Over the past two weekends, we bade farewell to our beloved music director at Christ Church Cathedral, Patrick Wedd (far right,above) who is retiring after 22 years in this job, and 58 years in church music - he had his first job as an organist at the age of twelve. The previous weekend was a whirlwind of public events - a big Stravinsky concert with a wind ensemble on Saturday night, where our choir was joined by many former singers, then we sang the Stravinsky Mass again as part of the Sunday morning liturgy -- as the composer had intended. On Sunday afternoon we did a big, special Evensong, with music by Britten, Howells, and Jackson, followed by a reception for Patrick and his husband Rob, who has always sung with us, taken care of the music library, and even served as cathedral verger. It was a big deal, and a lot of work for those of us on the music committee who were in charge of all the events, fundraising, and publicity.
The poster for the Stravinsky concert, and the cover page from a folio of Patrick's music that we published as a gift for him. Patrick has been a prolific composer, and was a major contributor and advisor to the revised Canadian Anglican hymnal. We love singing the music Patrick has written for choir, and wanted to make more of it available to other groups.
Yesterday, though, was a quieter goodbye for our parish and the choir family. Instead of showy pieces, Patrick had chosen some of his more reflective favorites: Healey Willan in the morning, and Orlando Gibbons in the afternoon. The Gibbons was a perfect choice because it was St-Jean-Baptiste Day here, the national day in Quebec, which meant we could sing some Advent hymns about John the Baptist ("A voice crying in the wilderness/Prepare the way of the Lord"), sing the magnificent Gibbons Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and end with one of his greatest verse anthems, "This is the Record of John" for solo alto or counter-tenor and choir. The anthem was written by request sometime between 1611-1621 for St John's College, Oxford -- which is dedicated to John the Baptist -- and has been sung by Anglican choirs ever since.
Getting ready for Evensong rehearsal in the Cathedral's "crossing:" the area behind the forward altar, in front of the choir stalls, between the two side chapels. Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph, in the black top, has sung with Patrick since she was a little girl in the treble choir - like all the other former trebles, receiving a broad musical education in the process.
A Gibbons verse anthem in rehearsal - various soloists are singing the verse sections, and the entire choir comes in for the "chorus" sections, marked "Full" in the score. The high altar is behind us. Our assistant organists are accompanying this particular piece on a portative organ, behind the choir. The soloists, standing, are Michel Duval (bass 2), Catherine Murray (alto 2), Christine Jay (soprano 2), Ana Lewton-Brain (alto 1), Phil Dutton (tenor 1,behind Anna) and Carole Therrien (soprano 1).
It was difficult to have so many "last things" happen: the last rehearsal with Patrick in the choir room, the last time seeing him robe outside his office, the last Agnus Dei and post-communion motet, the last Sunday morning postlude. But Evensong was even harder, since it feels so much more intimate, and is something that is mainly the choir's responsibility. During the rehearsal for one of the Gibbons pieces, I stepped aside and took a few photographs. And after the final recessional, instead of going down to the undercroft to disrobe and put away our music during the organ postlude, we all stayed in the side pews to listen, and then posed on the chancel steps for a final, formal portrait with Patrick that will hang on the wall of the choir room for posterity, along with photographs of former choirs from other eras.
We were all struggling, I think, to keep up a professional appearance and not make things harder for Patrick, but I'm sure I wasn't the only one to shed a few tears. We celebrated, though, with champagne and treats after Evensong. One thing this choir knows how to do, besides sing, is enjoy a party!
In the choir room before Evensong, looking at a commemorative photobook that we gave to Patrick last weekend, with photographs from his more-than-two decades in Montreal. Carole Therrien and Normand Richard, left, are professionals who have sung with Patrick for more than twenty years. Margery Knewstub, holding the book, sang with him in other churches before coming here - she's been with Patrick for thirty years. Emily Hush, at right, was a faithful member of the choir during her years at McGill and came back to sing with us for these weeks after graduating from Columbia Law School last month. Behind them are Bob King and Bob Gibson, both longtime parishioners and volunteer singers in our choir - Bob King and his wife, Janet, have been singing in the choir since long before Patrick became director.
Some of my own discomfort about this transition comes from the questions Patrick's retirement brings up about my own music-making. I've never wanted to be one of those old ladies in a choir who get whispered about: "Why is she still here? Doesn't she know?" While I don't think I'm at that point yet -- I hope I'm still contributing -- will I know when it's time? When you're a beloved professional like Patrick, and stop well short of being an embarrassment, as he did, everyone feels like it's too soon. There's no perfect answer, but it's certainly better to exit gracefully too early rather than too late. Still, when making music together with other people in this form has been such a major part of one's life -- I've been singing in choirs since I was seven -- to stop feels like cutting off one of your limbs.
Patrick in the organ loft.
At last Saturday's concert, three of us gave short speeches. Here's mine.
It's one of the great privileges and joys of my life that I've been able to sing with Patrick for the past decade, and to sit next to the organ in the loft, watching him play. He's a consummate musician - which is clear through all the tributes you will hear and read throughout this weekend.
But tonight, I want to say a few words about Patrick not just as a musician, but as a person.
Someone with his talent and dedication certainly could have taken other paths in music, but I don't think it's an accident that Patrick has dedicated his life to being a musician in the Church. He rarely speaks about it, but those of us who know him well realize that his whole life is deeply informed by his beliefs, and the choices he has made about how to live and how to be. What we see is a profoundly good person, a cheerful person, a generous person, a kind person, a supportive and respectful person -- a true friend. The faithfulness and commitment of Patrick and Rob has also been an example to all of us.
As a leader, Patrick brings all of these qualities to our choir, and quietly influences how we behave toward each other. He often accepts blame for things that weren't really his fault, he never singles people out, he moves on after the inevitable mistakes and problems, and always looks forward with a positive attitude. He is almost never absent. Unlike many performing groups, this choir is not about Patrick or his ego: he encourages us to work as a team, to continually improve, and to care about each other. His approach is to build an atmosphere of mutual respect, offer a wide variety of the best material to work with, and then expect more of us than we think possible. As a result, we often surprise ourselves, and do our best to rise to the challenge presented by Patrick and the music. And we are loyal because he is loyal. We keep showing up, week after week, year after year, because we love what we do -- and because we love him.
As a cathedral music director, Patrick looks inward, because presenting this much music, week after week, at a very high level, requires a cohesive and committed group of musicians. But he also looks outward. Liturgical music encompasses a tradition, stretching back to the time of the psalms and even before, of composers and poets who tried to make sense of what it means to be human and mortal. The music is rich and complex, rather than simple, because human lives have never been simple and neither has the world. In order to interpret this music well, you have to look into yourself and outward toward the lives of others, and grow as a person over time.
Patrick has made lasting contributions to the great tradition of liturgical music as an interpreter and performer, a conductor, a teacher, and a composer. But his primary job in this place, week after week, has been to present a broad spectrum of music to a wide and unknown variety of people. It is a serious responsibility. We never know who has walked through these doors, or what is in their hearts, or what they are looking for. Maybe they're here every week for the services, or maybe they've just come in for a few minutes, bringing whatever is going on in their lives. All we can do is to sing and play what has been handed down to us to the very best of our abilities, and trust in the power of music itself to uplift, comfort, heal, and transform, and to express the mystery of being spiritual beings on a human journey. Patrick has done this with grace and integrity for an entire lifetime -- and what a privilege it has been to do it with him.
We will miss his presence here, but I think you will agree with me that the qualities of the teachers and leaders who've inspired us never leave us -- they form important and lasting parts of our own selves that help us as we meet life's challenges -- or try to sing a complicated line of music! I know that Patrick will continue to make music, and that we won't be strangers in this wonderful city that we call home. Our promise to you, Patrick, is to guard your legacy in this place, and to keep on singing all our lives. Thank you from all of us.