Glebe-St James welcomes James Caswell

James Caswell (front, centre) with the Glebe-St. James choir

By Louise Archer

Some Canterbury High School students and choristers are surprised to learn that James Caswell has a Sunday job as well! It involves playing the piano and organ.

The congregation is delighted that Caswell has begun his new appointment as the Minister of Music at Glebe-St. James United Church. Many readers will know of him as a teacher at Canterbury High School or from his decades of choral directing.

In his day job you will find Caswell teaching in the vocal and choral performance program at Canterbury. He is also the Music Director and Conductor of the Canterbury Trebles Women’s Ensemble. In his spare time he may be conducting or coaching vocal performance.

Caswell previously had long-standing associations with the Anglican Chorale of Ottawa, the Canadian Centennial Choir and the University of Ottawa Choir. As a guest conductor, he has appeared with the Cantata Singers of Ottawa, the Ottawa Choral Society and the Opera Lyra Ottawa Chorus. He has also appeared as organist with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra and was a participant conductor at the Oregon Bach Festival under Helmuth Rilling.

Caswell succeeds Robert Palmai, who was also Caswell’s predecessor at Canterbury High School. Caswell has been associated with church music from a very young age, having been directly involved with music programs at Trinity-St. Stephen’s United Church (Amherst, N.S.), Christ Church Anglican (Amherst, N.S.), St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Ottawa) and First Baptist Church (Ottawa). He has also had the opportunity to participate in Jewish, Catholic and Pentecostal services.

When asked about the similarities between the musical traditions in the different denominations, Caswell noted that they all feature hymns, organ music, choir anthems and solos. In the Anglican worship more parts of the service are sung while the United Church is leading the way in introducing more inclusive language in hymns. When asked about new initiatives at the church, Caswell said he hopes to foster greater involvement of children and youth in the musical life of Glebe- St. James. This may include reviving choirs for young children if there is sufficient interest.

Caswell will establish a music committee to better support communication between the congregation and the community. There are opportunities for musicians who would like to perform at the church, either at regular services or the Sunday afternoon periodic concert series. The concerts include talented young performers who experience the opportunity to play before an audience, and a wide variety of more established Ottawa area musicians performing in a variety of styles – string trios, guitar, vocal and a marimba-percussion duo.

The church is blessed with a Casavant Frères organ, installed in 1929. This vintage instrument is due for some enhancements for the longer term. The first step calls for an overall assessment of the organ and a prioritizing of needs. As this is a complex and specialized undertaking some fundraising will be needed.

In his free time, Caswell likes to keep active with pursuits such as skiing, cycling and golf. He is pleased to have his wife, Elizabeth, join in singing with the choir whenever possible.

Each Sunday you will find Caswell leading the choir, and alternately playing the piano and organ. Worship service begins at 10:30 a.m. followed by a coffee hour.

To contact Caswell about singing in the choir, or otherwise contributing musically, readers are invited to email him at The choir practises Thursday evenings, 7:30–9 p.m., and again Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m. ahead of the weekly service.

To find out about new developments in music at Glebe-St. James, visit

Louise Archer is a long-time resident of the Glebe and member of Glebe-St. James Church. She sings with Come Sing at St. Luke’s Anglican Church.

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