Anglicans looking to appreciate the musical legacy of Patrick Wedd need look no further than their own hymn book.
An acclaimed church organist, choir conductor and composer who served as music director at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal for 25 years, Wedd was a key figure in the task force that produced Common Praise, official hymnal of the Anglican Church of Canada since 1998. Many of his own compositions feature in the book.
Yet the influence of Wedd, who died on May 19, 2019, in Montreal at the age of 71 after a brief illness, extends far beyond the church for which he worked throughout his life.
Dean Peter Wall, who worked with Wedd as director of music at the 1998 General Synod in Montreal, described Wedd as a “brilliant” musician and composer who “contributed enormously to church music in Canada, and to music in general.”
Michael Capon, director of music at St. George’s Cathedral in Kingston, called Wedd “a giant not just on the Canadian church music scene, but on the Canadian music scene.”
“I always had the opinion that he was one of the best organists in Canada,” said Capon, who first met Wedd as a student in Montreal and later worked with him as a colleague.
Besides his work in the church, Wedd released a series of recordings that included albums of organ works and choral compositions, and was founder and artistic director of the semi-professional choir Musica Orbium. He also led choirs in a number of Christmas broadcasts for CBC Radio and Television.
Dean Peter Elliott of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, who grew up with Wedd in the Niagara region of Ontario and studied under the same music teacher, described Wedd as instrumental in creating “one of the best hymn books in the Anglican Communion,” bringing together a wide variety of hymns from the Christian tradition as well as contemporary music for Common Praise.
“Patrick, in my view, was a force of nature,” Elliott said. “Everything about him was musical. When he walked, when you’re in conversation with him, and particularly when he was playing the organ or conducting a choir, you could feel the energy and his enthusiasm and love for music just coming through the ether.
“He was a larger–than–life character, an absolutely delightful human being with a great sense of humour, and an astonishingly accomplished musician.”
Born in Simcoe, Ont., in 1948, Wedd first began organ studies at age 11. By the age of 12, he was serving as organist-choirmaster at St. Paul’s Church in Port Robinson, Ont.
An Albert Ham Organ Scholar at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, Wedd went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. In 1970 he took on the position of organist-choirmaster at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Vancouver. Five years later he took on the same position at nearby Christ Church Cathedral, where he would remain for 11 years.
In 1986, Wedd moved to Montreal and became artistic director of mixed choir the Tudor Singers and director of music at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, holding the latter position for five years. Starting in 1987, he began working as a member of the hymn book task force that would develop Common Praise.
Kenneth Hull, professor emeritus of music at the University of Waterloo who served with Wedd for more than 10 years on the task force, called him “the driving force behind the project.” Fellow task force member John Campbell said that Wedd “delighted in making music for the church…. His compositions were refreshing and usually had an element of surprise both rhythmically and harmonically.”
In 1993, Wedd took on the role of music director at Christ Church Cathedral, where he would stay until his retirement in 2018.
The musician’s death so soon after retirement left Anglicans at the cathedral stunned.
“People are devastated,” Dean Bertrand Olivier said. “He had been such a big part of the life of the community for so many years, and of course made many friends and people who looked up to him both in terms of his musical talent, but also his deep spirituality and friendship…. People knew he was no longer at the cathedral, but they expected him to continue to flourish musically in Montreal, and so that’s been a big shock to them.”
In a Facebook post after the organist’s death, Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson called Wedd “a wonderful musician and composer who gave his heart and soul to serve the One who gave him these gifts.”
“Patrick really had a heart for worship and found ways to encourage and enrich the church’s practice,” the bishop said to the Journal. “I loved his generous and gracious spirit.”
That jovial and giving nature left a lasting impression on generations of youth and young adults who worked with Wedd. Emily Wall, a former chorister at Christ Church Cathedral, said that Wedd helped nurture many young singers and organists over the years.
“He was quite encouraging, I think, for people who wanted to learn how to sing or learn how to be better choral musicians…. I know quite a few people who studied organ under Patrick and who would probably credit him quite a lot with their organ training and their musical education, as well,” she said. “He was very open to sharing his gifts with people.”
Wedd’s funeral took place at Christ Church Cathedral on May 31. The Rev. Gwenda Wells, chaplain with the Royal Canadian College of Organists, delivered the eulogy.
Wedd is survived by his husband Robert Wells, sisters Penny and Pam, Pam’s partner Jane, and family in-laws. Donations in his memory may be made to the Patrick Wedd Music Fund in support of the music program at Christ Church Cathedral Montreal.