When I moved to Ottawa in 1979, one of the first places I wanted to visit was the Church of St John the Evangelist, where they had recently installed a new tracker-action organ built by Gabriel Kney of Fergus, Ontario. I had heard of the new organ, and wanted to see it and meet the organist, Ewen McCuaig.  Ewen became a good friend and supporter as I started building my life as an organist in Ottawa.  When Ewen retired in 1986, I became the organist of St John's -- only the third organist since 1923!

 

Prior to moving to Ottawa, I had been guest organist of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. The organ there is a five-manual, 214 stop Aeolian Skinner. I often say that God gave me all my strings celeste in one whack, because there were 11 celeste ranks on the Tabernacle organ.

 

St John's is very different. The organ is a two-manual tracker with 21 stops (no celestes) built and voiced in the style of the North German baroque. It's good for some of the music of Sweelinck and Scheidemann and Buxtehude and Bach and their friends. But playing the Anglican liturgy is a major challenge; the organ is tonally limited, and the sound can be a little severe. The tracker action is very heavy, and when both manuals are coupled together it is a tough workout for the fingers. After 30 years of playing that organ, my hands were majorly sore. Something had to happen. I couldn't keep playing this organ as my principal instrument.

 

In the summer of 2009 I attended the RCCO national convention in Toronto. One of the exhibitors was Classic Organ Works. They were demonstrating their midi workstation using Hauptwerk software on a MacPro computer playing samples from a Charles Mutin organ in France. I spent a lot of time at the Hauptwerk exhibit, imagining how computer software and digital technology might be used to answer the organ challenges I faced at St John's.

 

In the first three months of 2010, I was on sabbath leave. I figured this would be the perfect time to take on building a digital organ as a project. There was no way the church was going to pay for this organ; I mean, they already had a beautiful pipe organ, how could I convince them that it wasn't enough? No, this project would have to be financed out of my own pocket.