This text is part of the special section Discovering our history
Titular organist of Saint-Joseph’s Oratory since 2015, Vincent Boucher strives to promote the musical life of this place of healing. And this is not without counting on the presence of the great Beckerath organ, the jewel of the basilica.
“The great organ is powerful and present, without being too loud. In its extreme sweetness, you can hear it everywhere, says the titular organist of Saint-Joseph’s Oratory, Vincent Boucher, looking up at the masterful instrument which overlooks the basilica, and whose mechanisms he describes with remarkable precision. . Even the brilliant chamades, these pipes in the shape of a horizontal trumpet, are well harmonized. »
This colossus of wood and metal is made up of 5811 pipes divided into 78 stops — rows of pipes allowing you to obtain a particular tone — and five keyboards, in addition to the pedalboard. It is the first of its kind to have been built in Quebec, moreover by a German factor, Rudolf von Beckerath. It is distinguished by its vastness, for a mechanical organ, but also because it was innovative at the time of its installation.
His arrival in 1960, at the request of the congregation, revived the musical life of the Oratory and constituted a small revolution in Quebec and internationally. The secret lies in the quality and authenticity of the sound obtained thanks to its perfect integration into the place. “We are able to attract high-calibre musicians thanks to our reputation,” emphasizes Vincent Boucher, while organist, harpsichordist and professor of music at the University of Montreal Luc Beauséjour makes the instrument sing in the basilica.
Two rooms, two atmospheres
After taking two elevators and crossing a small chapel, where the tomb of Father André is located, Vincent Boucher enters the crypt built in 1916. “This remains the nerve center of pastoral life, because 50 of the 52 masses take place here, as well as concerts”, he explains in a low voice, so as not to disturb the few visitors who are meditating.
The Casavant organ, smaller, is discreet at the back of the room where a more intimate atmosphere reigns. This century-old instrument is, however, at the end of its life and should be completely rebuilt in the coming years. Only a few tips and games will be kept for posterity. A reflection is underway to determine what type of organ will replace it. No doubt it will be a bold choice, promises Vincent Boucher.
The key word is “quality” for the organist, who has been pursuing a career in finance for 23 years. A profession that he loves just as much as his duties at Saint-Joseph’s Oratory. Coming from a family of organists, Mr. Boucher also learned to master the complex instrument after practicing the piano and harpsichord. A certain experience and many trips are necessary to know how to adapt to the diversity of models.
Should you be a believer? It’s absolutely not an obligation, replies the musician, but it’s much simpler. “There is the artistic dimension, but the liturgical side represents 90% of the job, we are in church all the time”, he underlines.
Between music, nature and spirituality
Mr. Boucher’s mandate also involves overseeing the conservation of instruments, the hiring of musicians and the musical programming.
“Before COVID, we had the wind in our sails, admits the one who coordinated around fifty concerts a year. But you have to start all over again. The Oratory’s redevelopment work also weighs in the balance. From now on, the events are gradually resuming, in particular thanks to partnerships with the Bach Festival and the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec.
Silent during the pandemic, the 56 bells of the carillon have also started ringing again. “We missed that,” says Vincent Boucher. When it started again, it was a bit like hearing the birds singing in the spring. Since 2009, Andrée-Anne Doane has been the titular musician of the one and only carillon in Quebec.
Currently being restored, it is a central player in the musical life of the Oratory, with the Maîtrise des Petits Chanteurs du Mont-Royal. This choir, which accompanies masses and participates in international tours, is very popular.
“We want to offer a very complete musical offer for tourists, new students and Montrealers who can reclaim the places or even discover them,” says Vincent Boucher, on the forecourt of the Oratory. He mentions the splendor of concerts held during summer sunsets, on the steps of the basilica.
“People may initially come for the music, but they will have an experience that is closer to the spiritual,” he concludes. It is a place conducive to healing. Because one objective remains, according to the organist: to bring people together thanks to the beauty of the music and the natural environment that surrounds the building, on the north slope of Mount Royal.
This colossus of wood and metal is made up of 5811 pipes divided into 78 stops and five keyboards, in addition to the pedalboard. It is the first of its kind to have been built in Quebec, moreover by a German factor, Rudolf von Beckerath.
The Casavant organ, smaller, is discreet at the back of the room where a more intimate atmosphere reigns. This century-old instrument is, however, at the end of its life and should be completely rebuilt in the coming years. Only a few tips and games will be kept.