My name is Dr. Greg Caisley, and for 10 years I was responsible for all Music Ministry programs for two different congregations, Langley United, and Dunbar Heights United. Outside of the United Church, I am heavily involved in the National Music Festival movement across Canada, as I am on the executive of the Canadian Music Festival Adjudicators Association. I am also the Artistic Director of the Chamber music group Postmodern Camerata. If you would like more info on these organizations, as well as my experience as a pianist, you can check out my website.
When both legacy congregations Dunbar Heights and Ryerson started looking at what a combined music ministry might look like, one of the critical ideas that I held on to was that whatever we did together, it had to be bigger than whatever either congregation could imagine separately. My current position within the new congregation is testament to this new reality. To some, my position might seem developmental; to others educational; and to still others artistic director. In fact, I am now largely responsible for two musical groups within the new church, neither of which are primarily involved in Sunday services. That Dunbar Ryerson United is able to grow and expand elements of its legacy programming to such an extent is one of the amazing realities of this new congregation.
The Voices Choir is a concert choir which is open to anyone to join, and currently has about 55 members. It is designed as a teaching choir- people come together each week to learn the music and the text, and absorb the various symbols and meanings. Some of the people in the choir are there only to learn and study the music- they don’t actually sing in the concerts. The majority of this choir is made up of choristers not currently connected to any church. To those unfamiliar with the choir it might seem that this is ‘just another choir’. In fact, it is a fantastic opportunity for people to connect with the greater United Church community, and to learn about and grow their relationship the divine through wonderful sacred masterpieces. It is a choir that only prepares sacred music, and uses the best available accompanists, orchestras, and even music scores. Currently, they prepare two concert programs a year.
Our upcoming Good Friday (April 14 and 15) performances of Mozart’s Requiem is a great opportunity to investigate this group’s work, and see the value it brings to our expanded community.
Pneuma is primarily a program for music education for younger people. But it is much more than just that. I originally realized the need for this program because of the lack of music education within the United Church specifically designed to teach young people the music and life of the United Church. Increasingly, it was challenging to find musicians (often well trained with University experience) who understood what a United Church service even was. Pneuma is an outgrowth of my realization that young people both inside and outside the church community- did not have any way to assist them to become familiar with the United Church liturgy, the nomenclature of the church (what is a narthex?), and even the basic songs. Christmas carols – even those in Voices United- were unknown to the young people in the church. As a musician who has studied music all my life, I knew that in order to have a life long relationship with music in a spiritual way, our community needed to build and support institutions that could teach the musicians who will be leading the future church.
What started as a program to teach young people about United Church music has become so much more now. Some of these young choristers are 4 years old; some of them are 16. Currently there are about 28 students in the program, making it one of the largest youth music programs in any United Church in Canada. There is enough people in this program now to have two separate classes every Wednesday, as well as having two support staff to assist the learning. The younger choristers learn about reading, singing correctly, and about working together as a team. The older group is learning how to sing in multiple parts, languages, as well as preparing music at a high level for every weekly service. Pneuma is the “main choir” for the Open House Wednesday service. If you have not had an opportunity to come and be a part of an Open House service, come for dinner first at 5:15. The service itself starts about 6:05, and is finished about 6:45. You will see the energy, the enthusiasm, and the magic of the future.
In closing, I am reminded that neither of these programs could exist in either legacy congregation. One of the direct results of amalgamation is the opportunity that DRUC has to develop generations of people currently not involved in Sunday services, but who are nevertheless deeply involved in the community.
For me, this reality is very daunting, exciting, and ultimately critical.