On June 19, one of the longest-serving organists and choirmasters in the diocese, Murray Baer, played his last Sunday at St. Mary, Richmond Hill, leaving the parish with 33 years of rich musical memories. “I will miss the people the most,” he said. ”I have such good friends at St. Mary’s. I will also miss the choir. They are like family to me. And of course, I will miss playing the wonderful organ.”
Mr. Baer was in his 20s when he joined the parish. He first became involved in church music at his family’s Baptist congregation. He taught himself the organ and he was good enough to take an interim position at People’s Church, Toronto, before joining St. Mary’s under the then-incumbent, the Rev. Canon Gerald Loweth.
There was a learning curve, but Mr. Baer soon adjusted to leading Anglican worship. How did he maintain a vibrant musical life at St. Mary’s? “I think the main challenge is trying to keep it interesting,” he said. “Retaining the traditional style of music is important, but introducing new music is also important. I strongly believe that variety is the best approach.”
Over the years, Mr. Baer organized concerts, using the church’s own musical talent, and in 2001 he began the St. Mary’s Orchestra with about 20 parishioners. “We had strings, flutes, clarinets, oboe, trumpets, trombone, French horn, tuba, saxophone, piano and even guitar,” he recalled. “A pretty good mix. We even took the orchestra on the road and played at a couple of local churches. All good exposure for St. Mary’s in the community.”
A major project during Mr. Baer’s tenure was the purchase and installation of a new Keates-Geissler pipe organ in 1988. “I think the people of St. Mary’s are proud of the beautiful organ we have. It really adds to the sense of celebration evident in the wonderful congregational singing.”
During 33 years, Mr. Baer worked with four Incumbents and many other clergy and staff. Like many organists, he has also had a successful career outside the church, including his own computer consulting business. He only ever missed one Sunday at the organ – the day his daughter was born.
Just before his departure, Mr. Baer recorded a CD of favourite organ pieces. “I wanted to be able to leave something behind for the people to remember me by,” he said. His retirement plans include spending time at a lakeside home in Prince Edward County with his partner, Jeanne.
Mr. Baer has no plans to take on another full time position, but he will be available to substitute. He also intends to keep up his involvement in a community orchestra. Apart from that, he said, “we’ll see what else comes along!”
Submitted by John Oakes.