Gerald “Gerry” Manning retires this summer after 35 years as organist and director of music at St. George’s, Guelph. According to Gerald, who some call Gerry, one of the biggest shifts in Anglican church music over the years is the growing recognition that congregational participation in the music of worship is important, regardless of whether a church has a choir or not. This is even more important when trained singers are hard to find. Gerry has noticed a similar concern these days regarding organs and their role in church music. People who love the pipe organ for its own sake, as well as its function in worship, should look for opportunities to give it prominence.
The role of a music director, according to Gerry, is to respond to the particular interests and needs of the local congregation, and to lead people towards a deeper knowledge of how music can enrich worship and support theology. This calls for working closely with others and respecting different points of view.
And Gerry did just that—working with the choir and choral scholars he enriched St. George’s worship with a robust music program, as well as the lives of many involved.
“I am so grateful to Gerry for reaching out to Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute when I was in grade nine and welcoming myself and a handful of other dedicated teenagers to a constant environment where I always felt welcome and where I always knew I would have a place to explore, escape into, discover so many new things, grow as a musician and a person, and of course, sing,” says Sarah Schmidt-McQuillan, choral scholar.
Although Gerry’s main career was teaching English Literature (35 years at the University of Guelph), his interest in church music took him to three churches in Guelph over his career: The Church of St. James the Apostle (1970 – 1973), Dublin St. United (1973 – 1987), and St. George’s (1987 – 2022).
In each of these appointments, he strengthened the choirs and expanded the congregations’ repertoires of hymn-singing. At Dublin St. United and St. George’s, he oversaw the renovations of the organs.
“It is his mastery of service-playing that brought some to St. George’s church,” says Harry Oussoren, a choir member. “His ability to challenge the choir that kept many of us and his good nature that let all be his friend. It is a fine legacy indeed.”
Like many organists, Gerry was attracted to the instrument after studying piano for several years, loving the music of J.S. Bach, and wanting to discover more about Bach’s favourite instrument. He also admired the English choral tradition which led him eventually to want to have his own church music position.
“Working with Gerry for most of the last 13 years of his active work as director of music and organist at St. George’s was an immense pleasure,” stated retired St. George’s Rector Ralph Blackman. “Gerry’s musicianship, vision, and connection to the wider community music world were instrumental in transforming a strong parish music program into a dynamic, relevant 21st century program both within the parish and within the wider community. Gerry’s generosity of spirit was a profound gift.”
In retirement, Gerry is embarking on a small volunteer project in association with Wellington Hospice. The hospice has a large number of affiliated families and offers support to those with life-limiting illnesses, their caregivers, and those who are bereaved.
In conjunction with St. George’s, once a month Gerry will offer a meditative hour of organ music for the hospice community. While this will be explicitly non-religious, the building with its inspiring architecture and fine organ will give another opportunity for the organ, and the church, to offer outreach to the community.