Obituary: Toronto loses local hero with death of organist Bruce Kirkpatrick Hill


(Updated with funeral information. For more, visit a memorial Facebook community here.)

Toronto organist, choir director and ever-willing musical collaborator Bruce Kirkpatrick Hill died on Sunday, March 18, while on holiday in Cuba with his wife, Stephanie Martin, from complications related to kidney disease.

He was 48.

Every big city is blessed with a few dozen people whose contributions are invaluable to the continued vitality of its musical life. Hill was one of these local heroes.

Hill was one of the first organists I met after moving to Toronto, joining him on the executive of the local branch of the Royal School of Church Music. The Victoria, B.C. native had just left doctoral studies at University of Toronto, and was organist and choirmaster at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, in Scarborough.

His was an energetic, lively, gregarious presence that radiated an equal love for music and people.

Hill went on to a number of other church assignments, including an 11-year stint as the organist at Christ Church, Deer Park, where he oversaw an active and diverse music programme until 2008.

He was also a regular performer at organ recitals in Toronto and well beyond.

Two of his most recent music positions were director of the Anglican Chorale in Ottawa, and rehearsal accompanist for the Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, which holds its 30th anniversary celebration concerts later this month. He was also a regular member of the Exultate Chamber Singers for most of its history.

More importantly, Hill was part of a rich musical team with his wife, York University professor, haprischordist, organist, choir director and composer, Stephanie Martin, helping with accompanist duties, music arranging and recording sessions.

Bruce Hill’s funeral will be held at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, 477 Manning Ave. in Toronto, on Saturday, March 24, at 12:30 p.m.

John Terauds

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40 thoughts on “Obituary: Toronto loses local hero with death of organist Bruce Kirkpatrick Hill

  1. What a shock, and horrible loss! Most of your readers will be surprised to know that in addition to his church work, for a number of years Bruce was the bass support singer in the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir. Besides being a close to infallible musical guidepost, he sang his solos in a very convincing Yiddish!

  2. Heartfelt thanks for this well-deserved tribute. He was a dear friend and brilliant colleague to so many of us in the GTA musical community, in Ottawa, on the West Coast, and internationally. I will miss him terribly.

  3. Thanks for this, John. As Bruce’s brother-in-law, I got to sing with/for him on many occasions and got to see his non-musical side (if such a thing was possible) as well. Pretty much the same person in both cases. The family is deeply feeling the loss.

  4. Witty and indeed gregarious in the Great Gatsby tradition. He was one organist that had plenty of charisma. We will miss his unique style and sense of adventure. What a great loss and leaves me to thinking of my own mortality. The lesson is clearly this… Live each day with peace and joy.
    RIP Bruce
    Couragio to Stephanie and the whole family.

    • I had exactly the same reaction – live each day with peace and joy and this theme was in many conversations I have had in the last few days. I knew Bruce from Victoria days. Just thinking about him now, telling a story of Max Reger and his overeating of sausages before dinner makes me tear up. He had such a way to to discuss music and its many characters as though they were sitting down for a meal with you. He *always made me titter at his wit and even when he got mad at things because he was so darned funny! I will deeply miss the opportunity to be in your presence, Bruce. I’m sure you are sharing your wit and love for life and music with others on the other side.

  5. We were close friends and colleagues in TO for nearly 20 years and there was no one else like him.

    RIP old chum

  6. I have fond memories of classes with Bruce at UVic in the M.Music program, drinking beer together at Swans, playing in the Mikado in Duncan, talking politics and baseball, shopping together, having him tell me about how madly in love he was with Stephanie, dinner at his home in Toronto……. He was a wonderful man and a great musician. May the Divine Mercy greet you with unspeakable love, Bruce. Stephanie, words fail me. Be assured of our prayers.

  7. Saddened and shocked. Played services with Bruce quite a few times and enjoyed them very much. A lovely soul and beautiful musician. Will be missed. My prayers and condolences to Stephanie.

    Godbless,

    Robert DiVito

  8. Bruce’s loss will leave an enormous Bruce-shaped gap in the musical (and social) life of this city. He was one of my dearest friends, and taught me many things in both music and life. I was privileged to sing for him and with him in a number of choirs since first meeting him at a dinner party (where else) about 20 years ago, and I have many happy and hilarious memories of such diversions as sailing on a rainy loch in Scotland, discussing the future of Anglican church music over a drink or three, wearing oven mitts to try and trap an errant cat, or watching the complete “I Claudius” in one very long sitting on New Year’s Day.

    He was both a gifted musician and a gifted man. My thoughts and prayers are with Stephanie, Bruce’s mum, his brothers and their entire extended family and wider family of friends and colleagues at this time of great sadness.

    We’ll miss you so, dearest Juicy.

  9. As an old friend of Stephanie’s, I am so saddened and shocked to hear of Bruce’s passing. My thoughts are with Stephanie,and with Bruce’s and Stephanie’s families.

  10. Bruce was choir master and music educator for our three boys while we were at Christ Church Deer Park. For all his other considerable musical accomplishments, he knew how to work with kids. He was enthusiastic, patient, creative and ambitious for the young singers. Kids joined, fell in love with sacred music, and stayed. The choir sang at Church services and concerts throughout the year in English, French and Latin, and sometimes with Stephanie’s Pax Christi Chorale. Because of Bruce, my sons all play an instrument and are able to sight-read. This experience was invaluable to our children and to our home life. Thank you, Bruce, for your gift to our family.

    • Peter – Stephanie wanted me to let you know how happy she is to hear that the boys are still involved in musical pursuits. We remember you all with fondness, such keen singers and great kids. Thank-you for such a lovely memory of those happy times.

      • Bruce changed their lives: Nathan plays piano, Issac plays trombone and baritone, Josh plays violin. All sight-read (something I could never do). Alas, since Bruce, they have not been in church choir, but we hope that will change! Thanks for your reply, Mary.

  11. I am so very deeply saddened to hear of Bruce’s passing. Words cannot express the shock and sense of tragic and all-too-soon ending. I know Stephanie from way back. . . my heart goes out.

  12. Pax Christi Chorale had a somber rehearsal last night as we all mourned this huge loss. We joined in singing a hymn and praying for God’s comfort at this very sad time.

    • Thinking of you and your family, Stephanie. Lois B chose the very fitting “Children of the Heavenly Father” for Pax to sing last evening.

  13. This is too, too soon. Despite his youth he leaves a large legacy, having inspired and touched many people. I so wish I had had the chance to know him better . Our thoughts and prayers are with Stephanie and all Bruce’s family. Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory. Bruce’s good vibrations will resonate for a very long time.

    Meredith Hall

  14. Bruce changed my life, musically, and spiritually. Through him I had the opportunity to learn some of the great works, and to love liturgical music. Also, because of him, I became an Anglican. His encouragement, kindness, and incredible depth of music knowledge changed me forever, and gave me some of the most memorable, and wonderful moments of my life. He was always in my heart..
    My deepest sympathy goes to Steph. It is a terrible thing to lose a life partner, but although he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.

    Kathy

  15. Stephanie,
    My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family as you mourn the sudden and much too soon passing of husband, companion, fellow musician, family menber.

    Jeannette Cressman

  16. It is hard indeed to find words at times like this. At St Mary Mag’s, we heard of this in the middle of mass. Fr. David announced Bruce’s passing to the congregation. We paused for silent reflection. Then David led us in prayer. The mass continued with the Ritual Choir chanting “O Praise the Lord for he is gracious…”. Rarely have those words had such meaning for me. The Gallery Choir, full of emotion, then rose and sang the motet. At that moment, a community joined as one to remember Bruce and to share the profound loss that Steph has experienced.

    Rest in peace Bruce.

    Rob Castle

  17. For the last few years Bruce was my accompanist for High Holy Day Services here at Holy Blossom Temple and was a skilled conductor of the choir as well. I am so very saddened to hear of his passing…far too soon. My heart goes out to Stephanie and all of the family. I imagine Bruce on a sailboat somewhere…peacefully adding his harmonies and rhythms to lapping waters. May his memory be for a blessing.

    With heartfelt condolences.
    Lindi Rivers, Cantorial Soloist
    Holy Blossom Temple

  18. Thanks for this John. Bruce was a good friend for years, and a great addition to the TO musical community. I’ll always rememebr his humanity and
    humour. Rick Phillips

  19. I still can’t come to terms that you have left us… the heavenly choir has acquired an awesome angel who has touched many hear on earth, and now has touched the face of God. Blessings Bruce, and I look forward to seeing you in heaven.
    Requiem aeternam dona Bruce, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat Bruce. Requiescat Bruce in pace. Amen.

  20. With disbelieve I read about Bruce.I knew him only from a distance, but his musical talent and his rich bass voice will always be remembered and touched my heart and most of all is his dedication to God and his Church. My prayers and condolences goes to Steph and her family at this hard time. I bet he is as happy as a lark as he looks down on us.

    • Hi Durrell: I am not on facebook but would like to join in the tributes to Bruce. I met him through the Anglican Chorale of Ottawa where he was our assistant director on several UK trips. Bruce was kind, funny, talented and had superb wit. I loved the way he conducted (“p” is for pachyderm?)(and the jokes and repartee after the services in the pub). I was very fond of him and used to attend services at Christ Church Deer Park whenever I was in Toronto. Not only did he have a lovely choir and fine music, but it was fun to catch up.

      I did not realize Bruce was so ill, but had been thinking a lot about him the last month or so…
      Please would you pass along my heartfelt condolences to Stephanie. He will be sorely missed.

  21. I haven’t sung with Pax Christi for some time now, but have deep connections. I can only imagine the sadness at Monday’s rehearsal. My deepest sympathies to you Stephanie, yours and Bruce’s families — and Pax Christi Chorale.

  22. John, thanks so much for this tribute to Bruce. I am only now beginning to digest all of the material posted online and to understand how many friends and colleagues Bruce had across the country. I feel now that Bruce did not belong to me alone, but to a whole community of people over 4 decades, and that helps ease the pain. Thanks for helping us all share our memories.
    Steph

  23. Dear Stephanie

    I am so saddened to hear of your almost incomprehensible loss! My love and prayers go out to you, to you family and Bruce’s family, and to the very many people whose lives were enriched by him. Requiem aeternam … Et lux perpetua .
    love, Ellen Shenk

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