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Apr 18
Behind the Bench: John Paul Farahat

​For generations, music has had the power to stir people's faith.

According to the Church teaching in Sacrosanctum Concilium, music is "more holy in proportion as it is more closely connected with the liturgical action, whether it adds delight to prayer, fosters unity of minds, or confers greater solemnity upon the sacred rites." (112)

Throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto, we're blessed to have many organists (as well as music directors and cantors) who give of their time selflessly to ensure our liturgies are full, conscious and active.

This new series in Around the Arch will profile several organists and musicians from our four pastoral regions within the Archdiocese. These artists will share their diverse backgrounds, as well as interesting stories and personal highlights of their important work as musicians in the life of the Church . In this edition, we feature John Paul Farahat, a seasoned organist and musician in the Central Region.
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1. Tell us about your musical journey and how it led you to where you are today as an organist.

I attended Saint Michael's Choir School for 10 years, from Grades 3 to 12. In my last year of study at the Choir School, following nine years of piano, I made the decision to take private organ lessons. From the first lesson, I was certain that the organ would always be a part of my musical life. I continued my studies at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, first as a harpsichordist, and then as an organist, acquiring the degrees of Bachelor of Music in Performance and Master of Music in Performance in organ. I'm now completing my Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ, through which I am researching and writing about the life and improvisations of world-renowned Canadian organist Victor Togni (1935 - 1965). 

I've been blessed with incredible mentors, and incredible opportunities over the years. Among them are playing solo organ recitals at Saint Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London, England, Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, and Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. All of them deeply spiritual experiences, which will stay with me forever. 

My day-to-day life, I think, is quite exciting, fulfilling and spiritually enriching. I am the Director of Music & Principal Organist of Saint Basil's Catholic Parish at the University of Saint Michael's College, and I also play occasionally at Saint Michael's Cathedral Basilica at the 9 p.m. Sunday Masses.

2.  Where do you continue drawing inspiration from as you continue your vocation as a church organist?

I draw immense inspiration from two sources: the people I encounter, work with, and minister to through music, and the traditions of the Church. Knowing the ways in which music ministry allows and facilitates deeper worship for the people who I minister to - that is important to me. And we are so blessed with such rich and diverse musical traditions in the Church. 

3. Why should the everyday Catholic have an appreciation for the organ and/or anyone who plays?

The Second Vatican Council, in the 1963 document Sacrosanctum Concilium, spoke beautifully of the importance of the organ in the life of the Church. Indeed, the organ is uniquely equipped to support congregational singing. Because of the way organs are built, the sound does not dissipate or decay until the organist lets go of the keys. So it's very natural for sustaining singing, whether it be with the softest melody or the most exuberant and joyous chords. Not only that, but the huge range of the colours in the sound of the instrument - that is something very special, and uniquely different in every pipe organ. 

4. What is your all-time favourite piece on the organ?

That's a difficult question. I have a new favourite piece almost every week, but…there's an organ symphony by the French composer Charles-Marie Widor entitled Symphonie Gothique. It was completed in 1895 and is based on the Gregorian chant Introit (or Entrance antiphon) for the Mass of the Day on Christmas: Puer natus est nobis. It is absolutely sublime, transcendent music.

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