Bridge­port boy Dou­glas Haas didn’t hes­i­tate when St. Andrew’s Pres­by­te­rian Church called him home


Dou­glas Haas was a 30-year-old or­gan­ist at a church in Stuttgart, Ger­many, when the let­ter that changed his life ar­rived from Kitch­ener.

Would he come home to be­come the or­gan­ist at St. Andrew’s Pres­by­te­rian Church?

Another up-and-com­ing mu­si­cian might have hes­i­tated. He’d stud­ied with the best. He had been or­gan­ist at a large church in Rome, Italy, when he was only 20 years old. He’d toured in Europe. He was mar­ried with a child in Ger­many.

But Haas didn’t think twice. He saw it as the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to re­pay the many peo­ple who had helped him when he was the “undis­ci­plined kid” from the scrappy Vil­lage of Bridge­port, now part of Kitch­ener.

There were the mu­sic teach­ers who gave him lessons for free, the de­voted school cross­ing guard who held the neigh­bour­hood bul­lies at bay, the or­gan man­u­fac­turer who gave him a job and let him prac­tise af­ter-hours on his in­stru­ments, and many other peo­ple who helped him find work and school­ing.

What’s more, St. Andrew’s Pres­by­te­rian Church in down­town Kitch­ener was home to the largest Pres­by­te­rian con­gre­ga­tion in Canada. The church had a beau­ti­ful, four-man­ual Casa­vant pipe or­gan, “an ex­pe­ri­ence of beauty,” he had al­ways ad­mired.

His cre­ativ­ity has taken a vis­ual turn. Haas is also a pho­tog­ra­pher who has pub­lished a book of prose and pho­to­graphs fea­tur­ing the stained-glass win­dows at St. Andrew’s church. He has been pas­sion­ate about pho­tog­ra­phy since he and his wife, Sh­eryl Lo­ef­fler, a poet, au­thor and mu­si­cian, fell in love with Malta in 2005 when Haas was on a year’s sab­bat­i­cal. At least once a year, they return to Malta where Haas has per­formed at con­certs in­clud­ing one at the Pres­i­den­tial Palace in 2010.

He was the pro­ducer-fundraiser for the re­cently re­leased doc­u­men­tary film, “Care for the Child: The Story of the Bridge­port Gen­eral,” di­rected by Rob Ring. School cross­ing guard Frank Groff, nick­named the Gen­eral, was Haas’s neigh­bour and de­fender against bul­lies when Haas was a child in Bridge­port.

To­day, Haas is tak­ing on­line master class cour­ses from An­nie Lei­bovitz, well-known Amer­i­can por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher, and cel­e­brated Ger­man film di­rec­tor Werner Her­zog.

Sit­ting in his Water­loo con­do­minium where sun­light pours through large win­dows onto his or­chids, Haas speaks an­i­mat­edly about light and ex­po­sures and his next pho­tog­ra­phy as­sign­ment from Lei­bovitz. He’s pon­der­ing what to do. Lei­bovitz, who has pho­tographed fa­mous peo­ple rang­ing from John Len­non and Yoko Ono to Queen El­iz­a­beth II, has asked her stu­dents to do a por­trait se­ries that shows “what this person is and who they are.”

Haas is up to the chal­lenge. “An­nie has taught me to for­get about my tech­ni­cal knowl­edge and start tak­ing pic­tures,” he says.

Grow­ing up in Bridge­port in the late 1930s and ’40s, Haas was the mu­si­cally tal­ented kid who sang in the church choir and de­vel­oped a pas­sion for the pi­ano and or­gan. His fa­ther, un­em­ployed in his early years, later be­came a tooland-die maker. His mother, a “frus­trated homemaker” at a time when women stayed in the home, had a lot of “driv­ing ambition,” which she passed on to her son, he says.

Haas’s mu­si­cal mother gave him his first pi­ano lessons when he was four. He’d al­ways liked the sound of the or­gan at what is now Bridge­port United Church. “Not the power, but the quiet sounds,” he says.

“It has been the quiet sounds that I try to get out of the or­gan. Any­one can pull out all the stops and make sound, and it’s a true artist who can make the or­gan quiet and beau­ti­ful.”

Haas was a boy so­prano in the choir, some­thing that wasn’t lost on the neigh­bour­hood bul­lies. “Kids lined up to beat me up,” he says. “That is when the Gen­eral saved me sev­eral times.” The Bridge­port

Gen­eral walked young Haas to the bus stop in the morn­ings.

When he was about 10, Haas started or­gan lessons with Glenn Kruspe, then-or­gan­istchoir di­rec­tor at the for­mer Zion United Church in Kitch­ener, which the fam­ily later at­tended. (Kruspe con­ducted the Kitch­ener-Water­loo Phil­har­monic Choir, now called Grand Phil­har­monic Choir, and was a founder and first con­duc­tor of the Kitch­ener-Water­loo Sym­phony Or­ches­tra.) At a young age, Haas was win­ning or­gan and pi­ano com­pe­ti­tions in Toronto.

“I’ve hardly ever paid for a les­son in my life,” Haas says. “Peo­ple like Glenn knew I had no money.”

Haas was de­ter­mined to be a mu­si­cian.

But as the old­est of three broth­ers, he was ex­pected to find a job af­ter Grade 8 to help his fam­ily. Keen to go on to high school, Haas asked Ja­cob Clare (J.C.) Hall­man to give him a job at his Water­loo man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany, which made or­gans.

“He was a fan­tas­tic Men­non­ite guy who let me clean shop af­ter school,” Haas says. “When he trusted me, he gave me the key and said, ‘prac­tise.’ I kept my fa­ther happy because I was able to bring money home and I got to go to high school.

“That’s why (I have) my need and my pas­sion to come back to the com­mu­nity and give what they gave me. Because with­out this com­mu­nity, I’d still be out in Bridge­port sweep­ing floors.”

Just out of high school, Haas had a part-time job demon­strat­ing or­gans and pi­anos for Heintz­man and Co. in Toronto, a well-known pi­ano man­u­fac­turer, af­ter a com­pe­ti­tion ad­ju­di­ca­tor and Heintz­man em­ployee of­fered him free lessons and a job. That was Fred­er­ick Geoghe­gan, whose mu­si­cal tal­ent is de­scribed in the on­line Cana­dian En­cy­clo­pe­dia, along with Haas’s name as his dis­tin­guished pupil. Haas is also fea­tured in the en­cy­clo­pe­dia.

Haas’s life was clas­si­cal mu­sic, but he could also play Broad­way or cock­tail lounge mu­sic if re­quested by a cus­tomer eye­ing a Heintz­man pi­ano. He en­tered the Royal Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic of Toronto, pay­ing for the first time for lessons from Earle Moss, another mem­ber of the Who’s Who in Cana­dian mu­sic.

An ex­change schol­ar­ship sent the 19-yearold youth to Rome to study with a fa­mous Vat­i­can or­gan­ist and mu­sic pro­fes­sor, Fer­nando Ger­mani. Heintz­man co-work­ers took up a col­lec­tion to pay his way by boat to Liver­pool, then on to France and, fi­nally, a bus to Rome.

“It was oth­er­worldly,” Haas re­mem­bers. “I was never scared. I had that sort of Bridge­port tough­ness in me. My whole life was just work and prac­tice and go­ing to con­certs. I’d never con­ceived of a place like Rome and Italy.”

Look­ing around at his fel­low stu­dents in the academy at Santa Cecilia in Rome, Haas re­al­ized he was among the best. He was “fa­nat­i­cal” about his mu­sic; “there was noth­ing else,” he says. That is, “un­til a cou­ple of years in Rome, I dis­cov­ered wine and women,” he says with a laugh.

Haas served as or­gan­ist at the large All Saints Angli­can Church in the cen­tre of Rome. “Because I was or­gan­ist at the English church, I got to meet a lot of peo­ple and they in­tro­duced me to their so­ci­ety.” It in­cluded ac­tresses work­ing at Cinecittà, a large film stu­dio and the cen­tre of Ital­ian cin­ema.

One of his “great­est ex­pe­ri­ences” was when he was or­gan­ist at All Saints Angli­can Church in Rome in 1960. The Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury then, Dr. Ge­of­frey Fisher, had an his­tor­i­cal meet­ing with Pope John Paul XXIII there and Haas was the or­gan­ist.

“I was a kid, a bit un­sure of my­self,” Haas says. “He (Fisher) made me feel as if I was the best or­gan­ist in the world.

“The night be­fore he met the Pope, there was a huge ec­u­meni­cal ser­vice in Rome. I was the or­gan­ist for that. He (Fisher) was the of­fi­ci­at­ing cler­gy­man. That is one of the great ex­pe­ri­ences of my life. He showed a gen­uine in­ter­est.”

A meet­ing with Hel­muth Rilling, a bril­liant fel­low stu­dent at a sum­mer school in the city of Siena in Tus­cany, Italy, led Haas to Ger­many. Haas, who spoke Ger­man, Ital­ian and some French, was Rilling’s assistant for a cou­ple of years, fill­ing in for the busy man, play­ing the or­gan and con­duct­ing his choir when he was away.

“He was build­ing up his ca­reer as Ger­many’s top Bach ex­pert” and was cre­at­ing a Bach academy to which world ex­perts would come, Haas says.

Be­fore get­ting a church of his own there, Haas be­gan study­ing for a master’s de­gree in church mu­sic and the­ol­ogy, work­ing in a shoe fac­tory and ware­house to pay for school.

Ever in­ter­ested in cut­ting-edge tech­nol­ogy, Haas came up with a way to stream­line the fac­tory’s op­er­a­tions by get­ting leather to work sta­tions more quickly. “We’ll use it,” the comptroller told him. “What can we do for you? They’re not go­ing to like you in the ware­house any­more.” So they put him to work in the of­fice.

With Rilling’s help with con­cert en­gage­ments, Haas be­gan tour­ing. “I can’t tell you how in­cred­i­ble it was. I thought Italy was beau­ti­ful and then Spain was Italy times two, with all the pas­sion and their love of life.

“Once I got to Ger­many, I was a few years older and started to re­mem­ber my roots,” Haas says. So he played in con­certs wher­ever he was in­vited. “There was no church too small. I al­ways said, ‘yes.’ ” The let­ter from Kitch­ener ar­rived in 1967. He thought of his lo­cal bene­fac­tors. He thought of St. Andrew’s or­gan. “I used to sit in the bal­cony as a kid and lis­ten to it. I’d never played it. It was be­yond me to ask.”

He thought of the in­struc­tor who had told his tal­ented stu­dents that or­gan­ist jobs at the great cathe­drals were al­ready taken. “He said, ‘Don’t think that you’re go­ing to walk into a cathe­dral and be­come their or­gan­ist. Go any­where and build your own cathe­dral’ and I think that’s what I’ve done at St. Andrew’s.” “W el­come home, Dougie.” Those were the first words from Rev. Dr. Fin­lay Ste­wart, St. Andrew’s min­is­ter, to Haas when he re­turned to Kitch­ener. It was the be­gin­ning of a strong friend­ship be­tween the two men who both en­joyed a joke.

But the tran­si­tion wasn’t all smooth. No one re­mem­bered Haas hav­ing an ac­cent, which he’d ac­quired from speak­ing Ger­man. They didn’t rec­og­nize the boy from Bridge­port. It took time to win over the choir, which was de­voted to its for­mer or­gan­ist. But it wasn’t long be­fore Haas’s warmth and stir­ring or­gan per­for­mances did their magic.

“In a very few years, he set the church or­gan­ist world on fire,” says James Brown, a fel­low or­gan­ist at a neigh­bour­ing church

then who be­came a pas­tor and friend. Brown and his wife now sing in St. Andrew’s choir.

“He’s a very hum­ble man and of­ten or­gan­ists have big egos because they have big in­stru­ments,” says Brown, re­tired pas­tor of Christ Lutheran Church in Water­loo. “He’s not only a good tech­ni­cian. He’s also a re­searcher and mu­si­col­o­gist. He plays things au­then­ti­cally. “He plays exquisitely but he’s never flashy.” His adult chil­dren from his first mar­riage have fol­lowed in his mu­si­cal foot­steps. An­nette is a singer and Christo­pher is head of the mu­sic de­part­ment at a Van­cou­ver high school.

The late Rev. Dr. Grant MacDon­ald, who took over from Ste­wart, was com­mit­ted to Haas’s mu­si­cal min­istry. MacDon­ald, who died March 24, helped Haas build the choir. They tele­phoned ev­ery­one they knew to ask them to join.

MacDon­ald, in con­ver­sa­tion with Brown last year for the cel­e­bra­tion mark­ing Haas’s 50 years at St. Andrew’s, said: “I was of­ten so lost in the mu­sic at our ser­vices that I needed time to re­cover; and it was in those ex­pe­ri­ences that I learned there were more ways to wor­ship than through the words of the preacher.”

MacDon­ald sent him on study leaves, in­clud­ing a project management course that taught him about large church ad­min­is­tra­tion. The church wanted to in­crease its com­mu­nity out­reach and Haas had the idea to of­fer noon-hour con­certs in 1975.

The con­certs are a fun and ed­u­ca­tional in­ter­lude for an au­di­ence of at least 100 peo­ple who can buy an in­for­mal lunch and lis­ten. Per­form­ers have ranged from an adept whistler to univer­sity mu­sic stu­dents and vir­tu­oso pi­anists.

“I tell ev­ery­one, ‘This is an in­for­mal con­cert. If a baby cries, it means the baby is there,’ ” Haas says.

Koichi Inoue, a Bramp­ton mu­sic teacher and per­former who was born in Ja­pan and stud­ied at In­di­ana Univer­sity in the U.S., asked Haas if he might play.

“I had im­mi­grated to Canada and didn’t know where to per­form and I had a bit of trou­ble to get started in a new coun­try,” says Inoue, who has been play­ing at the noon-hour con­certs ev­ery year since 2008.

Haas, a “very high-class per­former,” helped him over­come his ner­vous­ness and de­velop as a per­former, Inoue says. “It was very im­por­tant to have this ex­pe­ri­ence at the noon-hour con­cert.” Inoue’s stu­dents have had the same op­por­tu­nity.

“I feel he kind of opens the door for new­com­ers. It’s not al­ways like this” for young per­form­ers, Inoue says. “Not ev­ery

mu­si­cian takes care of other mu­si­cians because they are so much try­ing to sur­vive them­selves.”

Be­sides teach­ing and per­form­ing, Inoue started the Bramp­ton Cham­ber Con­cert Se­ries that he fash­ioned af­ter Haas’s idea. “I want to wel­come any­one to play in Bramp­ton,” he says. “The mod­ern so­ci­ety is not the best for artists to­day. Many per­form­ers to­day are strug­gling to find a place to play.”

Haas’s noon-hour con­certs bring many peo­ple into the church who wouldn’t or­di­nar­ily be there. They have helped all kinds of mu­si­cians to get to know each other.

“Doug is a world-class con­cert artist, teacher, ex­am­iner and record­ing artist,” wrote Brown in his nom­i­na­tion of Haas for the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s Car­ing Cana­dian Award, now called the Sov­er­eign’s Medal for Vol­un­teers. Haas re­ceived the award in 2016. Among other dis­tinc­tions, he has been awarded a Fel­low­ship of the Royal Cana­dian Col­lege of Or­gan­ists (honoris causa).

“He has toured Europe and the United States. But he never for­gets his home­town and the wealth of tu­ition and en­cour­age­ment he re­ceived as a stu­dent from his teach­ers here,” Brown says. “Our com­mu­nity and be­yond have re­ceived an im­mense gift from him.”

To­day, Haas is op­ti­mistic about the mu­sic stu­dents he meets, who “are bet­ter than we were at that age.”

“I feel I want to help them as much as I can.”

He feels strongly that clas­si­cal mu­sic helps bring peo­ple to church and he has seen it hap­pen with his top stu­dents, one of whom is in Mon­treal pack­ing the church.

As for his own ca­reer, Haas says he will per­form “hymns of joy, loss and de­vo­tion” and clas­si­cal mu­sic un­til he can’t do it any­more.

“I’m not go­ing to play ‘Mickey Mouse’ un­til I have to and then maybe I’ll stop play­ing,” Haas says.

Haas is a wor­thy pro­po­nent of tra­di­tional mu­sic at church who has re­mained true to his be­liefs.

When Haas sits at the or­gan, “he be­comes part of the in­stru­ment and the in­stru­ment be­comes part of him,” Burnett says. “He knows the in­stru­ment so well they’re like the best of friends.”

His mu­si­cal am­bi­tions ful­filled, Haas is al­ways on the look­out for new things to learn.

“I’ve never for­got­ten my roots and I’m still a Bridge­port kid. I’m in awe of ev­ery­thing I see,” he says. “I feel I’ll never learn enough in one life­time.”

Dou­glas Haas has been man­ning the key­board for more than 50 years at Kitch­ener’s St. Andrew’s Pres­by­te­rian Church.

Dou­glas Haas, also a pho­tog­ra­pher, has pub­lished a book of prose and pho­to­graphs fea­tur­ing the stained-glass win­dows at St. Andrew’s church.

Or­gan­ist Dou­glas Haas and the St. Andrew’s Church choir pre­pare to per­form in June in New York.

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