L-R: Dean Peter Wall, Bishop William Cliff, and pianist Angus Sinclair disembark from their plane en route to perform at the Three Cantors concert in Churchill, Manitoba. Photo by Fr. David Pickett

Three Cantors return in concert to lift spirits of Churchill residents

The vocal trio of Anglican clergy known as the The Three Cantors returned to the stage on Sunday, June 10 after a two-year hiatus, performing a special concert to bring some good cheer to the residents of Churchill, Manitoba.

The Cantors—Bishop William Cliff, Dean Peter Wall, and Archdeacon David Pickett, and backed by pianist Angus Sinclair—sang to an estimated crowd of 60-70 people at the Churchill Community Centre. The performance marked their first appearance together since their last concert in 2016, which took place just prior to Cliff’s consecration as seventh bishop of the Diocese of Brandon.

“We haven’t sung together in two years, so it was an adventure,” Bishop Cliff said. “We had to sort of remind one another when we breathed and do a little extra practice, and of course we were in a hall that we didn’t know. […] But it was by far an adventure. It’s the furthest north we’ve ever sung.”

The Churchill concert, which was open to all members of the public, brought out a sizable part of the town’s population,  estimated to be 900 people.

That turnout was partly the result of pent-up demand, as residents of Churchill had first requested a performance from the Cantors last year to coincide with the town’s 125th anniversary. Yet it also reflected a need for uplift in a town going through hard times.

Churchill has suffered greatly since flooding damage in May 2017 shut off the only railroad link to the town, which is otherwise primarily accessible by plane. Bishop Cliff has described the resulting situation as a “pastoral emergency”. The closure of Churchill’s two major employers, the railroad and then port, have had a severe economic impact, particularly on the tourism industry. Meanwhile, prices for essential items such as food have skyrocketed.

Though the broken railroad had seemed to thwart the hopes of residents to hear The Three Cantors perform for their anniversary celebration, their determination remained unbroken. In the aftermath of the flooding, they doggedly organized fundraising efforts to pay the necessary travel costs.

With the individual Cantors living across a wide geographical expanse—Bishop Cliff is in Brandon Man., Dean Wall in Hamilton, Ont., Archdeacon Pickett in Calgary, Alta., and Sinclair in London, Ont.—gathering its members together for a performance can cost a considerable sum.

Churchill residents “wanted us to come up last year in June […] but then the rail washout made that impossible,” Bishop Cliff said. “So they worked for the better part of a year and got donations and funding to get us all up there—and we had a great time.”

Having successfully made the journey to entertain the people of Churchill, the Three Cantors are considering the possible of performing together again in the future.

A possible concert in Brandon, Man.—which would reduce the total cost of travel—is currently in the works for the Cantors, who in their two decades performing together have recorded four albums and raised more than $1.5 million for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

“Being a bishop makes it near impossible to get us together,” Bishop Cliff said. “But we’re going to keep trying to do what we can where we can.”

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