Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big gift to Mennonite school is something to chant about

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THE fact that the bulls didn't show up for a bullfight in Spain more than 30 years ago turned out to be good news for the Canadian Mennonite University yesterday.

Instead of taking in a bullfight -- the day's event was cancelled -- Walter Loewen, founder of the piano company Yamaha Canada Music Ltd., went for a stroll in a historic area of Barcelona.

That stroll in February 1970 took him to an antique store, where he purchased several medieval musical manuscripts of Gregorian chants. Those manuscripts were the beginning of Loewen's vast collection of ancient books and individual sheets that he collected during that trip and others through the years.

Yesterday, Loewen donated five books -- one of which is about 500 years old, measures almost a metre by a metre and contains Gregorian chants with colour illuminations -- and about 40 individual sheets to the university and its Mennonite Heritage Centre archives.

Loewen said when he and his wife, Elly, saw the individual sheets in the antique store in 1970, they were "thinking of sheets and music teachers to gift them to. But God must have been thinking books and universities."

CMU music professor Dietrich Bartel said much research still has to be done on the donation, not only to ascertain for sure how old it is, but how valuable.

"We're certainly talking in the hundreds of thousands of dollars," Bartel said.

He said CMU has been in touch with McMaster University, which is creating a Web-based archive of manuscripts in Canada.

"They say as far as they can see this is one of the largest Canadian collections of medieval music manuscripts," he said.

Putting on white gloves before touching the largest of the books, Bartel pointed out the colourful illuminations on the pages, which are made from sheepskin.

He noted that one of the chants, Come Holy Spirit, is still found in many hymn books. A group of CMU music students then sang the work, straight from the aged book.

Loewen said all he knows about the ancient works is that they were sold by a monastery that was anxious to pay its bills.

Loewen said he decided to donate the collection to the CMU because his father was friends with one of the school's founders, and he himself had served as a director on the board of Menno Simons College, one of CMU's founding colleges.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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