Renewing a Concerts Legacy
As highlighted elsewhere in this Newsletter, St. John’s is hosting a concert by Oliver Peart on Saturday, February 18 at 7:30 pm, featuring a selection of classical and original piano pieces. While this concert could set the stage for other public performances in the church, it resonates historically with an ambitious series of concerts St. John’s hosted from 1995 through 2002. The St. John’s concert series originated soon after the hiring of James Bailey as parish organist and Director of Music in April 1995. James main attention was on revitalizing the adult choir and encouraging a children’s choir, while also focusing his expertise on the protection and maintenance of the organ. His musical options were also boosted by the anonymous donation of a baby grand piano in December 1995. The idea for a concert series at St. John’s was initiated through contact with Tim Dawson, a long-time member of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, as well as initiator of several chamber music groups with links to various charitable causes. The concert series would add another dimension to St. John’s musical program, which was conceived to generate additional funds for the church’s musical program, while also bringing new faces through the doors of the church. The concerts would also provide, as James noted in his first report to Vestry, “a life-enriching community event to the neighborhood” while offering “a performance opportunity for musicians in the community.”
By the launch of the series’ ambitious 1997-98 season, St. John’s newly launched website provided a promotional boost. The site included a testimonial from Tim: “When I first walked into St. John’s with my young family, my first thought was ‘What a great place for a concert!’ Musicians are always looking for places to play and St. John’s was a ‘find.’ Over the past four years or so, many others have found that it is a great place for concerts. Audiences have enjoyed the superb acoustics, the informal ambience and the consistently high quality of performance.” Moreover, “In addition to providing fine music in the Bloor West Village, St. John’s is committed to helping community organizations.” Concert proceeds were shared with a variety of organizations, including: HAAD, which supported adults with autism; Campbell Village Ontario, a community for adults with disabilities; the Early Enrichment Daycare in St. John’s basement; and Just Us, an outreach program for prisoners at the Don Jail. See that first concert series webpage via the internet archive’s “Wayback Machine,” The 1999-2000 concert series ended on a high and a low; the last show in May 2000 earned St. John’s $4,000, but it was the last season for Tim Dawson as Artistic Director. Nevertheless, the concert committee decided to continue with a more neighbourhood focused mandate based on an outreach mission of the church. Fund-raising remained a goal, for St John’s and deserving groups, to attract neighbours into the building and the community by presenting quality music in the West End that featured local artists, and to seek performances that enhanced spiritual life. As James Bailey emphasized in his 2000 Vestry report, “Increasingly, we are finding that our reputation for quality events in an acoustically superior building and a warm and receptive audience are working in our favour.” And “Instead of trying to compete with big events downtown venues, we, as our advertising brochure says, offer ‘downtown quality at neighbourhood prices.’” They found that “artists and groups are beginning to seek us out, rather than the other way around.”
Poster for the last “Concerts with a Cause” event, held on February 4, 2001. There were few special event concerts held in 2002-03, but there has not been another St. John's concert series.
Fast forward some twenty years, and it was Oliver Peart who approached St. John’s looking for a warm and welcoming place to hold a concert.
Other posters are viewable via:
Nov. 5, 2000 -- Concerts With a Cause Poster
Nov. 18, 2000 -- Concerts With a Cause Poster
Originally published in St. John's Newsletter on February 12th, 2023