Parenteau Pushes Pipe Organ to Next Level

Selkirk College Music Instructor Prepares for Virtual Symphony Performance


Nelson’s Gilles Parenteau put one of Canada’s grandest pipe organs to the test when brought his virtual symphony to the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City.

In the works for almost a year, the Selkirk College Contemporary Music & Technology Program instructor was invited to weave together the past and present during a November performance at the famed concert hall. Using the massive Casavant Freres organ—that is comprised of three keyboards, 37 stops, 51 registers and 2,846 pipes—Parenteau played a repertoire that spanned Bach to Led Zeppelin and plenty in between.

“It was the biggest sound I ever heard in my life… it was amazing,” says Parenteau.

Gilles Parenteau in Quebec

Gilles Parenteau at the keyboard of the Casavant Freres organ at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City where the Selkirk College Music & Technology Program instructor performed his virtual symphony before a delighted audience in November, 2014. (photo courtesy Michael Parenteau)

Parenteau has been combining his classical pipe organ upbringing with a contemporary/jazz musical background for more than two decades to create his virtual symphony. Using the technical standard of MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) that allows a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, computers and other related devices to communicate with one another, Parenteau is considered one of the nation’s keyboard innovators.

In the spring of 2014, Parenteau was asked by the Palais Montcalm to take its new pipe organ to a new frontier. Installed in 2013, Parenteau was charged with the task of seeing what borders could be pushed with the $1.5 million instrument.

“It got complicated, but I did it,” says the 53-year-old who has been teaching at Selkirk College since 1990. “That was the first time there was a live concert with a real pipe organ and extensive MIDI setup playing together without any pre-recordings. It was well received and it was an experience of a lifetime for me.”

Building on what he learned in Quebec City and with a bolstered repertoire, Parenteau will be bringing his virtual symphony to the Shambhala Music & Performance Hall in a Selkirk Pro-Musica sponsored concert on February 2. It won’t be the same as playing on a 30 foot high pipe organ, but Parenteau has designed a new layout of keyboards that is sure to delight.

Tickets for the February 2 show are $15 and available at Otter Books in Nelson.

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