The chamber is pitch black, its silence punctuated only by the breathing of unknown people around you. You wait in apprehension, knowing it will come, but not knowing when or how. Suddenly, a single spotlight pierces the darkness, shining down upon a solitary organ as it emerges from an eerie fog. A shadowy figure approaches, sits down, and the room is transformed by thundering pipes made by men before many of us were born.
If you think it sounds like the Phantom, you’d be partially right. But Colm Wilkinson is nowhere in sight at The Phantom of the Organ, the Halloween music program at the Metropolitan United Church. Each year, the church stages its own Phantom in the glorious main chamber, starring their venerable octogenarian organ.
It truly is a magnificent instrument: 8,000 pipes, five keyboards and a slew of pedals that would challenge even the most ardent StairMaster queen. Usually the organ sits modestly at the back of the podium, awaiting its moment of glory every Halloween when it gets pulled out to centre stage.
“It’s actually the largest pipe organ in Canada,” says Patricia Wright, minister of music for the Metropolitan United Church (MET). “It’s a symphonic organ, with all the orchestra right there at your fingertips. There’s an amazing tonal palette.”
Wright’s been running the Halloween program for 10 years now, aided by fellow University of Toronto Faculty of Music instructor John Tuttle. The two often perform at the annual event, along with several promising U of T students who share their instructors’ love of the instrument. The program is eclectic.
“We play all kinds of unexpected things,” Wright says. “Last Phantom I played an organ arrangement of the Beatles’ song ‘All You Need Is Love.’ We’ve had Star Wars, Harry Potter and a duo called Organized Crime who performed Bach in blue sequined spandex and five-inch stiletto heels. It’s great fun.”
It’s also a rollicking success, bringing in both parishioners and the general public to listen to a timeless instrument not often heard outside of a place of worship.
Church member Constance Dilley is one of the evening’s ardent enthusiasts and feels that such programs are as much a natural part of the church’s community outreach as the Pride Day float, gay marriage ceremonies and participation in the annual AIDS Walk.
“The MET is an urban church and should serve the neighbourhood around it,” Dilley says. “Maybe it can bridge the gap for people who think of church as this hoity-toity gathering of people. Music does that so beautifully. It simply moves you at a level that nothing else does and reaches a place beyond words. This music, and this organ, are a treasure that we should all be able to share.”
Dilley points out that another important part of the MET’s musical outreach is the lunchtime organ recitals, which run each Thursday and feature various organists along with the occasional singer and other instrumentalists.
“You don’t have to believe or be a United Church member,” Dilley says. “But if you come at noon, sit down and hear the organ, it unburdens the heart and the soul.”
Phantom of the Organ
Fri, Oct 26 at 10pm
Metropolitan United Church
56 Queen St E
MET lunchtime music series is each Thursday from 12:15 to 12:45pm.