Our Musical Heritage

Our Musical Heritage

Fred at Organ

Distinguished organist, composer, and educator, Dr. F.R.C. Clarke, served as Music Director of Sydenham Street United Church for forty-two years, retiring in 1999. Dr. Clarke served as Organist Emeritus until his death in November, 2009.

During his long and eminent career, Dr. Clarke held various posts as organist-choirmaster, composer, teacher, conductor and administrator. His own teachers included Kenneth Ross (piano) in Vancouver, Eric Rollinson (organ) at the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto, Healey Willan, S. Drummond Wolff; and George Laughlin (theory and composition) at the University of Toronto. During the 1950s, Dr. Clarke was organist-choirmaster for several churches in Toronto and St Catharines, while also teaching at the Hamilton Conservatory (RHCM) and conducting the St Catharines Civic Orchestra (Niagara Symphony Association).

In 1958 Dr. Clarke became organist-choirmaster at Sydenham Street United Church, a position he held until 1999. He was also conductor from 1958 to 1977 of the Kingston Choral Society. He lectured from 1959 to 1969 at the Queen’s Theological College and joined Queen’s University Music Department in 1964 to teach theory and other subjects. At Queen’s, he founded and conducted the Queen’s Chamber Players Ensemble from 1965 to 1969. He was Head of the Music Department from 1981 to 1988, and after it was renamed the Queen’s University School of Music in 1988, he served as director (1988 – 1991).

Of Dr. Clarke’s numerous compositions in the English tradition, he wrote Bel and the Dragon (1954) as a requirement for his D. MUS., Sing a New Song to the Lord (1960) was composed for the United Church of Canada in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation, and Psalm 145 (1966) won the CBC (Ottawa) Choral Composition Prize in 1967. Dr. Clarke was chairman of the Music Subcommittee for The Hymn Book of the Anglican and United Churches (1971), to which he contributed 7 tunes and 18 arrangements. His Festival Te Deum (1972) and Reginae (1991) were written for the Kingston Symphony Association to celebrate the tercentennial of the founding of Kingston and the sesquicentennial of the founding of Queen’s University respectively. Dr. Clarke has completed and orchestrated several of Healey Willan’s works, including the Introduction and Allegro for string quartet, premiered in Kingston in 1984 by the Vághy String Quartet, and the Dirge for Two Veterans and Requiem Mass, premiered in 1985 and 1988 respectively by the Kingston Symphony with the Kingston Choral Society.

His most recent composition, An English Requiem, was performed by the choir of Sydenham Street United Church in 2007 and 2008, with Dr. Clarke at the organ. One selection from the English Requiem was sung by the massed choir at Dr. Clarke’s funeral, a fitting and moving tribute to this outstanding organist and composer.

On Sunday October 17 2010, a concert was held at Sydenham Street  United Church  to celebrate the music of Fred Clarke. The concert included works for choir, organ, solo voice, instrumental ensembles and more, presented by the SSUC choir and a number of local musicians. Many of Fred’s friends  joined together to honour Dr. Clarke and enjoyed once again some of the music he created over the years. His Prayer of St Francis remains a favourite in the SSUC congregation. As choir members often said, after singing one of his compositions “Thank you, Fred”.

Here are two of Dr. Clarke’s anthems that were performed at the concert.

SSUC Choir sings “Lord of Our life”

The Cantabile Youth Singers sing “The Angel Gabriel”

Joshua Duncan Lee plays F.R.C. Clarke’s Variations on Fidelis at The Cathedral Church of St. James on July 24, 2018

Updated 2021 03 10