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Brian James Emery, 59.
Brian James Emery, 59.

Lives Lived: Brian James Emery Add to ...

Singer, church organist, music teacher, man of great faith. Born Sept. 1, 1953 in Chatham, Ont., died July 7, 2013, in Stratford, Ont., of a heart attack, aged 59.

There was something missing in the Gambrel Barn in Elora, Ont., when the first chords of Verdi’s Requiem sounded on July 12. It was the opening of the Elora Festival’s 34th season, and for 28 years the festival choir had not sung there without Brian Emery. It was without him this year. His funeral had taken place that morning.

Brian treasured his association with the choir’s founder, Noel Edison, the village of Elora and the festival, just as Noel, Elora and the festival treasured him. A similar observation could be made about the communities of St. Mary’s or Stratford.

Brian made friends wherever he went. He comforted us, raised our spirits, entertained and supported us. He hugged us, prayed for us and loved us. He was the most Christlike person I have ever met.

Brian lived a simple life. He had little money, few possessions and did not even own a piano. But he was a tycoon when it came to brotherhood, gentleness, good humour, concern for others and love.

A long-time resident of Stratford, Brian was on any given day a church organist, vocal soloist, accompanist, music teacher, composer, choir conductor or music festival adjudicator from Toronto to Kincardine to London.

He was the organist at St. Mary’s Presbyterian Church and sang with the Gerald Fagan Singers, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and the Renaissance Singers of Kitchener. He was the accompanist to the St. Mary’s Children’s Choir and the Stratford Concert Choir, and he conducted the Stratford Boys Choir.

He also had a seemingly endless stream of music students. His mentor, Earl Clark, said that as a young man Brian was a music teacher’s dream – a perfect combination of talent, determination and enthusiasm.

Brian earned a bachelor of science before accepting his true calling and getting his bachelor of music at the University of Western Ontario and his Associate of the Royal Academy diploma in Toronto.

He didn’t like drawing attention to himself – he was even embarrassed to wear the academic hood given to him by friends for his 50th birthday and did so, I’m sure, only not to disappoint us. But if he was in a gathering, his laughter, wit, singing and playing made him a focus of attention whether he liked it or not.

His favourite form of humour was the pun. He was his own most appreciative audience for these. There will be a lot less groaning in the world now that he is gone.

Brian shared major holidays with my family for the past 10 years. Christmas will never be the same without him playing carols after dinner. If you forgot the words he’d just turn to you and spit out a line before playing the music, in a seemingly effortless motion something like a bionic karaoke machine. There was no point getting the piano tuned before he came – he played with such gusto that it always needed tuning afterward. Yet in a Kiwanis festival performance he could accompany a tiny voice with such gentleness it took your breath away.

Brian’s death was untimely, but his life was rich, and we are all richer for having known him. Vaya con Dios, Brian.

Jay Baker is Brian’s friend.

To submit a Lives Lived: lives@globeandmail.com

See the guidelines to share the life story of someone you’ve recently lost. tgam.ca/livesguide

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