Dr. Patricia Wright talks about 35 years of Canada’s largest organ

Dr. Patricia Wright (Photo by artist)
Dr. Patricia Wright (Photo by artist)

Canada’s largest organ is housed in the Metropolitan United Church in a relatively undemanding corner of downtown Toronto. For about 35 years Dr. Patricia Wright has been a man who stops all steps, as if the minister of music of the church, organist and guardian of the hippopotamus, who is Casavant Opus 1367.

Wright recently announced her future retirement and is looking back on her career with Ludwig.

Mighty Casavan Opus 1367

The first organ was installed on the site in 1872, but burned down along with the church in 1928. This led to the reconstruction and still Causant.

  • Built by Casavan Fres from Quebec in 1930 with 5 leadership and 121 ranks;
  • Update in the 1980s and 1990s;
  • Gallery of 7 stops, 2 branches, established in 1998;
  • It currently includes 8,333 pipes and 500 miles of wire.

About Dr. Patricia Wright

Dr. Wright is an experienced musician who has left his mark not only in the world of organists, but also far beyond it.

  • Degree in Organ Performance at Carnegie Mellon University and PhD in Musical Arts from Yale University;
  • Studied in France with Nadia Boulanger and Jean Langle;
  • Founding member of the United Church of Canada Association of Musicians and former national president of the Royal Canadian College of Organists;
  • Associate Professor of Organ, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto and appointed to Emanuel College for a Master of Sacred Music;
  • In September 2010, he was appointed Minister of Music of the Congregation, the first in the United Church of Canada.

She has performed as a solo artist throughout North America and Europe. She recently collaborated with the poet Patricia Orr in the issue “Bach in Time: Let There Be Beauty”.

Questions and answers

What made you focus on the organ as a musician and in a position at the Metropolitan?

For the first time, I played a small organ – not very good – at my home Presbyterian church in the small town of Western Pennsylvania, and I liked the complexity of it and the music – especially Bach; (Bach is still my favorite composer – organ, choral, instrumental). After studying in Pittsburgh and New Haven, my first husband and I moved to Ottawa, where he was hired to teach at the University of Ottawa. I also taught there – choral art, music history, organ – and became an organist of the First Baptist Church and then the United Dominion-Chalmers Church. A change of job brought us to Guelph, and towards the end of our first year there my predecessor, Dr. Melville Cook, left the Metropolitan. I applied and I was lucky to be appointed. It was a great honor for me to be the head of the instrument and the wonderful musical tradition in the Metropolitan.

What does a normal day / week at your job look like?

Before a pandemic, organ exercises are usually performed in the morning, and worship planning meetings are held on some days. Staff meetings, evening board meetings, music and worship committee meetings, bell choir and metropolitan choir rehearsals on Thursday nights, training of my Toronto students and our organist Wayne K. Vance, anthem planning time, concert planning and concert preparation – we usually spend the weekly Noon at Met series with local organists, vocalists and instrumentalists – and our Music at Metropolitan concert series.

On a regular Sunday I come early to have a little organ warm-up, a 45-minute rehearsal with one of our children’s choirs, a 15-minute warm-up with the Metropolitan Choir, and then a 15-minute organ prelude on Sunday. maintenance.

For 45-50 years Metropolitan has held a concert on Good Friday with the Metropolitan Festival Choir (our Sunday Choir and others) and an orchestra. Over the last 35 years we have had numerous Bach performances Passions for John, B minor Mass, Mozart Requiem, Brahms Requiem, Requiems for Roter and Chilka, works by Canadian composers, Cantatas by Bach, Rachmaninoff Evening, concerts of poetry and music, etc. What an incredible opportunity I had to present great works!

As well as other vocal, instrumental and choral concerts, we presented three complete productions Joseph and his strange cloak of dreams, and production from God’s spell, Oliver, and last November the global event Music Theater International All together now. I have a great team of great musicians to work with to make it all possible.

Our series of concerts also featured some of the world’s best organists, often in collaboration with the Toronto Center of the Royal Canadian College of Organists, as well as with the Canadian International Organ Competition.

We also have a new live broadcast system in Met with multiple cameras and a new sound system.

What’s in this post that you think the average layman doesn’t know?

Although I love playing the organ, rehearsals and organ performances are only a small part of what I do. I spend much more time planning choral pieces for services and concerts, working with other members of the music staff, working with ministry staff and other staff both at services and at other events at the Metropolitan.

What is involved in maintaining Canada’s largest body?

For many years, the Metropolitan has been determined to support both our historical instruments, the organ, as well as our historic 54-bell corillon (the first tuned corillon in North America). These instruments are important in the worship of the Metropolitan, but also in our spiritual reach of the community and beyond.

The organ was and continues to be served by Alan T. Jackson’s organ company from Toronto – representatives of Casavant, who built both the original instrument in 1930 and an addition to the gallery in 1998. Every month, tuners come to us at noon to eliminate leaks, computer malfunctions, etc., as well as adjust, especially, reed tubes, which easily fail. Thanks to the generosity of donors over the years, we have little money in excess of our annual budget to help with the inevitable problems caused by the dry Canadian winter (cracking wood and skin) and age.

Patricia Wright at the Metropolitan United organ
Image courtesy of the artist

What role have you played in the modernization and other work that has been done on the organ over the years? It seems like it would be a complicated project in many ways, no matter the details.

I hope for experts who are just as determined as me to keep the body in good shape. Shortly before I arrived at the Met, Dr. Cook installed the first “memory level” system, a two-tier system that allowed us to have two sets of pistons (just as we organists store the right sounds for different pieces). In the end, we upgraded what we have now – 200 levels of memory. In addition, we cleaned the cane, we re-equipped all the original organs (7900 tubes, each with its own leather bag), we made an electronically controlled console that allows us to place it on a moving platform so the audience could see the organist during the concert.

Looking back, is there anything – an aspect of the work, or perhaps a specific moment or event (or all of the above) – Is it remarkable for you? Is there anything special that you learned from common experience?

There are a lot of them – those moments at the service or concert, when I feel that the gathering or the audience is touched by music; working with many wonderful people – my choirs, ministers and other staff, and especially children; training such gifted young people – we have mentored quite a few organists at the Metropolitan who are now pursuing their careers; do organ demonstrations for the public (and again for children) during “Doors Open Toronto” or after one of our “Phantoms of the Organ” concerts and see their eyes light up from the amazing sounds of the organ; lead the choir at Roy Thomson Hall for their 2019 Christmas concert at noon – what a thrill!

I would like to emphasize that the greatest joy was the addition of a 7-stop gallery and 400 trumpets in 1998. This certainly adds registration capabilities, but most importantly, supports the singing of the Congregation’s anthem.

What do you hope for the future of Casavant Opus 1367 and Metropolitan? For organ music in general?

I hope that this tool will inspire generations of congregations, audiences and students – and that the Metropolitan continues to be a beacon of light and hope in central Toronto through his worship, his spiritual reach of music and art, and outreach to vulnerable populations. The organ still remains a very exciting, live instrument – using air (like our human voices) to create sound – I was a jury member at the Canadian International Organ Competition last October, and we have so many talented young players around the world and here in Toronto. We must continue to help them realize their dreams.

My husband William and I took two tours of historical German organs, and the admiration of our friends and students, who are experiencing a long history of organ, was so exciting.

Any plans for the future you would like to share?

I still have students to teach, but other than that I will see what happens. I have a family, including a new grandson to enjoy!


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