Pretty much every neighbourhood in Ottawa has its own weekly community paper. They arrive free in the mailbox every week and are generally much slicker and more professional than you would think. I usually leaf through our community paper from cover-to-cover (a practise that invariably takes less than ten minutes) but I’m usually watching the ads. These papers are delivered to specifically targeted areas and their ad space is very cheap in comparison to the dailies so independent promoters and smaller production companies tend to be the main advertisers in these rags.
As a result I’ve uncovered lots of shows and exhibits over the years solely through my weak weekly perusal of the Main Street Monitor. One of these discovered treasures was a lunch-hour concert series that happens every Spring at the St. Andrews Church downtown, a free weekly offering of classical music that I’ve attended but once.
The once was, however, just a dandy outing. ’Twas a sunny Tuesday morn; the date was the 24th of May, 2016. After a lingering breakfast with m’lady I mounted my smooth black stallion of a bicycle and rode slow and easily north along the beautiful Rideau Canal, a World Heritage Site that passes a mere two hundred metres from my home. The sun glinted off the still canal reflecting the countless joggers, cyclists, and lawn-sitters that lined both sides of the waterway, all of them taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather.
Arriving downtown I turned left at the towering War Memorial and rode along Wellington Street, slowing down (as I always do) to gape as I passed the majestic Parliament Buildings. Arriving at St. Andrews Church I decided to lock up my bike directly across the street on the grounds of the Supreme Court of Canada. I figured that would be safe enough.
Waiting for my friend JP to join me I noticed a statue in front of the church. It was a life-sized bronze of a beggar sitting on the ground, his hand extended in hopes of a handout. Forged into the palm of the beggar’s hand was a slot that was clearly designed to hold a coin. I pulled out a toonie* and placed it in the slot of the beggar’s hand, expecting that someone in need it would come along and take it.
The statue was basically an elaborate take-a-penny-leave-a-penny box and I loved it.
JP arrived, we went in and took a pew. The church was fairly small and the crowd even smaller, which made the pipe organ built into the balcony look all the more huge. The massive mess of pipes and pulls was the instrument of choice for the day’s concert.
The musician was the church’s music director, a man named Thomas Annand. In short order he appeared high up above us, turned and sat at his instrument. Laying his hands on the tiny keyboard he instantly conjured up the monstrous glory of heaven with a diaphragm-rattling blast of organic glory. Wind coursed through pipes massive and miniature producing a sound both elegant and terrifying (no wonder the instrument so appropriately represents God), and all in the service of a forty-minute symphony by a composer I’ve never heard of named Charles Marie Widor.
Widor gave his symphony a very clever title. He called it 6.
Anyway, the organist kept his back to the audience the whole time – how could he not? – but that mattered little as I had my eyes closed for most of the show. Sometimes music gets a little extra oomph when you take one of the senses out of the picture. While multimedia sensual overload is the order of the day for many entertainment mediums – and rightfully so – at some concerts closing your eyes can really amp things up and this was one of those concerts.
Just before things got boring Mr. Annand – or should I say Mr. (or is it Mrs.?) Widor? – brought things to a close with a final wallop of sound that dissipated into the arched ceiling, leaving in its wake a screamingly unmissable void of sound.
Back outside the sun was shining harder than ever. I bid my good friend good day, retrieved my ride from the Supreme Court and rode just as smooth and easy back home to m’lady along the canal.
Isn’t life just grand? And to think, those weekly papers are free!
(While I have not yet attended another concert at St. Andrews since, I have stopped in front of the church several times and placed a few more coins in the hand of that beggar.)
*Why, oh why isn’t it spelled “twonie”?**
**Okay, now that I actually see it typed out I totally understand why we don’t spell it that way; it just don’t look right. Either way, the coin should have been called a berry.***
***Which I would then wish we spelled “beary”, which also don’t look right.