Meet Interim Choir Director Garth MacPhee

Meet Interim Choir Director Garth MacPhee

Meet Garth MacPhee, interim director of the University of King’s College Chapel Choir.

From Dartmouth, N.S., MacPhee earned a Master’s of Music (Organ & Church Music) at McGill in 2006. Now returned to the east coast after serving faith communities in Montreal and Victoria, B.C., MacPhee is currently the director of music at St. George’s Round Church in Halifax.

Garth MacPheeHow did you become involved in music and specifically, playing the organ?

By age five I had decided that that’s what I was going to do with my life. I’d be sitting in church with my parents and would say to my dad, ‘What are those gold things up at the front of the church?’ Those were the organ pipes and I was hooked!

My parents really encouraged me with my passion for music. It’s a vocation—it reaches into lots of different part of your life … The art of fine liturgical music is key to my life’s work, but it’s also about working with people and engaging with people in such a meaningful, satisfying way.

In addition to your work as music director at Anglican churches including St. John the Divine in Victoria, B.C. and St. John the Evangelist in Montreal, Que., you were Music Director at Temple Emmanuel El-Beth Shalom in Montreal. What was it like to serve a faith community different to the ones you worked for previously?

I loved it. It was so cool to be, on the one hand, director of music of a very traditional, very Anglo-Catholic [church] … and then to spend the other part of my time in a reformed synagogue. Reformed Judaism is, I think, the only kind of Judaism where you’d have an organ or a piano involved…. I made a point to engage as much with the liturgy there as in my own faith tradition. The people were so warm and I learned so much…. It was a real joy.

What sparked your interest in working with the choristers at King’s?

Liturgically it’s very much my ‘home key’ [and] of course, I relish the opportunity to work with young singers…. To me, this interim role is so much about providing some support and encouragement to [the choristers] … and to keep them making music, hopefully at as high a level as we can.

Can you talk about how the Chapel Choir: Reframed project came into being?

Since the pandemic began I’ve developed a motto which is, ‘something is better than nothing’—you work within your circumstances and resources. So, in a period when the choir couldn’t sing and we couldn’t gather in the chapel, until just now, what could we do to stay connected with one another and also, to reach deeper into the college community and beyond?

With Choir: Reframed I encouraged [the choristers] to think about short offerings each week—it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a musical performance…  I think of these videos almost as the windows in an Advent calendar—you lift and you see ‘Wow, this person—besides singing in the chapel choir—they also have this amazing knowledge of architecture and they can relate it back to music.’ Or maybe somebody is a fantastic folk guitar player, or [plays] mandolin…. It’s really an effort to communicate and reach out to people. I think one of the very simple ways of doing this is just to say ‘Here’s something I’m very interested in and maybe you would like to know something about it.’

What composer has most inspired you?

That’s a tough one! Certainly, the music of Bach is a huge part of my life. I play an extensive organ repertoire of Bach.

A part of my master’s degree was spent on William Byrd. I did a recreation of a clandestine mass—you know, in that period when Catholics had to meet in clandestine circumstances. I actually staged a performance [set in] 1605 just on the eve of the gunpowder plot. We tied in the Jesuit Henry Garnett and William Byrd’s music and we did this in a kind of secret location. People were invited to the performance, but they didn’t know where it was going to be. We were all in costume and it was really kind of fun. I’d love to do it again sometime, it was a real kick!

With pandemic restrictions lifting once again, MacPhee is hopeful that the choir will soon resume singing Evensong on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. and mass on Thursdays at 5 p.m. in the Chapel. Visit the Chapel’s website to explore the Chapel Choir: Reframed

Page Break