Halloween is even spookier set to organ music

Organist Chellan Hoffman, music director of Knox United, is ready for Calgary Organ Festival's Halloween events tonight.
Organist Chellan Hoffman, music director of Knox United, is ready for Calgary Organ Festival’s Halloween events tonight. See full schedule and ticket information at
Meet your Calgary Organ Festival maestros: Chellan Hoffman and Neil Cockburn.
Meet your Calgary Organ Festival maestros: Chellan Hoffman and Neil Cockburn.

Happy Halloween! Big night for Calgary Organ Festival tonight with two great events at Knox United. We asked music director Chellan Hoffman why organ music is so perfectly spooky for Halloween.

The organ is a mysterious beast. It’s complex, it’s elusive, it’s unique, it’s powerful.

Hollywood/movie pop culture has often used the organ to set the mood for something mysterious or scary.


Is it because the organ console itself is such a complex machine that it looks like a science experiment?

Is it because the pipe organ has lungs that send air up to the pipes?

Is it because the organist looks a bit like a mad scientist when he/she pulls stops and plays the pedals and keyboards with all available arms and legs?

Is it because the pipe organ can produce such a loud, monstrous, resonant sound that the windows rattle, the chairs vibrate and the floorboards shake?

Or is it because the organ pipes can produce such a hushed and ethereal sound that it could well be the whisper of ghosts and spirits in distant rooms?

Is it because this large instrument seems to be able to hide?

Organs usually reside in large buildings, and if you want to find one, you have to snoop and search. In the dark, usually.

The organ console waits silently behind a wooden screen, a cement wall, a dark corner; it crouches in basements and pits, far away from light switches; it perches in high balconies that can only be reached by creaky, winding staircases!

Hundreds and hundreds of pipes (the vocal cords of the organ), inhabit the empty spaces of the building. Like little mice and big goblins, the pipes are behind walls, up in attics, and under the floorboards.

You can’t always see those pipes, but you can hear their breath, and feel their vibrations.

Maybe Hollywood knew it all along: THE ORGAN IS ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE!

Happy Halloween!

Chellan’s top picks for spooky organ music:

Toccata from Suite Gothique – Leon Boëllmann

Introduction from Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue – Healey Willan

Introduction and Passacaglia – Max Reger

Toccata from Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 – JS Bach

Choral excerpts:

Kyrie and Libera Me movements from “Requiem” – Gabriel Fauré

Here’s a Halloween classical playlist perfect for your own pumpkin carving:

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 31, 2014


Celebrity organist Luc Beauséjour kicks off Calgary Organ Festival

Organist Luc  Beauséjour is performing at Calgary Organ Festival. Photo: Patrick Young
Organist Luc Beauséjour is performing at Calgary Organ Festival. Photo: Patrick Young

Hear Montreal’s Luc Beauséjour tonight.

Award-winning harpsichordist and organist Luc Beauséjour is renowned for the elegance, virtuosity, and expressiveness of his playing, which has won him an enthusiastic audience and the continuing praise of critics and music specialists.

Beauséjour performing schedule sees him travelling throughout Canada, France, the United States, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, and Bermuda. He has performed in Paris, Boston, Washington D.C., Vienna, Munich, and Montreal, as well as at numerous festivals, including the Festival d’Uzès (France), the Lanaudière International Festival, the Festival d’Ambronay, the festival Un été à Bourges, the Lamèque Early Music Festival (New Brunswick), and the Vancouver Early Music Festival. He was invited to perform the Goldberg Variations at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto for a CBC commemoration of the great pianist’s birthday—testimony to the recognition he has earned as one of Canada’s finest musicians. He is also heard regularly on both CBC and Radio-Canada.

He was born in Rawdon, Quebec, and holds a doctorate from the Université de Montréal. He studied harpsichord with Mireille Lagacé and organ with Bernard Lagacé. He also trained in Europe under Ton Koopman and Kenneth Gilbert. He was first-prize winner of the 1985 Erwin Bodky International Harpischord Competition in Boston, he has also won prizes at several other competitions and received a number of grants from the Canada Council and the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec. Mr. Beauséjour teaches harpsichord and organ in Montreal.

What a great way to start Organ Festival!

8 p.m.: Celebrity Organ Recital — Luc Beauséjour (Montreal)

  • Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, Rozsa Centre, University of Calgary, 206 University Court N.W.
  • Tickets: $25 regular, $18 student/senior. On sale at the University of Calgary Campus Ticket Centre.
    This event is hosted by the School of Creative and Performing Arts (Music) of the University of Calgary.


Wyatt Concert Series presents The Assad Brothers


It’s nearly time for Mount Royal Conservatory’s next Wyatt Artist in Residence Concert Series performance.

The Assad Brothers are performing Nov. 9. Tickets are available now.

The Brazilian-born classical, Latin and jazz infused Assad Brothers aren’t just treating their Calgary audience to an unforgettable concert: they’re here to instruct our Academy for Gifted Youth Guitar program as part of the Wyatt Series.

Murray Visscher, Mount Royal Conservatory Academy for Gifted Youth guitar program co-coordinator.

And the students are in for the masterclass of a lifetime, says Murray Visscher, Academy program co-coordinator and ensemble coach.

“I remember first hearing the Assad Brothers while I was in university. They had recently released the album, Latin American Music for Two Guitars, and they were coming to perform in Vancouver. The concert was amazing. They were fast and fluid with effortless ensemble, filling the room with their contagious passion for the works that they played,” said Visccher, who received his Masters Degree at the San Francisco Conservatory and has performed for audiences in major North American cities.

“I went to the concert with a group of guitar student friends and we all went away wanting to play just like that. The Assads have been a huge inspiration to my generation of guitarists and they continue to inspire. I’m thrilled that our Academy students have the opportunity to share the excitement that has motivated so many players to challenge their musical and technical boundaries in an effort to simulate the achievements of Sergio and Odair Assad.”

Sérgio and Odair Assad have set the benchmark for all other guitarists by creating a new standard of guitar innovation, ingenuity and expression.

The Assad Brothers are setting new performance standards and are playing a major role in creating and introducing new music for two guitars.

The Assads have worked with renowned artists Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Fernando Suarez Paz, Paquito D’Rivera, Gidon Kremer and Dawn Upshaw.

Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy Program for Gifted Youth began in 1980 and is an enrichment program providing musical training of the highest quality for gifted young artists.

The Academy Program offers participants a balanced, performance-based course of study, as well as opportunities to meet and perform with professional musicians and renowned teachers.

Specific training includes sessions with acclaimed musicians in private lessons, small group classes and masterclasses; individual sessions with an accompanist; chamber music coaching; instruction in theory, aural skills and musical discoveries; frequent recitals aimed at developing confidence and stage presence; and participation in a large ensemble for those students who play orchestral instruments.

DID YOU KNOW? The Wyatt Artist in Residence series honours Hal Wyatt and his late wife Marnie, long-time friends and supporters of the Mount Royal University Conservatory.

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 22, 2014

Meet the man behind Calgary Organ Festival: Neil Cockburn

Mount Royal Conservatory's Neil Cockburn is head of Organ Studies, MRU carillonneur, and organizer of Calgary Organ Festival, which begins this week.
Mount Royal Conservatory’s Neil Cockburn is head of Organ Studies, the campus carillonneur, and artistic director of the Calgary Organ Festival, which begins this week. Click here for full schedule.

International prize-winning organist Neil Cockburn wears many hats. He is head of Organ Studies at Mount Royal Conservatory, artistic director of the upcoming Calgary Organ Festival, and director of Mount Royal Conservatory’s Purcell Ensemble. He is also the continuo player and organist for the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

Did we mention he is a 2014 Distinguished Teaching Award winner at Mount Royal

Neil Cockburn performing at a free, monthly recital inside Wyatt Recital Hall at MRU.
Neil Cockburn performing at a free, monthly recital inside Wyatt Recital Hall at MRU.


Soloist, recitalist, accompanist, and orchestral musician – Cockburn does it all. He has been a central figure developing musical culture of the pipe organ in Calgary and Western Canada since 2000 when he took the helm at Mount Royal’s organ studies.

On the Mount Royal campus, he offers free lunch-hour organ recitals in Wyatt Recital Hall on the second Thursday of each month.

It’s high time to pull back the curtain and learn more about Cockburn.

He was born in Scotland and began playing the organ at 13. He studied music as an undergraduate at Oxford University and Organ Scholar of Keble College, and then went on to earn his master’s degree in organ performance at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, U.K.  He also studies at the Conservatoire Nationale de Région Rueil-Malmaison in France before earning  a PhD in musicology at the University of Calgary.

He won first prize at the 1996 Dublin International Organ Competition, and has received numerous other prestigious awards. He has performed in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Sweden, the United States, Canada and South Africa.

With the Calgary Organ Festival beginning this week, Cockburn reflected on the past five years.

“Looking back, I am immediately struck by the outstanding calibre of musicians, and the sheer variety of events that we and our partners have been able to offer. No less imposing has been the enthusiasm and delight of our audience members and participants. We love our instrument in all its glory – its majesty, its uniqueness, and its quirkiness!”

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 20, 2014

Christmas in Song kicking off the season early!


Mount Royal Conservatory is getting a head start on the festive yuletide season with its Christmas in Song concert Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.

Now in its 26th year, Christmas in Song has delighted family audiences with a mixture of holiday favourites, classical masterpieces and traditional carols. It’s become a treasured part of the city’s holiday festivities.

Christmas in Song is an excellent showcase featuring the talents of the Calgary Youth Orchestra, and Mount Royal’s family of choirs: Arietta, Arioso, Artio and Kantorei. This year, the Conservatory’s Jazz faculty and students will be adding some seasonal swing.

“For me, the musical highlight of the season is always Christmas in Song — the Conservatory’s wonderful yuletide celebration,” says Mount Royal Conservatory Director Paul Dornian. “It’s always a thrill to see such a large stage filled with Mount Royal choristers and Calgary Youth Orchestra members.”

Performers will be sharing the stage with Calgary’s Heebee-jeebees, the popular a cappella group made up of several Mount Royal choral alumni: Cédric Blary, Chris Herard, Ken Lima-Coelho, and Jonathan Love.

For some of the children in Arietta and Arioso, this is their first performing experience.

The Conservatory is especially pleased to collaborate once again with Glencoe Resources, its long-time partners in Christmas in Song.


Tickets: Adults $30, Students/Seniors $20, Children under 12 $10, family and group discounts available. Call 403.440.7770

Conservatory holding semi-annual piano sale

for paino saleIt’s that special time again: Mount Royal Conservatory’s semi-annual piano sale is coming up fast on Oct. 24-25.

This sale is exclusively for students, parents, employees and alumni of Mount Royal University, thanks to a long-time agreement with Kawai Pianos and its local dealer Standard Pianos.

There is a wide selection of grand, upright and digital pianos — new and used — offered at exceptional prices. Some are pianos used in the Conservatory’s music program. All of the instruments on sale have been professionally maintained and include a warranty from Standard Pianos or the Kawai factory.

! MRU employees, students and alumni will receive a special discount on the first day of the sale. !

Since 1993, Kawai Pianos and Standard Pianos have provided a large number of pianos to the Conservatory at no charge.

In addition, Kawai Music Canada has established an annual piano scholarship of $3,000 for the outstanding piano student in the Conservatory, as well as a new piano fund. This fund provides annual income to help purchase new instruments for the Conservatory.


Friday, Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Mount Royal University’s Lincoln Park Room (J301)

or call for an appointment 403.209.2232

Visa and Interac are accepted. Delivery will be available.


MRU carillon making campus unique

Ding dong, it's the carillon: Mount Royal University is among the few Canadian campuses to feature a bell tower that chimes on the hour and plays music. A live concert is planned Oct. 27 at noon.
Ding dong, it’s the carillon: Mount Royal University is among the few Canadian campuses to feature a bell tower that chimes on the hour and plays music. A live concert is planned Oct. 27 at noon.

When you’re running late to class or to a meeting on campus, Mount Royal University’s carillon always lets you know.

Mount Royal is among the country’s only campuses with a digital carillon (with its 51-bell Soldier’s Tower, the University of Toronto is the only Canadian university with a true, bells-only carillon).

And you can bet Mount Royal may be the only Canuck campus carillon that plays the theme from Star Wars.

The 60-foot high Kerby Memorial Tower and digital carillon chimes hourly between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. It plays four songs daily: two at noon and two at 6 p.m. With 50 songs in its repertoire, which shuffle and play at random, it takes two weeks to run through them. The repertoire is largely classical, but a keen ear will pick up familiar tunes including The Entertainer, Cabaret, New York, New York and Send in the Clowns.

Mount Royal Conservatory head of organ studies Neil Cockburn is the university’s offical carillonneur.
Mount Royal Conservatory head of organ studies Neil Cockburn is the university’s offical carillonneur.

“I always find it quite relaxing, it brings something special to campus,” said carillonneur Neil Cockburn, Mount Royal University Conservatory’s head of organ studies.

Cockburn helped the carillon find its voice again – after falling into silence over the years, the digital bells returned in the mid 2000s. MRU’s 2010 centennial marked the start of daily chimes and tunes, thanks to Cockburn, who programs it to play. He performs live during convocation. Cockburn also hosts a free live Carthy organ concert in Wyatt Recital Hall on the second Thursday of every month.

Cockburn is performing a free, live outdoor carillon concert Monday, Oct. 27 at 12:10 p.m. as part of the Calgary Organ Festival.

The open air event is audible around campus but the best seats in the house will be listening from the TransCanada Amphitheatre at MRU’s Charlton (82)

The carillon can either be played live using a keyboard in the programming booth of Wyatt Recital Hall or automated using a memory card.

Kerby Memorial Tower and its carillon was officially unveiled in 1972 — when the Lincoln Park campus opened — to honour founder Dr. George W. Kerby.

Reportedly, the carillon can be heard over a four-mile radius, making its broadcast the true voice of the university and part of Mount Royal’s architectural identity.


  • The same company salesman that sold Mount Royal the original carillon — Schulmerich Bells’ John Nelson in 1969 — also provided the centennial upgrade to digital. Now that’s service!
  • Last Christmas, @MountRoyal4U used twitter to encourage the student body to tweet carol suggestions. Carillonneur Neil Cockburn played Up on the Rooftop during the Conservatory’s Treble and Truss roof raising of its new building.
  • The bell tower was designed to age quickly so it looks like it’s been around forever: the speaker boxes are made out of weathering steel that rusts in the rain, washing down and staining the concrete.carilon
  • The bell tower’s peak inspired the design of Mount Royal University’s current logo, which takes its cues from the triangulated, diagonal shapes seen in campus architecture, including the East Gate, the West Gate, and the peak of the carillon.
  • The carillon plays eight different chimes, including the famed Westminster Peal from Big Ben, Winchester, and Lord Tennyson. Other bell voices include True Cast, Flemish Bells, Harp Bells, English Bells, Celesta Bells, and Organ Chime.
  • The bell tower originally contained 147 miniature bronze bell units which were struck by metal.
  • By definition, a true carillon must have at least 23 bells — any fewer and the instrument is considered a chime.

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 7, 2014

October is Calgary Organ Festival time

MRU Carthy Organ
Mount Royal University Conservatory’s Carthy Organ is a real beauty. Recitals are planned city-wide for the Calgary Organ Festival Oct. 24-Nov. 2.

Internationally-acclaimed performers, free campus concerts and a Halloween night silent film screening set to live music are in store for audiences of the Calgary Organ Festival and Symposium Oct. 24 to Nov. 2.

If you’re new to it, the 10-day festival is filled with recitals around the city, a symposium , a hands-on workshop and worship services.

And since Calgary is said to have the highest number of pipe organs of any city west of Toronto, it seems fitting to show them off. This marks the fifth year for the festival, which is organized by Mount Royal University Conservatory.

Recitals around the city include performances by international recording artist and early music specialist Luc Beauséjour (Montreal), and multi-international competition laureate and silent film specialist David Baskeyfield (UK/USA).

Halloween night will be celebrated in style at the Great Halloween Organ SpookTacular, featuring a screening of the 1925 silent movie Phantom of the Opera set to live pipe organ accompaniment at Knox United Church. Baskeyfield is increasingly renowned for silent film accompaniment; besides Phantom, he’s created music for Nosferatu (1922).

Here on campus at MRU, there is a free, live outdoor carillon concert Oct. 27 at 12:10 p.m.

The open air event is audible around campus but we recommend bringing a blanket to sit on and listening from the TransCanada Amphitheatre by MRU’s Charlton Pond.

And if you’ve never visited the Conservatory’s Wyatt Recital Hall, home to our stunning Carthy organ, there’s a free recital Thursday, Oct. 30 at 12:10 p.m. Francine Nguyen-Savaria will be performing the organ music of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).

The full festival schedule is available online.


Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 6, 2014

Polaris performer prepped by Conservatory pro

Violinist Jesse Zubot is a former student of Bill van der Sloot. His live performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Polaris Music Prize gala is turning heads. Photo: Victoria Johnson
Violinist Jesse Zubot is a former student of the Conservatory’s Bill van der Sloot. The noted improviser’s live performance with Tanya Tagaq at the Polaris Music Prize gala is turning heads. Photo: Victoria Johnson

People are still talking about Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq’s Polaris Music Prize gala performance last week. But take a closer look on stage: that’s violinist Jesse Zubot. Did you know he got his start taking lessons from our Academy for Gifted Youth manager Bill van der Sloot? Zubot began playing violin at age four and studied with van der Sloot until he was 16.

Mount Royal Conservatory's Academy manager Bill van der Sloot
Mount Royal Conservatory’s Academy manager Bill van der Sloot

(His brother Joshua Zubot also studied at the Conservatory.)

Zubot, who now calls Britannia Beach, B.C., home where he runs the critically acclaimed creative music label Drip Audio, is part of three Juno Award-winning acts: the acoustic-roots ensemble Zubot & Dawson, The Great Uncles of the Revolution and Fond of Tigers.

He came back to the Conservatory as a guest artist for the Academy a few years back.

We caught up with Zubot to learn more about his Conservatory experience.

Jesse Zubot: One of the best things I got through the teachings from Bill was learning very clean and precise technique. This saved me a lot of time once I became a professional musician. As an adult musician, I could concentrate more on composing and creating exciting performances instead of having to spend all my time keeping my playing together.

Question: Your incredible work with Tanya Tagaq was a joy to hear and to watch during the Sept. 22 live performance at the Polaris gala. What do you think audiences took away from your performance? What was the experience like for you?

Jesse Zubot: I think the audience at the Polaris took away that it’s OK to be musically free…  I think they may have sensed some form of spiritual awakening almost.  Working with Tanya is all about being in the moment and letting the music guide you. We pretty much do 100 per cent improvised performances so it is very real and can even be overwhelming for some listeners as we aren’t afraid to raise the roof with extreme volume or intense emotions. Hopefully the Canadian music industry will be more open to supporting more artistic live musical performances in the future at award shows. The experience was great for me. It was good to actually really do what we do instead of conforming to an arranged piece of music that is the same as the actual recording, like most others did. It felt great to get some recognition for our work. We’ve been touring hard for the last six or seven years.

Question: Looking back, what was the best advice you received as a young musician that you carry with you today?

Jesse Zubot: I would say having fun and being committed is very important. If you make the decision to be a musician you really have to honour that decision and go for it 100 per cent.  It can be a hard life, but if you give it all you got, you will be rewarded greatly.

And here’s what Bill has to say about Jesse Zubot:

“The interesting thing about Jesse is that his imagination is boundless. He defies description as an artist. He has the facility and skills of an accomplished classical musician and that’s what makes him so amazing. He’s invented his own style of playing violin, that’s his imagination. There’s no one in the world that plays like him.”

And here’s a favourite memory: “I remember when he was 12, we couldn’t find him to go on stage to play a Paganini violin concerto in D major. We found him on a stage ramp riding his new skateboard while wearing his tux!”

Sherri Zickefoose, Oct. 2, 2014