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Nelson Choral Singers present Fauré’s Requiem, selections of sacred music

By Contributor
March 24th, 2024

Nelsonites will get a rare opportunity to hear the United Church organ when John Pengelly accompanies the Nelson Choral Singers in an Easter weekend performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem.

  • Nelson United Church for two performances on Saturday, March 30th — 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
  • Tickets at Otter Books — cash: $20 for adults and $10 for 12 and under —  and at the door.

Pengelly, formerly music director at the United Church, first arrived in Nelson to teach piano in 1990. The United Church happened to be looking for an organist, and someone put his name in. Pengelly was aghast. Yes, he had studied organ — for two years at his Catholic high school. But that was about 14 years before.

An organ is a wind instrument that requires great manual dexterity and coordination. “I could do my feet, I could do my hands, but I couldn’t do the hands and feet together, and it took several months to get the connection back — all the synapses that have to fire between the brain and hands and feet.”

“I kind of learned it on the fly, and ended up doing it for 28 years.”

A pipe organ has been described as “a big box of whistles,” and every organ is different. The one designed for the Nelson United Church has 1625 wood and alloy pipes ranging in length from an eighth of an inch to 16 feet long. It has two ‘manuals’ (keyboards) as well as a pedalboard (a keyboard played with the feet), and an intimidating array of levers, knobs, buttons, ratchets and ‘stops’ (voices) that can produce a wide variety of sounds.

This organ is thought to be one of the best between Calgary and Vancouver. It was installed shortly after a 1967 fire destroyed the previous organ and most of the church save for the stone walls.

“We are very blessed to have it,” says Pengelly.

When Nelson Choral Singers music director Kathleen Neudorf asked if Pengelly would accompany the choir for this performance of the Fauré Requiem, he hesitated. He wasn’t really “in organ shape.” He hadn’t touched the organ much since he last performed with the choir in 2017.

“I’ve had to practice a fair bit to get this back into my system — to get the coordination going again.”

For listeners, the Fauré Requiem, written by the celebrated French composer in the late 1800s, is a moving experience. Forget preconceptions of an austere and forboding mass for the dead.

According to Neudorf, “The music is serene, elevating, comforting. It is about peaceful acceptance and release.”

“Loss is something that can bind us as a human race together – we all experience it at some point in our lives,” she says.

“Whatever you believe, this is music that is beautiful, soulful and powerful.”

Fans of the British detective series Endeavour will have heard the “In Paradisum” movement from the Requiem at the close of the very last episode when the main character sings with his Oxford choir.

Two soloists will join the 50-person choir. Hungarian-born soprano Noémi Kiss, who now calls Argenta home, has performed and recorded with orchestras and choirs throughout Europe and North America.

Baritone Kozmo Sammartino was born and raised in Nelson, participated in local youth choirs and summer theatre productions, and is now studying performing arts.

The concert also includes selections such as the spiritual “All My Trials,” “Cantique de Jean Racine” also by Fauré, “And the Mother did Weep” by Karl Jenkins, and “Requiem,” a song of grief composed by Eliza Gilkyson following the devastating 2004 Asian tsunami. Christoph Martens accompanies on piano.

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