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Sunday, March 3, 2024
COVID-19: Singing the praises of choral music

St. Mark's music director brings a lifetime of experience to NOTL

Editor’s Note: This story was written before we heard the unfortunate news that the March 28 Edison Singers concert at Grace United Church was postponed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But we thought the story about two local music lovers was still worthy of publication. People like Bourne and Hall help make our local music scene so vibrant.


Like almost all professional musicians, Jim Bourne, music director of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Old Town, wears many musical hats.

It’s a hard-won life, fuelled by passion more than money. It is just what he does.

Organist, choir master, private tutor, university instructor, musician, accompanist and chorister—his is an ever-changing circle of activity. He uses the organ, piano and, of course, his powerful bass voice. And, in a pinch, he can add the clarinet and trumpet.

Bourne was scheduled to sing bass for the Edison Singers for their final Niagara season concert at Grace United Church on March 28, but the event has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bourne took to music at an early age, but it wasn’t until he joined the choir and Trinity College School in Port Hope, that he began to see a real future in music.

“I was the head choir boy,” Bourne says, drifting back several decades. “Our choir went on a three-week tour of England and Wales. It just blew my mind. It was during this period that I realized that (music) is what I should be doing.

Bourne describes a life that was never without music.

After high school, he attended the Conservatoire in Brussels for year. “I was too young for university, so I just took chamber music lessons — played all the time — and sang whenever I could. In the afternoon, we all went out for beer.”

When he returned in time for university at Western in London, his parents urged him to sideline music.

His father has the town engineer in Port Hope, then moved his family to Cobourg to work join a private engineering firm.

“My father didn’t really think music would be useful,” he smiles.

After switching his major from general to French during his first two years, some friends in the music faculty asked him to accompany them for their voice recitals. By his third year he successfully auditioned for the school choir.

Bourne made the switch to the music program, starting back in year one.

“I just think it was in my blood, the thing I was best at.”

After graduating from Western, he earned a post-graduate performance diploma at the Royal College in London, England, all-the-while performing in a variety of small ensembles.

After an 18-year stint as music director at Leaside Presbyterian Church in Toronto, and a concurrent 14-year role as accompanist for the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Bourne moved to Niagara in 2018 to become St. Mark’s music director.

His eclectic career mix has not abated.

In addition to his St. Mark’s duties, Bourne performs with the Avanti Singers, the Edison Singers and the Gallery Players.

Bourne also teaches a variety of music students at Brock. Add in private students, orchestral coaching at Brock and gigs as an accompanist for several well-known artists – and he’s still a busy man.

But he loves singing for Noel Edison. “Noel is always solid at the podium. He gets the best people he can. And then he doesn’t micromanage anyone. No one shapes the music like Noel Edison does.”

Enter Susan Hall, St. Mark’s parishioner and music lover.

After a few months with Bourne in the St. Mark’s music chair, Hall and a few of her friends asked him if they could help mount special concerts at St. Mark's. Bourne couldn’t have been more pleased.

“Organizations like St. Mark’s and the Edison Singers need fans and choristers,” Bourne says.

Hall is both a fan and a benefactor.

“I absolutely love choral music. I come out of an Edison Singers concert happy and in a mind that makes life worth living,” she says, almost wistful at the memory. “Transported.”

Hall is a committed music supporter, constantly urging everyone she meets to purchase tickets for the next concert she is promoting. It’s an endearing quality, she is so committed and persistent. And she gets the job done.

“I grew up in the very deprived north of England. My father was an industrial chemist. I attended grammar school and by age 15 I was in the science stream. I had piano lessons and gave them up as soon as I could.”

Hall came to Canada with her first husband 50 years ago, moving to Arnprior in 1969. She ran a research lab in Ottawa, but at the age of 41 followed a lifelong dream of becoming a doctor, enrolling at the McMaster Medical School.

A 30-year career followed, with a dermatology clinic in St. Catharines and teaching connections at both McMaster and Brock. She retired two years ago but still teaches medical students about professional competency at both universities.

Hall credits her second husband with nurturing her love of music.

“He was really into music. We always went to Elora (for the Elora Festival and Elora Singers) so I have followed Noel Edison for many years. Whenever I had a chance to hear choral music, I went.”

Hall and her husband, who is now deceased, came to Niagara in 1991 because they thought it was a good place to live and work.

“We had a hobby of renovating houses. Great place for that. I would do the designing and my husband would do all the trim.”

Bourne and Hall agree audiences in Niagara have a tremendous appreciation for fine choral music. “We are quite experienced and musically travelled.”

St. Mark’s and the Edison Singers are lucky to have such committed, dedicated local participation.

For more information on their music programs, find the Edison Singers at www.theedisonsingers.com and St. Mark’s Anglican Church at www.stmarksnotl.org.


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