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Published: June 29th 2018
After starting with a hearty breakfast at the hotel, we headed off to The Notre-Dame Basilica, where we learned a bit of history and were treated to a private organ concert.
The Basilica was originally built in the 1670s, of wood instead of stone, since they were pressed for time and funds, and also because wood insulates better than stone! In the early 19th century, after the church was deemed to be too small, the current Basilica was designed by (of all people!) an Irish Anglican named James O'Donnell; the sanctuary can hold about 10,000 people. On his deathbed, O'Donnell converted to Catholicism, though some say it was so he could be buried in the crypt of the church he designed and built!
The Catholic Church was the center of life in early Montreal, attracting all to services on a regular basis. For the first service in the new church, there were over 11,000 people in attendance, but now there may be 900 people at most divided among 3 services. The church bell weighs about 12 TONS, and used to require 20 people to ring it, though now it's done mechanically. The bell rings on the hour but only
until 6 pm due to complaints of neighbors! Back when there were few buildings to interfere with sound transmission, the bells could be heard for 20 miles. On the left side of the sanctuary, there is a raised pulpit about half way back . . . This was used so the Priest could see who was present in their assigned seat (and probably more importantly, who was NOT) and could call out the sinners!
The Basilica organist, Pierre Grandmaisson, led us to the choir and organ loft, where he talked a bit about the organ. This was the first large organ built by the Casavant Brothers in 1892 (and I think he said the same company also built the pipe organ for Notre Dame in Paris). The original keyboard (actually the original 4 keyboards with 92 stops!) is still being used 125 years later! Pierre told us he plays over 400 celebrations a year, including at the wedding of Celine Dion, and in 2016 at her late husband's funeral. He has also played at Notre Dame in Paris.
The organ has 7,000 pipes, the smallest of which is only 1/4 of an inch! It may seem obvious, but
the length and diameter of the pipes determine The brass colored slots in the front of the pipes are purely for decoration - the sound emits from the back of the pipes for designed distribution around the entire Basilica. The sound is designed specifically for the building to ensure that all experience the full power of the organ.
Pierre said in addition to playing traditional organ music, he also composes music, transcribes symphonic pieces, and treated us to some improvisation. As he explained it, he can't always know exactly how long he will need to play, for instance during communion. So he played Amazing Grace (what a treat!) and then continued to play soft variations for an additional 5 minutes.
We were promised a private organ concert, and man, did we receive one! I wanted to post a video, but have not figured out how to do so. Suffice it to say, you could feel the loft throb with the power of the pipes! It was amazing to get up from our seats and go around behind him and watch his prowess over the keyboard and the foot pedals.
After we left Notre Dame, Pam and I
packed up the car and headed to Quebec City. As they explained it to us, if you're not THERE, you clarify the location using "City" to distinguish it from the Province. But when you're there, people call it "Quebec," because what other Quebec is there!??
Our drive was uneventful, but took longer than we expected. I think they have more orange barrels up there than we do down here! It seemed like the entire city of Quebec was being rerouted. And of course we were arriving at about 4:30 pm! Not the best time to arrive! But we found our hotel, checked in, and met the group for dinner! Another excellent meal, of course!
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