Archive for rachelalflatt

RCCO Vancouver Centre Organ Crawl, February 22 2020

By Graeme Stager

A group of members and guests under the leadership of Centre president Angelique Po enjoyed an organ crawl to 3 instruments on Saturday, 22 February 2020.

group at knox

First visit was to the 1950 Casavant at Knox United.  Originally 10 stops, 7 more ranks were added 6 years later.  Organist Madelene Klassen played 5 pieces to showcase various voices and choruses.  Despite the chamber being on one side of the chancel and speaking sideways through a screen, the sound in the nave was surprisingly present.

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Next, we headed to St John’s Shaughnessy (Anglican) to experience the largest instrument of the day, hosted by organist Michael Dirk.  He explained that the original second-hand Este  y was replaced in 1968 by a much larger 3-manual direct-electric Hallman.  It was the first installation in Vancouver having an antiphonal division (rear of nave) with separate console.  Extensive upgrades over the years, with more in the works, have improved the reliability, functionality, and sound of the instrument.

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Following lunch, our final destination was Angelique’s own organ at Central Presbyterian.  A 13-rank Casavant from the mid-70’s, it speaks down the long axis of the room, in this case across from the left, as the sanctuary is about twice as wide as it is deep.  It was agreed the best sound was heard from the right side, and for recitals, Angelique has the chairs arranged to favour that acoustic.

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Thanks to the organizers for an interesting and enjoyable day getting to know three quite different instruments.

What the Organ Can Do – Jean-Willy Kunz Workshop and Concert


By Sam Balden

Part 1 – The Workshop

 Roll these qualities into one person – youthful, educated, dynamic, personable, bilingual, engaging and an exceptional musical talent – and you’ll find an organist named Jean-Willy Kunz, currently travelling the country as a RCCO clinician.  The Vancouver Centre was privileged to have Jean-Willy appear for both a workshop (7:30 p.m., November 6) and a concert (8:00 p.m., November 8).

Dr. Kunz, currently the resident organist of the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, already boasts an accomplished career, playing with orchestras, a string group, a jazz ensemble, instrumental soloists and singers.  He is also organ professor at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal and artistic director of the Canadian International Organ Competition.

The workshop was held at St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church, with the kind assistance of Michael Dirk, the church’s organist.  A small group of 12 attended, and several of us got to try out virtual reality headsets brought by Jean-Willy, featuring the OSM and Jean-Willy playing the Bach Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor.  A drone had been used to film the aspects of the hall and organ, and the sight and sound experience was both unreal and amazing.


Sam Balden tries out Virtual Reality

Jean-Willy shared his experience as the OSM organist and how he is actually involved in administrative activities relating to use of the organ.  His focus is to find new ideas for using the organ, and hence the title above – What The Organ Can Do.  At the OSM the organ is used for silent movies, concerts, choirs, jazz, dance, recitals and even a coordination with the Canadian Space Agency.

 In giving a new image of the organ, he focused on expanding the possibilities of organ repertoire by use of transcription, improvisation, jazz and non-classical music.  His transcription illustrations encompassed Bach/Vivaldi, Debussy, Schumann, Chopin, and examples from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals.

More modern uses were an example from the Arcade Fire group, some pop music, gospel music by William Bolcom, organist Barbara Dennerlein and musician Keith Jarret.  Audio illustrations were seamlessly produced from Jean-Willy’s iPhone with an external speaker.


 For improvisation, he stressed the ‘just try it out’ routine and commented that even though in theory there are no rules, improvisations are governed by context – i.e. extension of a hymn at church.  Centre President and Vice-President, Angelique Po and Michael Dirk, agreed to be guinea pigs for improvisation instruction, and benefited from Jean-Willy’s guidance and comments.

Words from an attendee:

“I found the workshop to be informative and entertaining. The highlight for me was to hear Angelique’s improvisation before and after Jean-Willy Kunz’ comments. He is a good teacher and Angelique is a quick learner. The funniest comment was when Jean-Willy said, in his fairly thick French accent, that improvisation was, for him, “de-stressing” and what I heard was “distressing”.”

All told, a well-organized and presented workshop lasting 1 ½ hours.   Thanks are due to the RCCO, Michael Dirk and St. John’s, and assistance from the CIOC.


Part 2 – The Concert

 The concert was held at Holy Rosary Cathedral as a co-production of the Cathedral and the RCCO Travelling Clinician Program, with the assistance of the CIOC.  An audience of about 130 was present.  The program was almost exclusively transcriptions, being of works by Vivaldi (by Bach), Debussy, Goulet and Saint-Saëns (the Carnival of the Animals), with the addition of an improvisation.  For this writer, the organ transcription of the Vivaldi Concerto in D Minor was already a favourite, and Jean-Willy’s mastery of the instrument made it all the more appealing; his transcription of Debussy’s Arabesque No. 2 was a delightful rendition of the work and a perfect example of showing what the organ can do.  For something completely different, we heard “Citius, Altius, Fortius!” [the motto of the Olympic Games – faster, higher, stronger] which is an orchestral work originally written for the VSO but transcribed for organ by the composer at Jean-Willy’s request.  By coincidence, Maxime Goulet, the composer, was in town and was able to be present at the concert and speak about his composition, a piece with challenges for the hands and feet, including multiple note chords in the feet.  It was over all too soon, and needs to be heard again.


Jean-Willy performing, as seen on the sanctuary screen

 Before the intermission, Jean-Willy took us by surprise with an engaging jazz improvisation featuring some well-known tunes –  Summertime, Autumn Leaves and either Fly Me to the Moon or There Will Never Be Another You, all to show us further “what the organ can do.”  It was delightful.  Along with the audience, the magnificent Cathedral pipe organ was surely smiling throughout this improvisation!


The Cathedral organ loft and Jean-Willy

 This writer played a small role in the staging of the final concert number, Jean-Willy’s transcription of the ever popular “The Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saëns.  Searching for a newer version of the poetry that has customarily preceded each of the 15 sections of the piece, I found an award-winning children’s poet’s writings, and these were utilized in conjunction with whimsical illustrations related to each section.  So it was a reading, accompanied by an illustration projected onto a giant screen (at the front of the Cathedral), followed by a projection of Jean-Willy’s playing of the section (from the balcony at the back).  By all reports this combination of words, pictures and artist playing the music worked well.  The transcription called for some clever tricks (not noticeable to the listener) to counteract the fact that the organ cannot duplicate every sound from the orchestral version of the piece, and the fact that organ keyboards (notwithstanding there are three of them for the hands) do not have 88 keys, as do piano keyboards.  The audience gave Jean-Willy a well-deserved standing ovation.


The Carnival section illustrations, as seen on the sanctuary screen

 From an attendee:

“The recital of transcriptions and an improvisation by Jean-Willy Kunz was one of the highlights of recitals at Holy Rosary. Jean-Willy is an impeccable, relaxed, musical performer, comfortable with many idioms. I particularly enjoyed his improvisation on Autumn Leaves with all its jazz influences. The Bach/Vivaldi D minor transcription was stylistic and Jean-Willy’s own transcription of Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals accompanied by art and poetry, beautifully read by Sam Balden, was both engaging and entertaining.”

As an encore, Jean-Willy played Prelude and Fugue no. 11 in G-flat major by Henry Martin (from Martin’s cycle of preludes and fugues for organ commissioned by Michael Barone, host of Pipedreams on NPR).

The Cathedral outdid itself at the reception for the recitalist and invited guests.  A distinguished guest, M. Philippe Sutter, the Consul General of France in Vancouver, was present for Jean-Willy’s concert, so at the reception M. Sutter and other francophones were able to converse with Jean-Willy in his native French.  As Jean-Willy had not yet had dinner, the sumptuous repast was greatly welcomed and enjoyed by him, as well as the guests.


Jean-Willy and the French Consul General

 Thanks are due to ever-supportive Father Galvon and the Cathedral; Rachel Alflatt for program notes, visit coordination and arrangements; and Tamar Genossar and Michael Dirk for technical support.



RCCO Vancouver Centre 14th Annual Halloween Concert

By Rachel Alflatt


The RCCO Vancouver Centre’s 14th annual Halloween Concert took place on October 25, and was again very successful, attracting an audience of more than 150 people. We had a new venue this year, due to St. Andrew’s Wesley being closed for renovations and seismic upgrades. St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church, where RCCO Vancouver Centre vice-president Michael Dirk is music director, gave us a warm and much appreciated welcome, with assistant rector Reverend Elizabeth Ruder-Celiz attending the concert and greeting the audience during the opening remarks. Michael Dirk (Count Dirkula!) was this year’s MC, providing a smooth transition between performers with interesting and quirky facts, corny jokes, and seasonal poems (the latter written by Sam Balden).



In an atmosphere made spooky by disco dance party lights (the kind which respond and move to music!) in the organ chamber, and a fog machine next to the horizontal trumpet in the back gallery, Michael Dirk started the concert with a fiery interpretation of the Bach BWV 565, aided and abetted by Michael Molnar hidden on the gallery organ, so it sounded as if Dirk was playing a duet with a ghost!  Then followed Angelique Po (Mendelssohn’s Prelude in C minor), Tamar Genossar (Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 533), Huiyuan Cindy Ma, (Grieg’s Death of Ase and In the Hall of the Mountain King, from Peer Gynt), Sandra Bower (Chopin’s Marche funèbre from the Piano Sonata No. 2), John Pals in his own arrangement of Stéphane Delplace’s Prelude and Fugue on a Theme by Henry Mancini, Susan Ohannesian (Berlioz’s March to the Scaffold from the Symphonie fantastique), Michael Molnar in Rheinberger’s little-known, but perfect for Halloween, Scherzoso from Sonata No. 8 and Witches’ Dance by Theodore Kullak, and John Mitchell rounding off the concert with Boëllmann’s Introduction-Choral and Toccata.



Performers at the Halloween Concert. Left to right: Michael Dirk, Angelique Po, John Mitchell, Susan Ohannesian, Sandra Bower, Michael Molnar, John Pals, Tamar Genossar, Huiyuan (Cindy) Ma.

Michael Dirk provided an encore, his own arrangement of the Phantom of the Opera theme with a surprise twist, real drums and cymbals played from a hidden corner by his wife, percussionist Annabelle Dirk. This flowed seamlessly into the Flight of the Bumblebee on the organ pedals, easily visible to the audience on a screen at the front of the church. Halloween candy was handed out to everyone on their way out of the church and the audience left satisfied in every way!

Many thanks to the church and staff of St. John’s Shaughnessy, organizers Michael Dirk and Angelique Po, the performers, and all those who helped in any way to make this event a resounding success.







Vancouver Centre AGM News

By Rachel Alflatt

The RCCO Vancouver Centre AGM took place at St. John’s Shaughnessy Anglican Church on June 22, with 13 people in attendance. Members present thanked Michael Molnar for five years of service as Centre President, and welcomed Angelique Po as our new President, as well as Ginger Shaw as our new Secretary (replacing Angelique Po). Michael Dirk continued as Vice-President and Education Officer, Tamar Genossar as Treasurer, Susan Ohannesian as Membership Coordinator, and Rachel Alflatt, Sam Balden, and Marianne Huestis as members at large.


Plans and ideas for the upcoming year include the annual Halloween Concert (with a change of venue due to the temporary closure of St. Andrew’s Wesley), the RCCO travelling Clinician workshop and recital (more info about these on this website’s “Upcoming Events” page), an organ crawl, a Members and Students recital, and more!

DSC_0023New Centre President Angelique Po, just after performing at this year’s Members and Students Recital

Afterwards the members put together and played the Orgelkit, under the able guidance of Michael Dirk, who has quickly become an expert in the assembly and use of this wonderful teaching tool.


RCCO Vancouver Vice-President and Education Officer Michael Dirk guiding the Orgelkit assembly at the AGM

RCCO Members and Students Recital

By Rachel Alflatt

The RCCO Vancouver Members and Students Recital took place at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale Anglican Church on June 8, and was organized by St. Mary’s organist Susan Ohannesian. Susan dedicated the recital to the memory of Patrick Wedd, writing: “Patrick Wedd, Canadian organist, choral director, church musician, recitalist, recording artist, and CBC commentator died on May 19, 2019 following a brief illness. Patrick was also an inspiration, influence, teacher, mentor and friend to many in Vancouver and Montreal. He was music director here at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale form 1970 to 1975 before taking the position at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver which he held until 1985. He lived and worked in Montreal from 1985 until his death and had just retired from Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal last July 2018. He will be sorely missed across Canada.”

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Organizer Susan Ohannesian and outgoing Centre President Michael Molnar

Performers were Cindy Leung (Dietrich Buxtehude, Prelude in g minor BuxWV 149), John Pals (J. S. Bach, Prelude and Fugue in G BWV 541), Susan Ohannesian (Felix Mendelssohn, Allegretto from Sonata No. 4 Bb major Opus 65 and Buxtehude, Three verses on “Vater Unser“ BuxWV 207), Michael Molnar (A. P. F. Boëly, Verset sur le Kyrie and H. Ernest Nichol, Festal March), Huiyuan (Cindy) Ma (J. S. Bach, Contrapunctus IX from Art of Fugue BWV 1080 and Georg Muffat, Toccata III), Tamar Genossar (Mendelssohn, Prelude No. 3 Opus 37), Michael Blais (Denis Bedard, Madrigal, Petite fleur, Theme et Variations from Sept Offrandes), Rachel Alflatt (Bedard, Recit and Grand Jeu from Suite du premier ton), Gail Ovington (Buxtehude, Praeludium in D BuxWV 139 and Bach, Nun freut euch lieben Christian g’mein BWV 734), Haruyo Shikano Abramson (Mendelssohn, Chorale and Variations “Vater Unser” from Sonata No. 6 in D minor Op. 65), Angelique Po (Paul Hindemith, Lebhaft from Sonata No. 2), and Madelene Klassen (“Three for Holy Week and Beyond”: Dennis Eliot, Hosanna! Hosanna!, Marianne Kim, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour and Emma Lou Diemer, Every Time I Feel the Spirit).


Performers at the Members and Students Recital. Left to right, front row: Madelene Klassen, Rachel Alflatt, Haruyo Shikano Abramson, Gail Ovington, Susan Ohannesian, back row: Michael Blais, Cindy Leung, John Pals, Tamar Genossar, Huiyuan (Cindy) Ma, Angelique Po.

The recital’s theme, “Inspirations and Influences”, emerged after Susan Ohannesian realized that many people were playing Buxtehude, Bach, or Mendelssohn. There was an enthusiastic audience, and a reception followed, with the assembled Orgelkit on display.

DSC_0029Chris Dalton, author of “Pipe Organs of British Columbia”, examining the latest one to arrive in Vancouver!

RCCO visit to the Orpheum Theatre’s historic Wurlitzer Organ

By Rachel Alflatt

On January 26 2019, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra celebrated its 100th anniversary with a day of free events, including a performance by our vice-president Michael Dirk on the historic 1927 Wurlitzer organ in the Orpheum Theatre (the VSO’s home venue) in downtown Vancouver. On that occasion he accompanied the Laurel and Hardy silent short “The Second Hundred Years” for a very enthusiastic audience of about 3000 people.


Thanks to Michael’s connections, and to the financial help of organist Koos van Nieuwkoop, we were able to return to the Orpheum for an organ crawl on February 23, during which local organists had a chance to either try out the organ or to listen to all its sounds, from flutes and trumpets to the “surf button”, with Michael also giving a guided tour into one of the organ chambers.




Those who were there at the beginning or end of the session had the privilege of either seeing the organ rising up to the stage or descending back again.


This was a unique opportunity for us to get to know a different kind of organ from the more classical kind many of us are used to, and to make some fascinating discoveries. This organ is a treasure and hopefully will be preserved as such.


Installed in 1927, it remains the only theatre organ in Canada in its original location, and on its 90th birthday, was designated Heritage Level 1 by the American Theatre Organ Society.

Travelling Clinician Sarah Svendsen sparks students’ interest in the King of Instruments

By Sam Balden

This writer attended the second of two RCCO-sponsored music events, featuring the pipe organ in a program specifically designed for school students.  The sessions were held at St. John’s Shaughnessy Church, 1490 Nanton Avenue in Vancouver, on February 6 at 11 a.m. and February 8, 1:30 p.m.  The organ, a sizeable 1968 Hallman of 4 manuals, comprises 71 stops (69 ranks), and features chambers in the left transept and rear gallery (which includes a state trumpet).


 The Friday event boasted a large and enthusiastic audience, made up of over 300 attendees, being students from Shaughnessy Elementary (9 classes, grades 3-7), York House School (4 classes, grades 1-2), along with teachers, and a few parents and members of the RCCO and St. John’s.  I am advised that most of the children at the event had participated in the assembly and playing of the RCCO OrgelKidsCAN kit, coordinated by Michael Dirk, who also arranged viewings of pipe organ instructional videos and a slideshow of the church’s Hallman organ.


Our presenter, Sarah Svendsen, a native of Nova Scotia, is a graduate of the Yale School of Music and co-founder and performer in the “Organized Crime Duo”. Sarah specializes in the performance of Canadian organ works and has performed in Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.  Her biography indicates that she is also well-known for giving child-friendly educational organ outreach concerts and workshops, but I believe this has, up until now, only involved groups of up to 30, as opposed to this event’s over 300.  So it was up to Sarah to capture and hold the attention of this audience for about one hour, an otherwise formidable task.

After an introduction by Michael, Sarah came ‘on stage’, resplendent in a red gown, and after greeting the crowd began by playing the inimitable Bach Toccata in D Minor.  She then moved to the Fugue, introduced by having the students sing “Row, row, row your boat” in canon form, then playing the bare fugue subject, and then having them tap their own shoulder anytime they heard the fugue subject whenever she played it.  Her subsequent musical examples were from classical repertoire, including Morning and In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Final from Langlais First Symphony, which piece was preceded by her own made-up story, which used themes from the piece as themes for the characters and events in the story.


By using different divisions of the organ, Sarah was able to help the students recognize that music was coming from different directions in the church.  Amongst the tools in her grab bag of school student material, Sarah had the students standing, moving about, and responding with different types of body movements to different colour indications from her.  Keeping the attention of younger students for a whole hour would not have succeeded with organ music alone, and the audience break techniques and games provided by Sarah kept the whole event from falling apart at the seams!

Near the end of the hour, Sarah had the children standing and gyrating to her music (which included both Harry Potter and Star Wars themes), which she would occasionally stop playing (similar to ‘musical chairs’) and they had to freeze and only start up when she continued to play.  Another part of her program had a small number of students ‘play’ the organ  – one ‘improvising’ on keyboard black notes only, with another playing two pedal notes.  These two were shunted sideways (to the right) with a new person playing the pedal notes, the previous pedal person moving to keyboard black note improvisation, and the previous keyboard person being ‘kicked off’ the bench.  Great fun – you had to be there to appreciate this manoeuvre.


Needless to say, all of the preparatory work by Michael, the commentary and organ playing by Sarah, the storytelling and intermittent physical activities made for a fantastic program, and Sarah received a well deserved and enthusiastic round of applause from the assembled throng.

Thanks are especially due to two RCCO stalwarts who did an incredible amount of work behind the scenes in the planning and execution of the two programs, as well as the shepherding and care of Sarah.  The two persons are Michael Dirk, our Centre’s VP/Education Officer and the Director of Music and Organist at St. John’s (as well as music teacher at Shaughnessy Elementary), and Rachel Alflatt, Past President, member of the Centre Executive and page turner extraordinaire.  I am privy to some of the amount of time taken by Michael and Rachel to carry off the whole project, and can assure you that it was considerable.

All in all, a new type of venture for the Vancouver Centre, and a huge inroad into the education of school students about the King of Instruments.  I believe the students who attended went away with much information and maybe some organ music resounding in their heads, thanks to Sarah’s presentation.  For Sarah, she undoubtedly profited from the experience of presenting to such a large, and young, audience.  The Vancouver Centre very much appreciates the provision to us by our National Office of Sarah as a travelling clinician, and appreciates that she participated in a different way from the normal travelling clinician routine.

Yet Another Successful Halloween Concert!

By Michael Molnar

On Friday October 26, the 13th annual RCCO Vancouver Centre Halloween concert took place at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in downtown Vancouver.


With caretaker Tom Rose controlling the lighting and audio, a large screen in place, lavish food on several tables in the back put together after hours of work by Cindy Leung and her team (Thomas Au, Jenifer and Douglas Airey), and all sorts of spooky decorations ornamenting the area near the organ and console, the scene was set as the audience streamed in. Dani Genossar bravely handled all comers, taking donations and handing out programmes and commemorative booklets on the organ, while Susan Ohannesian concocted the perfect brew (with double bubble toil and trouble) of hot apple cider. Behind the scenes, Sam Balden had spent many hours pondering the best edits for this year’s silent movie: Laurel and Hardy’s Habeus Corpus, so as to trim it to the length needed for the Halloween concert. If there was a category for best editing of a silent film in 2018, he would surely be a contender for an academy award nomination, with Huiyuan Ma the computer-savvy organist responsible for the technical wizardry itself!


Centre president Michael Molnar was the MC, offering seasonal jokes, poems, and facts about superstitions and mythology, while giving performers time to settle into place and double-check their settings.  Rachel Alflatt set the tone of the evening with a grand rendition of Bach’s famous Toccata in D Minor. Her student, Huiyuan Ma carried the D Minor theme further with a lofty Postlude by Bruckner. Beginning the more popular and modern element of the concert, Gail Ovington presented a dynamic compilation of Star Wars themes. To ensure we reached our quota of toccatas, Michael Park next played the famous final movement to Boellmann’s Gothic Suite. Providing striking contrast, John Mitchell followed with the theme made famous by Alfred Hitchcock, the Funeral March of a Marionette by Gounod. Then Angelique Po continued the very French portion of the programme with Gigout’s Toccata (from his gem-filled Ten Pieces). For one last exploration of modern tunes, Michael Dirk delivered a hefty medley of themes from Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. To conclude the segment of pure performances, Darryl Nixon effortlessly conquered the quirky Scherzo by Vierne, and followed it with the mighty Esquisse Byzantine No. 10 by Mulet.

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An intermission followed, during which the audience was treated to a wonderful spread of Halloween themed treats. Then, once all was set up and in place, the evening concluded with Laurel and Hardy’s hilarious silent film Habeas Corpus, accompanied masterfully by Edward Norman.

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With Halloween jokes and group pictures, the evening came to a close, and the audience of about 150 people happily devoured most of the remainder of the abundant goodies.



Seismic upgrades will begin in this venue in the next few months, so this was our last Halloween concert here for at least two years. Organizers Rachel Alflatt and Sam Balden are especially grateful to St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church Director of Music Darryl Nixon, and to the church’s Sacred Music Series, for their support.

New CD: Bedard, works for organ and other instruments

Produced under the auspices of the RCCO Vancouver Centre and thanks to a very generous donation by our Regional Director, Sam Balden, this CD features the organs in four Vancouver area churches, and four local musicians:

Langley Canadian Reformed Church, Holy Rosary Cathedral, Queens Avenue United Church, and Kerrisdale Presbyterian Church.

Denis Bedard (organ), Katherine Evans (trumpet), Julia Nolan (saxophone), Rachel Alflatt (organ duet).
Available at present (at a cost of $20) either by contacting Editions Cheldar (, or from the gift shop at Holy Rosary Cathedral (open after the Masses).  Also available for download on iTunes and at CD Baby:

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Another very successful Halloween Concert!

With an enthusiastic audience of 270 people!  Many thanks to all the participants and volunteers who made this possible, and to St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church and the Church’s Sacred Music Series.



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