Over the past month, we have been sharing special tributes to our much – loved Diane Leah, who is stepping down as Music Director on September 30th. Diane’s final Service as Music Director will be September 29th.
Would you like to write a special tribute to Diane to be shared on our website? Send to email@example.com
September 27, 2019
A word from Diane Herself:
My Last Sunday
I am writing this on a Tuesday morning wondering what I will feel like on September 29 when I leave MCC Toronto as Music Director. A lot of you have questions and I thought I might share a few of them:
“Are you excited about leaving MCC Toronto?”
Excited and sad.
“Will you be attending church?”
Not for a while (by choice).
“Will you attend Roy Thomson Hall?
I will be London, England with Liz (my partner).
“Will you take another church job?”
Are you kidding me? There is no other place like this one.
“Are you retiring from music?”
Musicians don’t retire. I was a musician before MCC Toronto came along and I will be after. Hopefully, I will not work quite as hard.
I am very satisfied with what I have accomplished as your Music Director and, as I leave, I feel most gratified that Jason Jestadt will be leading the Music Ministry going forward. I have known him since he a was young lad. He is a brilliant musician, composer and arranger who has worked in churches for almost twenty years. Even more importantly, he is excited to be here and loves working with our choir. He has a great heart. You are in for an incredible journey into the future with such a gifted person.
So, how will it feel to leave on Sunday? I have no idea and that is ok. What I do know is that it has been an amazing twenty years and I have loved being your Music Director. So many of you have taken the time to speak to me and let me know that you value what I do. Your kind words and notes have made all the difference on the tough days and made the good days even better. Some of you have become very close friends. Some of you I call family.
I wish you all of the very best.
September 27, 2019
A tribute from Dr. Rev Brent Hawkes C.M.
We are forever grateful for the day that Diane Leah said yes to becoming the Music Director of our church. While we were aware of her immense talents, we had no idea of how profound her impact would be on our church and the ability of our church to catch the attention of and minister to our city and far beyond. Her ability to maximize the impact of music at our regular Sunday Services and the many special events has meant that, when we needed to celebrate, she facilitated that. When we needed to mourn, she facilitated that, when we needed to heal, she facilitated that. She constantly brought out the best in the participants of our music program and the folks involved in our many events. In religious circles, it is said that when you leave a church service, what you feel is more important than what you remember. Diane has consistently left us feeling encouraged, inspired and ready to change the world. While it has been easy to see the results of her work every Sunday, the effort and sacrifice has not always been as easy to see. What she has done behind the scenes to facilitate our impact and success has been immense and the cause of great sacrifice.
During Diane’s time at the church, I believe that the music program and therefore the worship at MCC Toronto was among the best in the city. From where I sat, I could see the joy and pride on the faces of the congregation regularly when an anthem or special music really worked. The pride that The Choir felt, the quality of their music and the growth in their personal abilities was an example for the rest of our programs to follow. Under Diane’s leadership, The Choir has excelled as a place where people care for each other and are there for each other in the midst of joys and challenges. Additionally, the music department has been a key supporter of the financial health of our church. Wherever I went during my time as Senior Pastor and my time now in retirement, I consistently hear praise of the music at our church. You’ve heard me say many times while I was at MCC Toronto that many a great solo has saved a bad sermon! Diane, it has been a joy to work with you, to watch your brilliance, to see the impact of your leadership and to see how our church has benefited from your gifts. You’ve made us a better church and for that we will forever be thankful. Well done Diane, well done.
September 20, 2019
A tribute from Colleen Allen
Diane Leah is a wonder to me.
She always has been. I first met Diane after a friend of ours, who happens to be an incredible saxophone player, left town. I subbed for our mutual friend on a gig with Diane. I think it’s fair to say that Diane was underwhelmed with our first encounter together. I was only slightly intimidated – those who are familiar with Diane’s facial expressions will know what I’m talking about – let’s just say that you know where you stand with her, without any words being said. This experience was one of those life-altering seminal moments when someone raises the bar on you; you can choose to curl up in a ball and stay comfortably below it or take a deep breath and find the courage to stretch higher. Fortunately for me, I took that deep breath and, with the yanking of Diane’s hand upward, and many “hairy eyeballs” later, we’ve found our musical place together.
Diane’s musical gifts are likely evident to most people reading this testimonial. You are fortunate enough to hear her every week in church. Well, allow me to sing her praises from inside the band. She is a prodigious talent. Think Kawhi Leonard or Bianca Andreescu. She has perfect pitch, the ability to fluidly change from one key to another or one-time signature to another while accompanying herself with bass pedals and yelling at Kevin for more choir in the monitor. Telling the cellist, the cello is out of tune and the sax player that she missed an accidental in bar 63. She also knows, from memory, most songs ever written, certainly any song from any musical. If she doesn’t know it, she can fake it. I can guarantee you’ll like her version better than the original. I grew up watching the Carol Burnett show with my family. One of the most impressive elements of the show for me was the musical mashups they did. I’ve played and listened to her mashups. I just couldn’t believe that it was possible to be so clever, funny and poignant with music. Well, fast forward a few decades and you have the mastermind (Diane) producing medleys and stitching together clever, heartfelt arrangements not only for The Choir but for her beloved “Broadsway” too. There are a couple of Christmas songs that I’m sure I’ll never get right, now that I’ve played and listened to her mashups. I’m so grateful to Diane for introducing me to the MCC Toronto community. I’ve been blessed to spend many Christmases and Easters celebrating with all of you. I’m also very excited for Diane’s retirement from the church. She had served, fully committed to excellence within The Choir, the band and the congregation. She has shared many of her talented, famous friends with the church as soloists with The Choir and has given a voice to some incredible talent that may not have had an opportunity to perform otherwise. It’s time for Diane to take some time for herself. She has myriad other creative endeavours to pursue. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to be involved in some of them!
she is a wonder to me. I count my blessings to be able to call her a colleague
and a dear friend.
September 13, 2019
A tribute from Mark Guiler, Principal Volunteer Organist
I have had the privilege of sharing in the music ministry here at MCC Toronto with Diane Leah for the past 16 of her 20 years.
My interest began the summer of 2002 after seeing Jeannie Wyse run back-and-forth between the organ and piano one Sunday morning. I thought, this place needs more instrumental help. At that time, I did not know there was another person providing overall direction of the music department. I came to learn that the music ministry did have a fearless leader, in the person of Diane Leah. And over the course of the next six months, I observed even more to see if this was a music department I wanted to offer my gifts and talents in any way to support it.
In early 2003, I introduced myself to Diane, and offered to be a volunteer organist. I have had the privilege to play alongside Diane during Sunday morning services, initially, part time until 2008, full time for five years to 2013, then part time again to date. In addition, I have worked alongside Diane in numerous ways, pulling together the weekly Sunday morning orders of service, maintaining an online service music library, and stage managing many services, special events and music concerts. Together, we served on the organ search committee back in 2014.
One thing out of many I grew to admire about Diane; she did not take any of her volunteers, including The Choir, for granted. Diane’s appreciation was always genuine which helped to ensure a vibrant music ministry. It took many of us working together through her leadership to make it possible.
I have come to appreciate Diane’s relentless drive for exceptional execution of any piece of music, her tenacity for wanting to ensure the music was all inclusive both in lyrics, regardless the genre, and that it was executed with excellence while still trying to inject fun along the way. The goal was to ensure anyone who stepped inside the doors of MCC Toronto would know and feel unconditional love.
MCC Toronto, we have been blessed to have Diane Leah as our MD. I not only consider her to be an exceptional musician, pianist extraordinaire, creative artist and arranger at what she does so well, but also a privilege to call Diane a friend, both in good and difficult times.
Diane, well done! Your leadership and direction of the music ministry here at MCC Toronto these past 20 years has been an absolute gift to all of us. You have partnered with past and present leadership to put this place on a national and international level which is known for many things, including an exceptional music ministry with you at its helm.
Whatever the future holds, play on Diane. It doesn’t stop here. Spread your wings “Mamma Hen”. Do your thing. Your chickens will be in good hands.
A tribute from Walter Donovan and Lee Hill
The lady is seated at the piano as we enter The Sanctuary for Sunday Service. Her fingers move across the keyboard as she looks out at the smiling faces of the congregation. She may be playing her own arrangement of a show tune, a popular song, a spiritual piece, a jazz number or maybe even a song she wrote.
MCC Toronto hit the jack pot when Diane Leah agreed to sign on as Music Director 20 years ago. Through her hard work as a teacher, mentor and her professionalism, she has succeeded in elevating the status of The Choir to be recognized as one of the finest choirs in Toronto. Coming from the world of musical theatre, Diane has introduced a variety of new music to the church. Traditional hymns are heard less frequently, while more songs from broadway musicals and popular songs are being performed by soloists and The Choir. Diane’s dedication to perfection and creativity have encouraged many talented singers and artists, who might have never considered the time commitment, to join The Choir. She uses her expertise in arranging musical selections to accommodate all the members of The Choir. It is a tribute to her talents and the high regard to which she is held that she can convince so many professional performers to appear at Sunday Services and special events.
Diane also excels in arranging the entertainment programs for private parties. We have been fortunate to have Diane take the time from her busy schedule to arrange the entertainment for two of our special events. As hosts, we were impressed with Diane’s organizational skills and concerns for detail to guarantee our guests enjoy a wonderful evening.
Often, as she is playing, she rises from her seat, smiling as she embraces the mood that her music is reflecting. She may encourage the congregation to clap or stomp as she is playing a spiritual or some lively tune. Her musical interaction with those at the pulpit is entertaining and delightful. This multi-talented lady is not only a pianist. She plays the accordion, is a brilliant composer and performs as part of a trio ‘Broadways’ with Julie Michele and Heather Bambrick. She has collaborated with Louise Pitre and W.J. Matheson to write songs for the score of the musical ‘Could You Wait?’.
Diane is truly an inspiration to young vocalists and entertainers. We have indeed been fortunate to enjoy the talents of Diane for the past 20 years. Thank you, Diane for having such a strong influence within the church and beyond its walls. Your warmth, sense of humour and devotion to the church has enriched our personal and spiritual lives.
We wish you future success and look forward to being with you at your “Swan Song” on September 26th.
September 6, 2019
A tribute from John K. Wright
Diane Leah, Mrs. Magic Fingers, Mother Hen to us in The Choir, and – above all – Diane, my dear and wonderful friend. I wish to tell you all a little about Diane’s heart and how she cares and protects her flock of chickens. My spouse of 48 years developed leukemia which required weekly blood tests and transfusions. I do not drive, and my John was very ill. I had been talking with Diane about how our driver could not continue and how afraid I was that we would have to rely on taxis. Diane just said, “Leave this with me.”
About two weeks before our driver stopped, I received an email with a complete list of drivers, with Diane herself included in the dates and times. It was a complete schedule of each choir member and their contact information; who would pick us up, who would take us, and who would return us home.
Not one choir member, Diane included, missed a date or was even late for those appointments. What an incredible, selfless blessing. Without Diane’s initiative, this wonderful, peaceful and loving care would never have taken place. This made John’s and my life so much more gentle and kind, till he did not need it any more. And all because of Diane and her wonderful chickens.
Love and hugs,
John K. Wright
August 30, 2019
A tribute from Rev. Jo Bell
“We are connected – by time, by space, and by feelings…
By our questions, by what we can’t comprehend.
And although we may not see it, we still feel it –
The connection between you and I…”
Hello dearest MCC Toronto Family!
My name is Rev. Jo Bell, and during the years I was blessed to serve MCC Toronto, I became great friends with our beloved, and retiring, Music Director, Diane Leah. Thus, it is my deep honour to offer this first-of-five September Sunday News articles sharing how Diane has shaped our lives, and how she has profoundly impacted the community many of us call or have called, “home.”
My bet is that when many of you read my opening words, “We are connected…” you instantly recognized them as the lyrics to a song written long ago by Diane and Shelly Hamilton.
Connected has become an anthem of sorts for MCC Toronto, even heard nation-wide as Diane brilliantly wove it into Jack Layton’s State Funeral in 2011.
Connected also speaks to how many of us feel when we are within these walls and among the great people who have been a part of the MCC Toronto family over the years.
When I was asked to open this series, the lyrics appeared immediately to me – as I believe they articulate the love and connection that is at the heart of Diane’s MCC Toronto legacy – the development our music and the Choir Community.
While her Dora Award Nomination and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal “prove” Diane is a magically accomplished musician, it was from my vantage point within the church that I experienced the “connecting” arena of her vision. Diane knew that if MCC Toronto’s music was to do the work it was called to do under her leadership – to be woven into the celebration and spirituality of our sanctuary and our city – she had to do more than arrange music and set a rehearsal schedule.
So, over the past 20 years, Diane built the choir into a community – connecting people to people, to music, and to our “Welcome Home!” theology. She shaped them, taught them, loved them and led them – into people who could then lead us in song and celebration, in joy and sorrow, along our spiritual journeys.
Diane, you are a strong and brilliant thread in the tapestry of MCC Toronto…
Through your leadership you have led us down Church Street and across Bridges, and from Christmas Eve through Good Friday to Easter – over and over and over. You have arranged music and musicians and events uncountable..
Rev. Jo Bell