Competition inspires fresh church music

How can we add new sparkle and life to Canadian church music? Members of the Anglican Foundation were mulling this over back in 2006, and decided to hold a competition for new musical settings to the Eucharist.

The competition, launched in 2008, called for a simple, elegant setting for both congregation and choir. It was funded by the A.E.J. Fulford Trust, the foundation’s only music-specific trust. Members of its advisory committee acted as judges.

“Much of what is sung in parishes these days is appallingly dull,” said John Tuttle, a Toronto organist, professor, and choir director who served as one of the judges. “It sounds more like entertainment than a transcendent musical offering.”

“What’s happened I think is that people started to get less interested in church and immediately the church said ‘it must be because they’re not drawn to it,'” he explained. “So music was dumbed down and in the process they threw out the birthright of traditional music. At this point I think many churches are trying to reclaim that.”

Over several months, and the Fulford Trust judges received 10 new takes on the Eucharist. Two pieces rose above the others, so they decided at their May 2009 meeting to award not just the planned prize of $5,000, but also a second prize of $2,500.

The winner is Dr. Derek Holman, a distinguished Canadian conductor, composer, and teacher, now retired, who worked for many years at St. Simon the Apostle and Grace Church on-the-Hill, both in Toronto. The Canadian Encyclopedia lauds his “elusively tonal, strongly rhythmic style, with frequently angular melody, exuberant polyphony, and musical wit.”

“In the case of this competition he knew exactly what had to be done,” said Mr. Tuttle. “It needed a strong tune and an engaging accompaniment and that’s what we got.”

The second prize winner is Andrew Ager, director of music at St. James’ Cathedral, Toronto, and an active composer. Beyond motets and hymns, Mr. Ager has worked on musical settings of Baudelaire’s poems and an opera adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. His winning Eucharistic setting was written as a chant.

The Anglican Foundation is working to get these new pieces published so they can be sung in the pews.

Since 1980, the Fulford Trust has awarded approximately $12,000 a year to choir tours, organ education, and other church music projects. It is one of many trusts administered by the Anglican Foundation of Canada, which also funds building renovations, conferences, and creative programs across the Anglican Church of Canada.

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