Sunday, April 19, 2009

Musical Adventures in Nova Scotia

This afternoon Kay (Mrs. Padre) and I drove across Nova Scotia to the south shore - our destination being the historic port town of Lunenburg. St. John's, Lunenburg was the venue for a concert by two musical choirs: The first was the Ernst Family Singers, a Lunenburg-based family choir consisting of parents Gregg and Jennie and their eight (!) children. They were unknown to us and would prove to be a delightful surprise. The other choir was the Togni Consort, a group specializing in Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony, under the direction of Peter-Anthony Togni, who is well known to long-time listeners of CBC Two (or, to show my age, CBC FM). The concert was arranged by the St. Cecelia Concert Society, whose website describes their role as being "the premiere presenter of classical music in Atlantic Canada".

The venue for the concert couldn't have been lovelier. St. John's Anglican Church is the second-oldest Anglican church in Canada, and is in the centre of the beautiful port town of Lunenburg, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. On a personal note, Bishop Bruce Howe, who ordained me when he served as Bishop of Huron in 2004, was rector of St. John's from 1980 to 1988. The current Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Fred Hiltz, was also rector of St. John's from 1988 to 1995.

St. John's maintains an excellent website and offers a virtual tour whose pictures are far better than the few poor digital pics I was able to take inside the church. One of the astonishing and inspiring things about the church is that it was virtually destroyed by fire in 2001, but was lovingly restored to its original 18th century appearance. You would be hard pressed to realize this fact if you were sitting inside and didn't know the story. This bell, donated by the Jessen family, was recovered from the church and now sites outside the church to tell the story.

The inside is ornate and dignified, in the Anglican neo-Gothic tradition of leaving no space undecorated. Here's a quick shot I sneaked of some of the Ernst family opening the concert.

The program of music was lovely and ambitious. In honour of today being Easter Sunday for the Orthodox Church, Togni chose several pieces from the Russian tradition, including sacred music by Sergei Rachmaninoff which complimented the male voices of his singers and of the Ernst family. The Ernsts - wow. I was expecting some sort of cliched gospel-signing family, but right off the bat they were dazzling, offering a polyphonic rendering of Psalm 97.3, Viderunt Omnes, where the individual syllables soared and stretched and interwove brilliantly. The Ernst family includes some talented arrangers - John Ernst gave us a lovely version of the spiritual "I am a Poor Wayfarin' Stranger". Together with the Togni Consort, the Ernsts gavea wonderful homage to Canadian black composer Nathaniel Dett, offering a beautiful rendering of his "Listen to the Lambs".

Kay and I drove the ninety minutes back to Greenwood well and truly fed by this wonderful afternoon of music. At times our little part of the province seems backward and isolated, but days like this remind us what a lovely and culturally rich place Nova Scotia can be. If you get the chance to catch the Ernsts and/or the Togni Consort, do so. You won't be disappointed.

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Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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