June 18th, 2024

Symphony celebrates church organ’s century


By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on February 8, 2023.

Herald photo by Alejandra Pulido-Guzman Organist Neil Cockburn receives applause after performing with the Lethbridge Symphony Monday night during the Centennial Organ Concerto in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Southminster United Church organ.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

The Lethbridge Symphony celebrated the 100th anniversary of the installation of the Casavant Organ located in the Southminster United Church with a concert Monday night.

Along with the symphony, guest organist Neil Cockburn played a multitude of musical selections from Beethoven, Bach, and Camille Saint-Saëns in front of an almost full church.

During the intermission, Southminster music director Kade Hogg shared a little bit of the organ’s history, which was written by Reverend Austin Fennell, who was supposed to speak at the event, but unfortunately passed away in December.

Fennell wrote “After World War One ended, a decision was made to contract Casavant Brothers to build an organ for the church. The cost was between $15,000-$17,000 and was dedicated in memory of those in the congregation who had given their lives for the country. Their names are on a plaque at the back of the sanctuary and details of their lives are in my book about the organ. The replacement value of the organ today would be approximately $1.2 million. There is a story that when money was being raised to pay for the organ, a special speaker was brought in. He was eloquent and asked that those who would contribute funds to please stand,” said Hogg.

After this, O Canada was played by Cockburn while everyone sang, letting the sound bounce off every wall creating a magnificent and powerful experience.

After the concert was over, Cockburn and Lethbridge Symphony music director Glenn Klassen spoke to the Herald.

Klassen explained the concert was three years in the making and it was great to finally be able to get it done.

“We’re three years late in celebrating this incredible instrument, but it deserves to be celebrated,” said Klassen.

He said people call the organ the king of instruments because it’s kind of like an orchestra in itself with all the different pipes and all the different colours and sounds that it can generate.

“Then you add a real orchestra together and it’s an incredible, it’s an incredible experience, an incredible twinning of these two magnificent ensembles,” said Klassen.

Klassen said the Monday night performance was the first time the Lethbridge Symphony played with the organ and Cockburn said it was his first time playing the organ with the symphony, after playing it multiple times in the past for different events.

“I’ve played the organ for Vox Music and a recital here at the church for a different anniversary maybe, so I’ve played here several times for different groups, but it was my first time with the symphony,” said Cockburn.

 He said it was a great combination as the orchestra made the organ feel even more alive and it was nice to have company on the stage as well.

“Organists are a little bit like pianists- it can be quite a solitary existence as we do a lot of playing on our own, but it’s totally different when you’re playing with other instruments. It makes the instrument come alive,” said Cockburn.

He said he hopes the organ is here,preserved and playable for at least another hundred years.

“Organs can actually last for hundreds and hundreds of years. There are still organs that are playable from the time Bach was alive and he lived in the 18th century and so with a little bit of ongoing maintenance the organ will be here when all of us are not here any longer,” said Cockburn.

And as for the symphony, Klassen said he was happy to be able to play with the organ after getting some much needed tuning and hopes to have the symphony add the organ for future concerts.

“Now that they have worked on it and they have brought it up to this wonderful playing standard again, we can actually think about programming maybe other things they include the organ,” said Klassen.

He explained that before it was considerably under pitch from where the orchestra normally plays, so the strings can tune down to it to match the pitch, but the woodwinds and brass have a very difficult time, as if it gets too low they cannot adjust their pitch that much.

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