What a change thirty years can make!

By Rebecca McKay, Deb Scheach and Lynda Smith

Thirty years. How long is 30 years, really?

When thought of generationally, in the mindset of passage of time and of change, so many things seem different. We’ve been through six Prime Ministers (and six Bishops for that matter). We have seen the creation of the internet, the birth of social media age, the influx of climate change, even the death and rebirth of the electric car.

One thing hasn’t changed for 30 years at Church of St. John the Evangelist in Kitchener, and that is one man’s steadfast dedication to music, to God, and to his church. Marlin Nagtegaal celebrated 30 years of ministry with us November 1.

Marlin came to St. John’s a young man, fresh faced from a specialist performance degree, a Uitvoerend Musicus diploma, from the Rotterdam Conservatory in Holland. He came at 31 years old, with his little 2 ½ year old boy in hand (that boy is now 32 years old and engaged to be married). His wife, Susan, was still finishing up a contract all the way back in Winnipeg.

It wasn’t long until he was enveloped by not only the St. John’s community, but also the music community of Waterloo Region. He was quickly offered a teaching position with Beckett School of Music (where he is now the Director). He was also given a few organ students to teach at Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo (where he later became head of the organ department). He became a sought after recitalist and accompanist for choirs and performances in the city.

Things were exciting and new in the church as well, and he quickly pushed for innovation. He started a Junior Choir, and produced magical and elaborate liturgical musical productions in collaboration with other churches.

He was determined to nurture the best volunteer choir in the region. Every rehearsal, they would take a chunk of time to learn music theory, reading, and musical skills. He started a bell choir, and a series of organ recitals featuring musicians from around the region. He pushed the limits, but maintained dedication to the Anglican Choral tradition. The choir blossomed and even snagged the attention of professional singers in the area.

Marlin helped in the renovation of the sanctuary to make it one of the best acoustics in the city. He then ran a fundraiser to purchase a grand piano to make it even more appealing for concert venues. St. John’s, Kitchener became the place for music in Waterloo Region.

In 2007 he heard a rumour of an organ that was sitting homeless, in crates in a storage warehouse in Chatham. It was a beautiful Gabriel Kney 19-rank, two manual tracker instrument, originally designed and built for Park Street United Church in Chatham, Ontario.

Marlin knew the quality of the Kney instruments and was determined to get that instrument at St. John’s. He masterminded the fundraising efforts. He coordinated volunteers and contractors for the moving and of the instrument. He also spearheaded the installation of the instrument, using his knowledge of organ restoration and assembly from his years working as the assistant to an organ building in Manitoba. He put the organ together from old pictures, no instruction manuals!

The Kney, as we now affectionately call it, just celebrated it 10 year adoption-anniversary in 2017, and its 40th birthday. That organ is a prized instrument in the city, and fills this church with its bright and clear sound and its impeccable action. We are the only church within a few hundred kilometers that has two organs in the same sanctuary, and we take full advantage of it often! All of this because of Marlin’s determination and tenacity to make things happen.

There has been a lot of change around here in 30 years. There has been a lot of change in Marlin, and in all of us. We’re all a little older, a little (a lot?) greyer. The building has changed, the programs have grown. We’ve moved up and on in lives, gotten promotions, retired, graduated school. Some have had kids, grandkids, great-grandkids! But Marlin is still here, through thick and thin. His dedication to his mission and ministry of music has never wavered.

Those of us in the choir are grateful for his special type of patience, dry humour, and wolfish grin. We laugh as he rolls his eyes so far we can’t even see them. We have fun, but we know what our task is. He calls from us the best that we can muster, and always sets expectations high, so we may bring the best of ourselves to worship. But he consistently reminds us of why we do what we do, and without knowing, leads by a quiet and understated example.

Here’s to 30 years! Thanks, Marlin.