Music goes on as tragedy touches choir trip

Published February 1, 2003

Members of the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Ont., saved for two years to sing at St. Paul’s, London, England. Bass Michael MacLachlan (second from left) died of an apparent heart attack on the group’s first day in England.

A long-planned trip to London by the cathedral choir in the diocese of Huron was marred by tragedy when a member of the group, bass Michael MacLachlan, 58, died of an apparent heart attack on the first day of the visit.

The group arrived on the morning of Dec. 28 and had scheduled a short bus tour since they wouldn’t be able to check in at their hotel right away, said James Noakes, organist and master of the choristers.

“It was getting on to lunchtime and we were at the Tower of London and I heard this big thud and he was on the ground. An ambulance came and took him to the hospital, but he didn’t make it,” said Mr. Noakes.

Four members of Mr. MacLachlan’s family, all choir members, were also on the trip – his wife Eileen, daughter Beth Ackworth, brother Archie and niece Tara, said Eileen MacLachlan in an interview. They decided to remain for the seven-day visit, she said.

“He would have wanted it that way. He would have been so upset if we’d given up,” she said.

Mr. Noakes added, “We rallied and said, ‘We are going to do what we came to do.’ The choir rose to the occasion.”

The choir is located in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Ont. and was the choir-in-residence at St. Paul’s, London, England while the English cathedral choir was on Christmas vacation. The visitors sang choral evensong at 5 p.m. each day.

Music is a major part of the MacLachlan family, which encompasses nine children, said Ms. MacLachlan. “It’s the joy it brings other people, to be able to entertain, have fun and enjoy life,” she said. When she met Mr. MacLachlan through the choir, she said, she was a single parent with four children who had enrolled them at the music program in the cathedral.

Mr. MacLachlan had recently been appointed human resources manager for a London, Ont., taxi-limousine company, she said. “He was lots of fun to be with, a loveable guy,” she said.

One of the English cathedral priests organized a requiem service in the cathedral on Dec. 31 and a memorial service was held at St. Paul’s in Ontario on Jan. 24.

The 34-member group of men, women and children brought a Canadian flavour to the music program at the venerable 17th-century English church. More than half of the music brought by the group was by Canadian composers, some of it by composers from London, Ont., said Mr. Noakes. Among the selections was an arrangement of The Huron Carol by Canadian composer Robert Anderson and a Christmas carol called The Watts’s Cradle Song by London composer Bert VanderHoek.

Getting 30-odd people to the capital of Great Britain to sing at the cradle of Anglicanism was no light task. “It’s been 2 years in the planning. The choir had been talking about taking a trip and it seemed natural to want to go to the other St. Paul’s,” said Mr. Noakes, who has been at his post for more than three years. Previously, he spent about 10 years in Pittsburgh where he took his choir to sing at a Roman Catholic cathedral in London.

The Ontario choir traveled to England in 1972 and 1985, but they still had to prove their ability for the authorities at the British St. Paul’s. “They wanted to know if the choir could sing Anglican chant well and we sent an audition tape of Lenten evensong,” said Mr. Noakes.

The planning included a good deal of fundraising in order to cover the $1,500 per person cost of airfare, hotel and transfers for nine days. Over the past two years, the choir members banked half their stipends and the proceeds from concerts and pancake suppers at Lent. They covered about $1,200 of the costs, with the difference being made up from personal funds, Mr. Noakes said.


  • Solange DeSantis

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

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