Church music institute offers new concert program

Published September 4, 2007

Christopher Dawes, director of the Summer Institute of Church Music

Canada’s venerable Summer Institute of Church Music is branching out into the rest of the year with a new program aimed at developing an individual congregation’s musical life – an engaging, humorous evening that is both seminar and concert.

Called Holy Song, the program is led by Toronto musician Christopher Dawes, who has been director of the institute for three years.

Mr. Dawes has developed a two-hour evening that would include some interesting hymn history (such as the efforts to ban in Britain the patriotic hymn I Vow to Thee My Country) coupled with congregational singing.

“My concept is a stop on a congregation’s hymn-singing journey. Most churches use only about 30 per cent of their hymnal. I would like to open people to the riches of their hymn book in a setting not quite as loaded with formality as a Sunday service,” he said in an interview.

Half a dozen churches across a broad spectrum – Lutheran, United, Anglican and Baptist – have expressed interest in the program, which Mr. Dawes first presented last April at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian church in Ottawa.

Mr. Dawes customizes the program for each church. One involved its choir and another invited people to submit requests for favourite hymns which are not sung much any more. He traces the history of congregational singing from the beginning of the Western tradition to modern songs and chants associated with the Taize and Iona communities that are in, respectively, France and Scotland.

He also noted that hymn-singing can be “a highly politicized activity.” A song such as Onward Christian Soldiers, beloved by some can be troubling to others due to its “militant imagery.” Some viewed I Vow to Thee My Country as an offensively militant form of patriotism.

Mr. Dawes spent 12 years at Toronto’s St. James’ (Anglican) Cathedral, eight as assistant organist and four as organist and music director. He is currently music director at the Anglican church of St. George the Martyr in Toronto.

The summer institute, which completed its 38th session in June, is a five-day program located at Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby, Ont., about 60 km east of Toronto.

Further information is available at sicm/holysong.html


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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