little Town of Bethlehem (Also commissioned by RCCO London Centre), and O Lord Support Us (2014). In 2000, he led the Elmwood Choir in the recording of a CD entitled “Let All the World in Every Corner Sing”, to help mark the 75th anniversary of the establishment of our church. He gained his Associateship diploma from the Royal Canadian College of Organists (RCCO) in 1971, continues to be active in the London Centre, and in 2014 was granted honourary life membership in this organization.

Bert Van der Hoek continues to enjoy great respect and affection from the Elmwood choir, congregation, and colleagues throughout southwestern Ontario. His affability, friendliness, and outgoing personality are as much a part of the Elmwood scene as the organ, which he loves, and which is so much a part of him. As a gesture of respect and acknowledgment of his many years of service, he was appointed Organist Emeritus of Elmwood Avenue Presbyterian Church after his retirement as Music Director.

Lorraine Clark, 2009 to present

Mrs.Lorraine Clark Image

Lorraine Clark was appointed as Organist and Choir Director at Elmwood in 2009. She attended the University of Western Ontario, and received an Honours Bachelor of Music degree and a Bachelor of Education degree from that institution. She began her career as a music teacher at the high school in Aylmer, Ontario for 14 years. She later transferred to London where she taught elementary school music for another 16 years. Since retiring from teaching, Lorraine has combined her love of the church with her love of music, and finds much fulfillment in her work as Music Director. Lorraine believes that music is an integral part of every worship service. She also believes that church music should reflect the joy and depth of our faith in every anthem and hymn we sing, and in every instrumental piece we hear.

The Senior Choir at Elmwood is a dedicated and exceptionally strong group of singers who offer so much to every service, and Lorraine considers it a privilege to work with them each week. The anthems and solos which are sung by the choir are a mixture of classical and more contemporary styles that have a wide range of appeal, contributing to the beauty and meaning of our worship.

Along with our very active Senior Choir, Lorraine works with a Junior Choir made up of children from the congregation. These children rehearse after church each Sunday, and they sing in the church services four or five times a year.

Both of our choirs are happy to welcome new members at any time, and we encourage those who love to sing to join us as we rehearse Thursday evenings, and lead the congregation each Sunday. 

The Choirs

The first choir was formally established in 1927 with about 25 members, shortly after the new church building was opened. During the 1930's, under Luther Jackson's direction, the choir was very busy. Spring concerts took place each year. At least 2 operettas were performed, running for two nights each at South Secondary School Auditorium. For several years Easter Cantatas were performed.

Attendance records were kept, and at an annual dinner for the choir, who were guests of the Board of Managers, "Awards were presented to the 'deserving'."

To be sure, these events and other choir activities were for the sake of good music and entertainment, but as well, they were profitable. Records indicate that the Choir, over these years, raised funds to meet a large part of the cost of the organ, paid for gowns and hats and the purchase of a growing library of anthems. After Mr. Jackson retired, it seems that the choir continued to play its part in the worship services, but was less active in other areas.

A junior choir was formed about 1966, and after a couple of years took part with distinction in the London Kiwanis Music Festival.

By 1970 the choir "came into its own". During the past 30 years, contemporary choral music has been tastefully blended with traditional works which have enhanced choir presentations. Excellent entertainments from full concerts like the Gown Shows of the 1970's to "Music from Broadway" more recently have "filled the house" providing much enjoyment for the congregation and the surrounding community.

The choir demonstrates a very strong commitment, a high level of cooperation and a large measure of affability. This spills over into the congregation at large since choir members are usually involved in other organizations and activities, where their dedication and enthusiasm are catching.

Elmwood continues as "a singing congregation where the ministry of music is a joyful and enriching experience."