“The day returns again, my natal day. …The day, commemorative of my birth, Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me” – Jane Austen, a poem written on her 33rd birthday, 1808

We gathered on December 9th to celebrate the 248th birthday of our beloved author. The day featured music, lively chats, and a fabulous feast!

After a few housekeeping notices and the Pride & Prejudice reading, we walked over to the sanctuary of St. Philip’s Anglican Church for a musical presentation by the talented Michael Murray, who has been the Director of Music at St. Philip’s Anglican Church since 2001. He began studying the organ when he was 14 years old. In 1983, he obtained his Bachelor of Music degree in organ performance from Western Washington University in Bellingham. Since 2011, he has conducted the Abendmusik Chamber Choir. This ensemble sings twice a year for Advent and Lent Vespers services. 

Michael began by enlightening us about the evolution of the organ, emphasizing its role in providing music in churches throughout time. The organ, comprised of 2000 pipes, is a cost-effective alternative to employing an ensemble, making it a popular choice for church music. An additional benefit is that it can produce continuous, colourful sounds, creating a comforting ambiance in the sanctuary.

We delved into the intricacies of organ music, with Michael showcasing the complexity of Bach’s Fugues and Cantatas, which required the full extent of an organ player’s skill and were written to highlight the full capability of the instrument. An intriguing revelation about the manual labor involved during Austen’s time, where a team of six people manually pumped the instrument, added a historical perspective to the organ’s history.

Our journey continued with a glimpse into the history of the organ at St. Philip’s. The church has installed five organs over the past century, the latest in 1961. The current organ cost $50,000, which was the same cost as a house in the Dunbar area at the time.

Michael then treated us to delightful renditions of holiday classics, “Deck the Halls” and “While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks,” showcasing the instrument’s versatility. 

We learned about the different types of organs and their variations, with Michael pointing out the distinct features of Jane Austen’s church organ, which would have had fewer pedals than its German counterparts. Interestingly, the first version of the organ, called a hydraulis, was an early type of pipe organ powered by water and dates back to the ancient Hellenistic period. It was a remarkable invention that used a system of water pressure to push air through the organ pipes. The hydraulis was often used in ancient theaters and public events for its ability to produce loud and impressive music.

Michael went on to describe how logistical nuances, such as the placement of the organ, can affect the sound quality. The best sound is with the organ placed at the back of the church. When questioned by a member about which local organ has the best sound, Michael replied that, in his opinion, the organ at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria deserves that distinction.

Following Michael’s intriguing musical presentation, we transitioned into the celebratory segment of Jane Austen’s birthday. Our feast included a sumptuous lunch featuring a baked ham provided by Barbara Phillips. Janice Mallison led a heartwarming toast to Jane, drawing inspiration from a poignant blog entry on the Jane Austen’s House website found here.

Until the next meeting, may the echoes of the organ and the spirit of Jane Austen’s words continue to resonate in our hearts.

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