Phillips Motley, for six decades one of Montreal's best-known church organists, choral directors and music teachers, died Wednesday in Rimouski after suffering a heart attack at his summer residence in Métis sur Mer. He was 91.
"Even though he was an ardent Baptist, and a lifelong teetotaller, his was an ecumenical career. He was a real presence in a number of churches and synagogues," his daughter, Eleanor Turner, told The Gazette.
"The most amazing thing was that he could conduct a 40-voice choir and at the same time work the pedals and handle four manuals and all the stops needed to play the organ. He was a real one-man show."
Phillips Carey Motley was born in Westmount on July 12, 1912. His father was a structural engineer who designed and built bridges for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Motley grew up in the house on Sunnyside Ave. in which he had been born. He earned his BA from McGill University in 1934 and his bachelor of music from the University of Toronto in 1939. It was Motley who took over the direction of the Cathedral Singers in 1939 when the founder of the choir, Alfred Whitehead, became ill. Motley prepared the choir, perhaps the best in the city at the time, to take part in a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion at the Montreal Festival of Festivals.
He also rehearsed the choir for the Festival performances of the Mass in B minor by Bach, which was led by Eugene Ormandy and Sir Thomas Beecham.
Motley began playing at the Presbyterian church in Métis beach in the summer of 1932 when he replaced an organist who had broken her wrist.
He began his career as a professional organist in 1934 at St. Jude's Anglican Church in Montreal, but within the year moved to the First Baptist Church in Westmount where he remained until 1947 except for three years during the Second World War when he was in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
During the war he was stationed in Ottawa where he met his wife, Doris Armstrong, whom he married in 1945.
They had three children, a daughter and two sons. Their youngest son was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1970.
When the war ended Motley became organist at St. Andrew's Westmount United Church and at Temple Emanu-El, where he played for nine years before moving to the Presbyterian church of St. Andrew and St. Paul in 1956.
In 1972, he accepted the post of organist and choirmaster at the Roman Catholic Church of the Ascension of our Lord in Westmount and until this spring was still playing at least one mass a month at the church.
During his career, Motley gave more than 400 organ recitals.
He had, critics say, a distinctive keyboard dexterity marked by clarity, precision and careful attention to phrasing.
"You can't believe how he made old pump organs sound. He could coax beautiful music out of such unbelievably old things," said soprano Ann Coulson, who was often directed by Motley. "What he did best, and what he loved most was congregational singing. When he conducted songfests, he was so enthusiastic people would come out of the woodwork bellowing their favourite hymns."
Coulson described Motley as a trim, elegant and gentle man who "was very courtly, with impeccable manners. He was the sort of man who would bite his lips if he was displeased rather than say anything nasty; he would never let it all hang out."
Motley was a member of the committee responsible for the 1973 Baptist Hymnal and served on the committee that advised the Roman Catholic Diocese of Montreal on its liturgical music. Obituary of Phillips Motley