My first memory of singing something specifically Canadian, would take me back to the early 1980's when I was a chorister in the men and boys choir at All Saints Anglican Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba. We sang Healey Willan's beautiful motet “Rise Up my Love” for Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday service was unique. There was an extra long procession where we would do an additional “lap” around the church. This gave us boys the unsupervised opportunity to fool around. We were dressed up in our cassocks, surplices, and ruffs choking around our necks. We looked like angels, we sang like angels, but we were no angels. The least of the mischief we would get ourselves into were competitions of genuflection, or rather which of us could bow the lowest or most elaborately (this was a competition I excelled at), or perfecting ones look of total innocence at “accidentally” lighting the boy in fronts 1980's hair style “rat tail” on fire.
Willan is considered by many to be the father of Canadian church music. “Rise Up My Love” in particular is a work that unites choral musicians in this country from coast to coast. The line “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear upon the earth.” works so perfectly for Easter Sunday, although I never did get the whole rain rather than snow for winter thing, that is until I moved to Vancouver. Willan's music has influenced a whole generation of composers from Canada who are now recognized and acclaimed around the globe.
In the church I now sing at here in Vancouver, every Easter Sunday we sing “Rise Up”, and every year I am transported to the beautiful old church of my past.
Healey Willan's “Rise Up My Love, My Fair One” is published by Oxford University Press (and available for purchase online and in-store). Here is a great performance of the work by Vancouver ensemble- musica intima: