Edmonton church installs unique antiphonal organ, the only one on the Prairies

For almost 100 years the sounds of a pipe organ filled Holy Trinity Anglican Church, but the old instrument was fading.

‘Going from an economy car to a Rolls-Royce would be a way of describing it’

A new antiphonal organ was recently installed at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Edmonton. (CBC)

For almost 100 years the sounds of a pipe organ filled Holy Trinity Anglican Church, but the old instrument was fading.

"We were finding in the last 10 years or so that we were fixing things with string and duct tape," said John Brough, music director and principal organist.

The organ was installed in 1923, a gift dedicated to those who died in the First World War, but five years ago, the church kicked off what it anticipated would be 20 years of fundraising to restore the organ.

Several grants were obtained along with donations from parishioners as the church inched toward a goal of about $900,000.

Then an anonymous benefactor came forward with a $500,000 donation. 

"To have someone come forward from the community and have enough trust that he would offer us that kind of money to finish this, without any other agenda, is tremendous," Brough said.

"I was totally flabbergasted and moved," said Rector Christopher Pappas.

The donor is not a member of the church but someone who has enjoyed concerts in the space, Pappas said.

"What we were told was, "What you are doing for music in Edmonton is unique. Your church is a music box and it produces spectacular music and we want to help you do even more"," he said.

The church organ at Edmonton's Holy Trinity Anglican Church gets a $900,000 upgrade. 1:15

The donation not only ensured the restoration of the main organ was covered, it also covered the entire cost of an antiphonal organ, he said.

An antiphonal organ is a second set of pipes, usually installed opposite the main pipes.

At Holy Trinity, the main organ is at the front of the church behind the choir in the chancel. The antiphonal organ is at the rear behind the congregation in the nave.

Tall golden pipes flank the huge stained-glass window, while copper "trumpets" protrude below the window.

Brough compares the organ's sound to colour, with the antiphonal organ providing "a new array, a new palette of sound to choose from."

Edmonton's Holy Trinity Church organ gets revamped. 0:13

The antiphonal organ expands the ability of the main organ by 50 per cent, said Steve Miller, with Casavant Frères, an organ-building company based in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.

"When John plays, he's able to not only play different music but he's able to place it in different parts of the room," Miller said.

"You can give the impression that a flute is dancing around the room," he said.

The organ is the only antiphonal of its type on the Prairies that he knows of, Miller said.

Brough says the organ is a joy to play.

"Playing it, yeah I can't wipe the grin off my face right now. Going from an economy car to a Rolls-Royce I guess would be a way of describing it.

"It's like a new toy. I want to be here every day."

John Brough, music director and principal organist at Holy Trinity, right, helps with the installation of the antiphonal organ. (CBC)

Since Pappas became rector eight years ago, the church, located in the heart of Old Strathcona at 101st Street and 84th Avenue, has put the arts at the centre of its ministry.

Five city choirs rehearse in the building, as does a resident musical theatre group and opera company. The church has a writer in residence and is a venue during the annual Fringe theatre festival.

"There are two types of art — there's art about the light, sort of like our wonderful ascension stained-glass window, and then there's art that depicts what the light reveals about the world," Pappas said.

"It's all about connecting people to something bigger than themselves," he said.

A concert to officially unveil the antiphonal organ is being planned for September with the details to  be announced on the church website