Music and music education at Glebe-St. James

By Karen Walker

Glebe-St. James Church has a long history of supporting music education. Frances MacPhail, the organist and choir director from 1955 to 1990, was passionate about it. In addition to conducting the Senior Choir, she conducted the Junior Choir, the Sunshine Choir (Grades 1 to 3) and, at times, an orchestra. By all accounts, the orchestra was comprised of instruments you don’t often hear together and if there was no part in the score for an accordion, for example, she would compose one. As you can imagine, it was hard to keep the members of the Sunshine Choir focused at rehearsals, but the deal was that if they paid attention for 20 minutes, they would get a treat – something she had baked herself!

When Frances retired in 1990, the church established the Frances MacPhail Scholarship Fund to encourage and support young and promising musicians. Scholarships have been awarded over the years. Now the fund will be used to finance a Choral Scholar program that the church is launching this fall. The program is modelled on programs of English cathedral choirs and is a way of supporting students in their studies and exposing them to sacred choral music, both classical and modern. Choral scholarships will be awarded to talented singers who wish to develop their choral singing through participation in the Senior Choir.

In addition to the Choral Scholar program, Glebe-St. James will be incorporating educational and cultural elements into arts events planned for this fall. On October 13 and 14, we are co-sponsoring the Improvising Musicians of Ottawa & Outwards (IMOO) festival (, presenting more than 30 Canadian and international musicians in concert over the two evenings. And on the Sunday afternoon, Jesse Stewart, an acclaimed Ottawa percussionist, Carleton professor and long-time Glebe-St. James member, will host an audience-participation ludophone workshop, free of charge and open to all.

On Saturday, October 28, Live from the Glebe will present Luke Welch, an award-winning Canadian pianist from Toronto. At 10 a.m., Luke will host a presentation called “Chasing the Dream: The Power of Determination” about the pressures of performance, repetitive strain injuries common to pianists, recovery and self-care. He will speak from personal experience about how the pursuit of excellence can mean pushing your mind and body to extremes and about the patience and strength of character required to overcome injuries.

At 3 p.m., Luke will present a concert of music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Frédéric Chopin. Coleridge-Taylor was a British-Sierra Leonean composer, conductor and political activist of the early 20th century who sought to draw from traditional African music and integrate it into the classical tradition. Luke’s latest album Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Piano Works was recently featured as CBC Radio’s In Concert Album of the Week.

On Saturday, November 18, Ottawa artists Mark Wilkinson and Jenna Richards will present a day-long celebration of singing and learning for Ottawa high school students. The New Voice Major will invite six emerging singers from Canterbury and De La Salle to sing in a masterclass for their peers. The masterclass will explore the truths and myths about singing, often known only to professionals, by opening younger singers’ hearts and minds to the realities of a career as a singing actor. Whether you are a hopeful voice major after high school or a current high school student studying voice or you attend a school without a dedicated singing program, all high school students who aspire to be singers are welcome to attend. Mark and Jenna will take the six singers through intermediate to advanced techniques in breathing, vocalization, resonance, diction, musicianship, collaboration and performance preparation while others observe.

That evening, Mark and Jenna will present a professional recital for the Ottawa voice community and broader public. The New Voice Major recital will take a journey from the most traditional repertoire to the new and diverse repertoire expected from professional singing actors. With art song, oratorio, opera, musical theatre, jazz, pop and much more, both high school students and the wider audience will discover the versatility required to sustain a singing career in the 21st century.


Karen Walker is a member of the Music Committee and sings in the choir at Glebe-St. James.



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