May 22, 2013

Baroque concert lights up historic Melville church

As published in The Erin Advocate

One of the oldest churches in the area was the setting for a concert of even older music recently, as fans of the Baroque era came to hear works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) performed on period instruments.

Located on Mississauga Road between Belfountain and Olde Baseline Road, Melville White Church is architecturally unique and one of the last remaining Ontario timber frame churches predating the Victorian era. It is named for Andrew Melville (1545-1622), an early leader of the Presbyterian Church during the Renaissance in Scotland.
The white painted church was built in 1837 by Erin founder Daniel McMillan and his brothers, who built the various mills that powered Erin's pioneer economy. Just two years earlier, McMillan had become the son-in-law of Daniel McLaughlin, who had donated the land for the Melville church.

It was a focal point for for Scottish immigrants who had come to the uneven land near Shaw's Creek Road and Olde Baseline, naming the settlement Rockside. The first minister was Rev. Duncan McMillan, who also served the early congregation of Burns Presbyterian Church in Erin, preaching in both Gaelic and English.

In 1902 a rubble stone wall with iron gates was erected across the front of the church and cemetery property. The Melville worshippers decided to join the United Church in 1925, but declining membership led to its closure in 1964. The building became the property of Credit Valley Conservation, and while there were occasional services, it fell into disrepair.

In 1997 the Town of Caledon acquired the site from CVC. In 1998, the Town signed an agreement with the Belfountain Heritage Society (BHS) to raise funds for its restoration. With the help of various donations and grants, about $300,000 has gone into the project, preserving a very attractive monument to the Rockside pioneers.

BHS rents it out for weddings, recitals, heritage displays, readings, art exhibits and other community functions to keep it self-sustaining. Go to for more information.

The ensemble concert was organized by Ron Greidanus, director of the Georgetown Bach Chorale, which performs at churches in Halton Hills and Brampton. Having a small group in an intimate space allows the subtleties of the fine instruments to be well heard.

Greidanus provided delightful harpsichord for a series of works from the Baroque period, known for distinct lines of counterpoint and elaborate ornamentation. Each instrument maintains a clear voice, ready to switch between gentle accompaniment and complex melodic lead, which was especially dramatic in an excerpt from Bach's Mass in B Minor.

The mezzo soprano voice of Pamela Gibson flowed strongly and confidently, delivering good emotional intensity, while soprano Jane Potovszky brought a playful, joyful air to her performances.

Justin Haynes played an ornate instrument he built himself, a viola da gamba, which is about the size of a cello. It is played with a bow, but unlike most orchestral string instruments it has frets and is tuned more like a lute or guitar. Haynes added both rich harmony and subtle embellishment to the works.

Flautist Emma Elkinson, on tour from Holland, played two solo Fantasias by Telemann, with delicate phrasing and fine dynamic control. Particularly enchanting was the conversation of trills between her wooden flute, Haynes' viola da gamba and the baroque violin of Puslinch native Edwin Huizinga.

Telemann's Paris Quartet No. 6 in E Minor was the final gem of the evening, and while it allowed all the instrumentalists to shine, it was a special showcase for the virtuosity of Huizinga. With cascading flourishes, bold enrichments and sweet pure notes, he drove the work with both precision and passion.

To hear historic music in a historic building was indeed a pleasure, and perhaps an inducement to attend some concerts of the Georgetown Bach Chorale when they launch their 2013-2014 season in October.