Archive for RCCO Vancouver Updates

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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2017 Halloween Concert!

It’s that time of year again!  After a very successful Halloween concert last year, with an audience of well over 300 people, we are planning our 12th annual event for Friday October 27 at 7:30 pm, at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (Burrard and Nelson, Vancouver), in collaboration with the St. Andrew’s-Wesley Sacred Music Series.

And this year there’s a new twist!  We will present the first ever “Frankenstein” movie, a short silent film dating from 1910, accompanied by renowned Vancouver organist Edward Norman, who has delighted audiences for some years now with his inventive and technically stunning silent movie accompaniments.

Of course the audience will also be treated to Halloween themed music, ranging from the famous Bach D minor Toccata to themes from “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Phantom of the Opera”.

For more info, visit the “Upcoming Events” section of this website.


RCCO Vancouver – Annual General Meeting 2017

To all RCCO Members, it is almost time to have our next Annual General Meeting.

This year, we will be having it at St. John’s Shaughnessy, located on Granville at Nanton (near King Edward) on June 10th, at 3:00p.m.

We also have console time and sailing opportunities to look forward to before and after the meeting.

photo 3The sailing trips will be offered as usual on board “Bachus”, and for those interested in sailing before or after, do RSVP to Mr. Dirk to ensure we know who to expect and can accommodate everyone (at
The pre-meeting option will commence at noon from the Burrard Marina (near Bard-on-the-Beach and Vanier Park).
The post-meeting option will be launching at 5:30p.m. from the same location.

organThe console time on St. John’s Shaughnessy’s four-manual Hallmann will take place from 2:30p.m.-3:00p.m. It was the GVRD’s largest organ from 1967-2004, and in February, Rene Marceau of Seattle re-voiced two ranks in the Gallery with tremendous results.
As the church is planning on an interior revitalization project (especially since the organ will be celebrating 50 years next October), input from local organists will be welcome.
Some extra console time for those still interested will be available (time permitting) after the meeting, around 4:30p.m.-5:00p.m.

Parking is available next to the church, and light refreshments will be offered during the meeting and afterwards.
We hope to see many of you there,

Michael Molnar
President: RCCO Vancouver Centre

RCCO 2017 Student Recital



RCCO Student Recital performers and their teachers

The biennial RCCO Student Recital took place very successfully on May 7 at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale. Performers Haruyo Abramson, Michael Blais, Joan Chard, Cindy Ma, Gail Ovington, and Alex and Max Schmidt impressed and moved the audience with works ranging from Buxtehude to Bédard and including Gigout, Sidney Campbell, T Mee Patterson, and J. S. Bach.  In addition to the solo performances, twin brothers Alex and Max Schmidt played duets by Denis Bédard.  The concert was followed by a reception in the parish hall. Many thanks to St. Mary’s organist and long time RCCO member Susan Ohannesian for organizing this event.

2016 RCCO Halloween Concert, a huge success!

By Michael Molnar and Rachel Alflatt

Once again, St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (the largest Gothic-style church in Vancouver) was filled with skulls, skeletons, and spiders, a giant inflatable ghost, lights and a projector, and performers in costume started double-checking their registrations (the pistons were slightly haunted).
In the half hour leading up to the concert, we ran out of programs twice (running off to print more each time), and shortly after it began, we ran out a third time.  We had far more people than usual (at least 340) and an interview with some of the performers, which was broadcast on CBC Radio One’s Early Edition that morning, was likely the main reason for the unexpectedly high turn-out.

The audience enjoying the Boellmann Toccata

Tamar Genossar began with Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, followed by Aquarium from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival (performed by new member Michael Park). Then Denis Bédard and Rachel Alflatt filled the building with a movement from Merkel’s grand Sonata for Organ Duet. Our Regional Director and MC Sam Balden was bringing laughter from the audience in between each performer, with interesting stories and jokes about Halloween. The evening continued with Susan Ohannesian doing a haunting Dubois Cortege and the Gigout Toccata. Sam followed this with a dark excerpt from a Requiem and the Funeral March for a Marionette (by Gounod). After this, Michael Dirk (who was also operating the camera) presented Langlais’ Épilogue for Pedal Solo, from the Homage to Frescobaldi, showing people a close-up of the Gleason pedal technique. Haruyo Shikano Abramson next did an arrangement of the Phantom of the Opera. Local president Michael Molnar then offered an arrangement of the Death of Ase (from Grieg’s Peer Gynt) and the spooky Waltz from Rawsthorne’s Dance Suite. The concert concluded with Gail Ovington (who flew in from Kamloops) performing the Boellmann Toccata (from the Suite Gothique).


The performers and some costumed audience members

The reception afterwards was filled with all kinds of goodies, very well put together by a team of helpers led by Cindy Leung (with extra treats bought during the concert by Dani Genossar, due to the size of the audience), and the narthex was packed with concert-goers.

Some of the many Halloween goodies

Many thanks to St. Andrew’s Wesley United Church, Darryl Nixon, the CBC Early Edition, and all those who organized, performed and helped in any way with this event.  It was a huge success and we are already looking forward to next year!

Open Position – West Vancouver Presbyterian Church

Is This You?

Inspiring Organist/Pianist /Part-time Choir Director

West Vancouver Presbyterian Church is seeking an enthusiastic Music Director who is comfortable with both traditional and more contemporary hymns and choral music to inspire inter-generational worship.

Location: West Vancouver Presbyterian Church (WVPC) – 2893 Marine Drive, West Vancouver BC.

Starting Date: November 1, 2016

Details:  Website:

– Kawai G2 grand piano and Allen Electric Organ

– Actual playing time of 2-4 hours per week including:

–  1 weekly Sunday service (10:30 a.m.)

–  1 monthly choir practice (currently Thursday evening for approximately 1.5 hrs.)

–  1 monthly half-hour choir practice from 9:30 – 10:00 a.m. prior to our Sunday service.

–  Additional compensation will be paid according to the musician’s need to: organize and select music; meet with the minister; practice during the week; and attend to other matters which might arise. The number of hours will be negotiated according to experience and need.

– The piano and organ are available for practice time during the day (not so much during evening hours).

– Music is not always confined to our hymn book, The Book of Praise. Anthems and other special pieces are often used and are taken from our very substantial music files.

– The musician selects the music for preludes and postludes and for the monthly choir piece(s) according to the scripture and theme of the Sunday service; the minister selects the hymns.

– There may be other times (funerals and weddings) when the musician’s services could be requested; the musician would be paid separately on these occasions.

– The successful applicant should enjoy sharing their gifts of music along with the desire to bring out the best from our small, dedicated choir.

– Salary is dependent upon experience.

- Interested candidates are asked to reply via email to our HR Coordinator,
Kaireen Morgan at: