CANADA

A sonata for organ and cash

ELIZABETH GRAY December 29 1980
CANADA

A sonata for organ and cash

ELIZABETH GRAY December 29 1980

A sonata for organ and cash

The search for a new artistic director for Stratford’s Shakespearean Festival consumed the passions of cultural nationalists (see page 49), and there are now rumblings of a mini-Stratford within the rarefied confines of the Royal Canadian College of Organists (RCCO), membership 1,200. At stake are both the time-honored tradition of British church music in Canada and the more secular but no less timehonored preference for cheap labor.

In the past year, five major church organist jobs have gone to non-Canadians, most of them British, and a sixth may follow soon. Indeed, for a Canadian to be hired by any of the big-league churches is the exception rather than the rule, and RCCO (founded in 1909) has, until recently, done more to perpetuate the tradition than change it. But in the fall of 1979, the RCCO established a committee on professional status, led by

Ottawa organist Ewen McCuaig, which set out to look at salaries and working conditions for church organists and wound up beating a nationalist drum. It found the salaries Dickensian: many organists work 20 to 35 hours a week for less than $5,000 a year, the average earns about $7,000. But what outraged McCuaig and his committee was the discovery that the plum jobs, those few paying between $12,000 and $14,000, never seem to go to Canadians.

Church establishments in Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and St. Catharines, Ont., have recently hired British or American organists without, in the committee’s view, conducting a proper search for Canadians. In Toronto, a committee at Grace Church on-theHill failed in their initial bid to acquire

landed immigrant status for British organist Ian Sadler, 23, because Canada Manpower declared there were Canadians available for the job. So Sadler simply did an end run—he applied through Canada House in London and, last September, fresh from the position of assistant organist and choirmaster at St. Paul’s Cathedral, he arrived in Toronto to take up one of the best-paid church organist jobs in Canada($12,000 a year).

Frustrated by the apathy with which the RCCO regards such events, McCuaig committed the unpardonable sin of going public last month, writing letters to newspapers and giving an interview on CBC-FM criticizing the appointments. And the old guard within the RCCO, many of whom are British and enjoy a comfortable relationship with the churches, rose up in wrath. McCuaig was summoned to Toronto to face disciplinary measures from the RCCO executive. After a five-hour meeting, he was forbidden to speak further to the press and last week was referring all calls to RCCO President Gerald Bales, composer

and music professor at the University of Ottawa. “The college supports Canadians,” Bales says.“But we are not a union and we can’t offend the churches. They pay the salaries. If the law is being abused, then Immigration should do something.”

Meanwhile, in Brockville, Ont., St. Peter’s Church authorities are hoping to hire Andrew Worton-Stewart of Hove, Sussex, England. The job, widely advertised in Britain, pays about $7,500—a salary that, according to Bales, is at least twice its equivalent in England. Worton-Stewart, whose application for landed-immigrant status appeared to be running into trouble late last summer, has recently made a second application through Canada House. As Grace Church on-the-Hill proved, a lot of paperwork never makes it across the ocean. -ELIZABETH GRAY