Gerald Martindale sits in a small fluorescent-lit room in the tower of Metropolitan United pounding the wooden baton keys of the historic carillon sending halcyon notes out amongst the noisy Queen Street traffic, screaming ambulances, bustling pedestrians, smokers chatting on the benches and dog walkers strolling through the church yard.
Martindale, who’s toured extensively playing carillons across the United States and Europe, has been chiming the bells that hang above Queen and Church since 1997.
Playing this old instrument requires both musical and physical adeptness. The carillonneur must climb 100 or so narrow and winding wooden steps to reach the series of wooden keys and pedals that control the clappers inside the 54 stationary bells brought to Canada from England, Holland and France. Playing the instrument also appears to be a workout.
Watch the video below to see Martindale playing.
Martindale’s predecessor, James Slater, played for 35 years and decided to retire when the climb just became too much for him.
“I consider it a great honour to play this carillon because it’s one of the few in Canada and I have one of the few paid carillon positions, as well,” Martindale told CityNews.ca.
Cold air rushes into the fusty space when he cracks open a trap door in the ceiling, allowing the full breadth of sound to flow in from the open tower above.
“On Sunday mornings I play a mixture of compositions for the carillon, suitable classical music and hymns that we sing in the service,” Martindale said. “And then for guest recitals I also include popular songs and folk songs, as well.”
In 1928 a fire destroyed the original church, built in 1872. The tower and the carillon inside were the only elements spared by the flames. The current church opened a year later.
The carillon, which originally consisted of the required 23 bells, was installed in 1922 and 12 bells were added in 1960 and an additional 19 in 1971.
And down below, inside the church, sits another historic instrument.
Metropolitan United also houses Canada’s largest pipe organ. Dr. Patricia Wright is the chief musician that manipulates the keys, pedals and knobs, controlling the more than 7,800 pipes, filling the historic building with emotive and stentorian sound.
“Like most organists, I started as a pianist … I started when I was a teenager and then I went to university and then I went to graduate school and got a doctorate and I’ve just been playing ever since,” Wright said.
The Casavant, made in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, was installed at the church in 1930.
“Not many organs have five keyboards,” Wright said.
“We have two of the most historic musical instruments in Canada in this church.”
Martindale regularly conducts carillon tours and the tower participates in Toronto’s Doors Open program.
The Metropolitan offers free concerts every Thursday starting at 12:15pm.
For more on music at the Met, click here.