In The Sight of The Angels

Posted on November 10, 2017 under Storytelling with 12 comments


MacPherson’s Lament – Highland Games Mass


“ He who sings, prays twice.”

St. Augustine.

A great voice has been stilled.

James MacPherson was Antigonish’s eighth wonder of the world. With his amazing voice and staggering talent, he could have made it big anywhere in the world.  He didn’t seek the limelight. He avoided it much of the time. He chose to stay close to the ones he loved the most, his family, his friends and fellow musicians.

“ I will play for him on my harp, with my lute and ten stringed lyre.”

He was a big man with a big voice and a big heart. When he sang, you felt that you were in the presence of genius. And indeed, you were. He was an extraordinary pipe organ player. He could play with the delicacy of a butterfly and with the power of a thunderstorm.

“ Ave, ave verum corpus natum de Maria virgine.”

Sitting in the choir loft watching James sing, play and direct was an honor. On any given day, the choir was never sure what hymns he would pull out of the filing cabinet. It depended on his mood. Or the atmospheric  conditions. Or the sermon he just heard. Or a reading from the gospel. Inspiration came immediately from the deep well of his musical repertoire.

It’s not easy to play a pipe organ , sing and direct a choir simultaneously. Both hands and two feet are required for the organ. But such was James’ brilliance that he could make it all work. We often marvelled when he would improvise something on the fly. Communion would be winding down and he would just cut loose with reckless abandon, making it up as he went. It was staggering to watch. When he finished, he would look at the choir and say “ you’ll never hear that piece again.”

“ And he will raise you up on eagle’s wings… and hold you in the palm of his hands.”

Special occasions brought out special music. The Battle Hymn of the Republic was one of his favorites . The Our Father and Hail Mary on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day were spine tingling. The Easter music, sung over four days, may have been his favorite.

When the choir was “on”, he would beam with the greatest of joy. He was thrilled when St.Ninian’s started to refurbish the Ozias LeDuc paintings.  He stared in awe when they unveiled St. Cecelia, the patron saint of musicians, positioned appropriately just above the choir loft.

“ Goodness and mercy all my life, will surely follow me,

And in God’s house forever more, a dwelling place shall be.”

He sang for the Pope. He sang for royalty. And now, he sings with the angels.

Rest well, good and faithful servant.




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