Bach ‘til you drop

By Bradley Turcotte – 

The Royal Canadian College of Organists (RCCO) will resurrect Johann Sebastian Bach for a “great music marathon” of the baroque composer’s works, April 22 at the Woodroffe United Church.

Knox United Church music director and RCCO member Alison Kranias explains performers range from neophyte to veteran and the programming of the event will “mix things up” with compositions played on the organ, piano, and violin in addition to choral performances of arias.

Donald Russell, Vija Kluchert, Donald Marjerrison, Dianne Smith, Samuel Lee and Sondra Goldsmith-Proctor at the Woodroffe United Church. Some of these musicians will be performing at this year’s Bach marathon on April 22. Photo submitted by Alison Kranias
Donald Russell, Vija Kluchert, Donald Marjerrison, Dianne Smith, Samuel Lee and Sondra Goldsmith-Proctor at the Woodroffe United Church. Some of these musicians will be performing at this year’s Bach marathon on April 22. Photo submitted by Alison Kranias

“One of my students just started this year, his song is going to be 20 seconds,” previews Alison. “We have people performing who have worked their whole lives as church organists.”

In addition to playing the organ, Alison teaches piano and is a skilled harpsichordist. The harpsichord is her first love, but Alison says the organ offers such a diverse range of sounds that she loves playing the organ almost “as much as [she] love[s] playing the harpsichord.”

Alison also works on concert programs and proofreads for the National Arts Centre.

Bach’s music is “intellectually stimulating” due to his use of counterpoints, interplays, and melody, says Alison.

“I just love the rhythms in it. Like much of the music at the time, it’s informed by a lot of dance rhythms,” observes Alison, adding that choosing a favourite piece by Bach is challenging, however, his fugues compositions are the “most exciting thing to play.”

RCCO member Don Marjerrisson, 70, first keyed an organ as a teenager in Apple Hill, outside of Ottawa. Don will play St. Anne’s fugue; a piece he’s enjoyed playing for many years.

The RCCO is a collective of professional musicians headquartered in Toronto with centres across the country, Don explains. The group supports “the aims of the college to enhance or to give exposure to the organ where they can.”

The RCCO stages the Pro Organo series of recitals and organizes organ crawls throughout the year.

Past organ crawls include excursions to Montreal, Perth and Rochester and Potsdam, both in New York state. The group seeks out unique and rare organs.

“People who can play will try it out. We may do three or four organs a day. Usually they are pipe organs or organs that we would not usually get a chance to hear because they are always busy. It’s an opportunity to go to that church and get a chance to hear the organ and play it,” Don explains.

For ten-year-old Elmdale Public School student Aaron Siitam, the Bach selection he will perform at the marathon is a departure from the pop and EDM music he enjoys.

Playing piano for two years, Aaron says he admires the instrument as “it lets you be really super creative.”

“Bach’s music is very complex compared to other music,” says Aaron, “and I like it like that.”

Alison reminds music lovers to consult the program for the full list of performers. The event runs from 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and offers the freedom to come when you can and leave when you must.

“Most students and organists study Bach at some point,” says Don. “Most of us study Bach all our lives and find something new in it, something fresh.”

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