From his perch on the organ bench, Barry Anderson has a clear view of exactly what's going on during a Sunday morning worship service.
"I look out to see who's there and not there while I'm listening to the sermon," says the longtime organist at Knox United Church.
"In the meantime, I have my hymnbook open for the offertory so if there's an abrupt ending to the sermon, I'm ready to play."
After being ready to play for the last half century, Anderson will close his hymn book at the organ for the last time on June 24.
Retiring after 46 years at the Central Park church, the well-known Winnipeg organist will perform a short recital of his favourites, including The Lost Chord by Sir Arthur Sullivan and Albert Hay Malotte's setting of The Lord's Prayer, at the conclusion of the 10:30 a.m. service.
"The people at Knox know they love pipe organ (music) and they've had nearly 50 years of the most passionate organ playing," says Rev. Bill Millar, adding the congregation renamed their three-manual, 3,100-pipe Casavant organ after Anderson.
"With Barry, it's pure soul. It just oozes out of him."
Then a music teacher at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, Anderson was the part-time organist at Westminster United Church when Knox came knocking.
"They said, "Would you come if we build you a brand, spanking new pipe organ?' " he recalls of a lunch meeting he had with representatives of Knox almost five decades ago.
Completed in November 1968, the new organ was initiated with a concert by famed American organist and recording artist Virgil Fox and has been in the gifted hands of Anderson ever since.
"It's a very, very brilliant instrument," Anderson says of the organ, admitting he's worn down the ivory keys over the years.
A church organist since age 14, when he played for chapel services at St. John's Anglican Cathedral, Anderson has served in half a dozen United and Anglican congregations in Winnipeg, playing some of the city's best instruments and developing an impressive repertoire and reputation along the way.
"He's held in high esteem by the other organists in the city," says Winnifred Sim, longtime organist at Elim Chapel and accompanist and director for CBC's Hymn Sing, which was on the air for 30 years.
"He's very talented. God gave him a talent and he used it."
Those talents extended well beyond the Sunday morning services at Christian churches to performing with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir, the Winnipeg Jets in the old arena, and a few years as the wedding and funeral organist at the former Rosh Pina Synagogue in the North End.
"It would be a 1 p.m. (Sunday) wedding and I would have to rush down and start playing 15 minutes before the wedding," Anderson recalls of his dash across the city.
Knox hasn't yet hired a new organist, leaving some wondering if the Anderson organ will ever be played again.
"It's a very, very wonderful instrument and I'm hoping it can be used in some significant way," says Linda Fearn, president of the Winnipeg chapter of the Royal Canadian College of Organists.
"It would be a shame to see that organ silenced."
Millar says that won't happen, but the congregation needs to balance a long tradition of organ music with the needs of a congregation increasingly populated with new Canadians.
"Our stance is the future of Knox lies in the preservation, strengthening and enhancement of traditional music," he says, adding that traditional music includes songs from many cultures.
For now, celebrating Anderson's long service at Knox is a priority for people like Vi Comack, who is grateful for all the years of singing in the choir under Anderson.
"I'm still singing today because my music has carried me through," says the former alto soloist and veteran of 57 shows at the now-defunct Hollow Mug.
Although he's retiring from Knox, Anderson plans to continue conducting the Daniel McIntyre alumni choir and the Winnipeg Police Choir, and playing the processional and recessional music at the twice-yearly convocations at the University of Winnipeg, something he's done since his own convocation in 1958.
His fondest musical memories include two visits to Carnegie Hall in New York City, first with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in 1979, and again with the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir in 1997.
And his elevated perch at the front of the grand space at Knox was nothing compared to his bird's-eye view at Winchester Cathedral in England, where he had to climb 79 steps to take over the four keyboards when he accompanied the visiting choir from St. Luke's Anglican Church for a week in 1996.
"It blows you away, playing an organ like that," he says of the Winchester organ, recalling he had to follow the choir conductor by watching a video screen.
Despite those literal high points, Anderson insists accompanying the choir and setting the mood for worship was the most gratifying aspect of his many years at the organ console. And as on every other Sunday for the last 46 years, Anderson expects his final service at Knox will end with a great swell of sound.
"Every Sunday at the end (of the service), for the postlude, I rearrange the dust," he says of pulling out all the stops.