Review of Members’ Recital

Review of Members’ Recital

Review of Members’ Recital
By Alan Macmillan

The 2008 Dobson organ at St. Peter Claver Church in West Hartford is one of very few tracker organs in the greater Hartford area and the A.G.O. members’ recital on Friday evening, January 25th provided an opportunity to hear it put through its paces in a program of music of widely varying musical styles.

The music of Buxtehude figured prominently in the program with Scott Lamlein of St. John’s, West Hartford, opening with a vigorous and assured performance of the Präludium und Fuga in d minor. Later in the program, Michelle Horsley of South Church, New Britain, offered a fine performance of the Buxtehude Präludium und Fuga in f sharp minor. For listeners more familiar with the preludes and fugues of Bach, Buxtehude’s approach to the form stands in stark contrast to that of the younger master who, as a youth of twenty, made his famous pilgrimage of 250 miles from Arnstadt to Lübeck to hear the older man play. Buxtehude’s approach tends to be episodic, with prelude giving way to fugue with no ceremonious cadence announcing the end of the prelude; the fugue freely seasoned with pedal solos and “free fantasy” sections unrelated to initial thematic material. The result is brilliant and arresting. Kari Miller, of Simsbury Methodist gave us some Bach to allow comparison; a well-executed account of the Prelude and Fugue in C major BWV 545. In this early work of Bach, revised in his later years, the unique character of his prelude and fugue style is on full display.

While Buxtehude and Bach may be the expected fare for a recital on a tracker organ with no electric stop action or memory, Messiaen made an unexpected and welcome appearance at the hands of Ms. Horsley. Les Bergers (The Shepherds) from La Nativité proved an excellent choice for this organ as it features sections with uniform registration and a chance to listen carefully to the flutes, mutations and solo reeds evoking the piping of the Judean shepherds.

Contemporary American composer Dan Locklair composed his Salem Sonata on commission for The Home Moravian Church in Salem, North Carolina in 2003. Nathan Lively of St. John’s Lutheran, Stamford gave an arresting performance of the work in which he cleverly arranged the second movement to include and demonstrate the Orgelkids small tracker organ which was played by Susan Carroll of Asylum Hill Church, Hartford. Locklair based his sonata on two early Moravian hymn tunes, “Gregor’s 97th and “Almsgiving” and the result is an appealing work with a folksy, rhythmic and thoroughly American character.

Returning to the Germanic lineage of organ music, the recital continued with Hindemith’s Sonata No. 2. This, the most neo-classical (or neo-baroque, if you wish) of the composer’s three organ sonatas consists of a quick opening movement with a captivating returning motto theme, a middle movement in a Siciliano rhythm and a Fugue for finale. It was an excellent choice for this organ and was well played by Noah Smith of First Church of Christ, Suffield.

Cheryl Wadsworth brought the recital to a close with more 20th century music: a fine performance of the rarely heard Prelude and Fugue from “Five Studies in the Form of a Sonata” by John Cook (1918-1984). This British born organist and composer spent most of his career in Canada and the U.S. and is perhaps best known for his ubiquitous “Fanfare” for organ. The lesser known “Five Studies” date from his Canadian years and are dedicated to Healey Willan, a fellow British-born Canadian. The music itself, as Ms. Wadsworth mentioned in her remarks to the audience, owes much to the influence of Hindemith which was immediately evident amid flashes of the unique voice of Cook himself as the music progressed. A nice follow-up to the Hindemith Sonata, the work provided a satisfying end to an evening of fine organ music amply demonstrating the wealth of talent in our Greater Hartford A.G.O. Chapter.

Member News!

Member News!

Two of our members have recently begun interim faculty appointments at prestigious institutions: Christa Rakich at Oberlin and Ezequiel Menendez at Holy Cross.

Christa Rakich writes:

January is Winter Term at Oberlin, so I haven’t started teaching individual students yet. I did teach 19 half-hour lessons on my 2 interview days, though, so I’ve met pretty much everyone, and have an idea of each student’s capabilities and needs. Very impressive. It’s going to be a fun semester, and I’m going to hear lots of great organ playing.

As impressive as the students are the facilities: 33 organs on campus, many in practice rooms or studios, some of the larger ones in concert halls or church/chapels. I was lucky to hear faculty member Jonathan Moyer’s performance of the whole Clavierübung III on the big north-German style Flentrop in Warner Concert Hall. Magnificent playing on a magnificent organ. The Cavaillé-Coll style Fisk in Finney Chapel is the other “famous” organ on campus. Organ students host an “Organ Pump” there at the stroke of midnight on the final Friday of each month. The event is an unpredictable mix of musicianship and mayhem that attracts the general public. For the final piece, the audience is invited to sprawl out on the stage to feel the thunder when Opus 116 rattles the floorboards.

But some of the smaller organs are even more intriguing: the Bozemann-Gibson Silbermann style organ in nearby Peace Community Church, for example, or the 1/4-comma meantone Brombaugh organ in Fairchild Chapel, or the recently acquired Greg Harrold 18th-century style Spanish organ.


Oberlin is Organ Nirvana, to be sure. In fact, October 23-26 of this year, to honor the 40th anniversary of the Westfield Center, we will host a conference on Collections and Collectors, with a focus on Blending Past and Present. I hope some of my friends from the Hartford Chapter will attend! Details here:  Call for Papers – Westfield Center


Ezequiel Menendez writes:

I am teaching at Holy Cross College. I started in November. There are three organ students. They all received full tuition scholarships and are excellent musicians. The organ is amazing as you know. My title there is: Distinguished Visiting Scholar.

I am part-time at the College and continue as full-time Director of Music of the Archdiocese of Hartford. I just celebrated my 20th Anniversary at the Archdiocese and the Cathedral.


From the Holy Cross Website:

The Organ Scholarship is a four-year, full tuition, scholarship, renewable on a yearly basis, offered to a high school senior who will major in music or double major in music and another discipline. The recipient of this scholarship will have at his/her disposal the 1985 four manual, 50-stop mechanical action organ built by Taylor & Boody Organ builders, located in the beautiful St. Joseph Memorial Chapel.



February Deanery

February Deanery


By Peter Niedmann

Noel Rawsthorne died on January 28th. He was the esteemed organist of Liverpool Cathedral from 1955 to 1980. Also a composer, Rawsthorne may be best known for his collection of hymn reharmonizations: 200 Last Verses.

Jean Guillou died on January 26th.  He was the esteemed organist of Saint Eustache from 1963 to 2015. Also a composer, Guillou may be best known for his Toccata.

John Joubert died on January 7th. He was a British-South African composer who lived from 1927-2019. Joubert may be best known for his carols, Torches and There Is No Rose of Such Virtue.

Sensing a pattern?

The world of choral and organ music is populated with many fine composers who, for whatever reason, are known by only one or two of their pieces. They wrote plenty of other music of equal quality, yet their existence is eclipsed by the “greatest hit.” Paul Manz…Gregorio Allegri…the two Harolds (Darke, Friedell).

[There are examples of “one-hit-wonders” in the symphonic world, too. Holst and Mussorgsky come to mind.]

But—speaking as a composer—I would rather be remembered for generations by only one composition, than not remembered at all! To contribute one perfect gem to the canon is an honor. Can you imagine how many thousands of choirs sing Tallis’ If Ye Love Me on the Sunday when John 14: 15-17 is the Gospel reading?

Of course, as thoughtful musicians, we should be digging deeper into composer’s catalogues to share more of their work with the world. Their job was to write music. Our job is to perform it. We need to do our part. Perhaps, while planning for next season, we can spend some time researching overlooked repertoire, and try to fold some of it into the mix. It will certainly add interest to our work—always a good thing!

Next Chapter Event – Raymond Nagem in Concert

Next Chapter Event – Raymond Nagem in Concert

Co-sponsored with Trinity College
Friday, February 15th at 7:30 pm
Trinity College Chapel, 300 Summit St, Hartford, CT 06106

The Program

  • Fantasia in F Minor, K. 608  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
  • Christmas and New Year’s Chorales from the Orgelbüchlein
  • Trumpet Tune   Rachel Laurin (b. 1961)
  • Fugue on a Bird’s Song
  • Épilogue, Op. 50
  • Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 7   Marcel Dupré (1886–1971)
    B Major; F Minor; G Minor

The Artist

Raymond Nagem is Associate Director of Music and Organist at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and a member of the organ faculty at Manhattan School of Music, where he teaches organ literature, service playing, and improvisation. He completed his D.M.A. at The Juilliard School in 2016, where he was a student of Paul Jacobs.

A native of Medford, Mass., Dr. Nagem attended the Boston Archdiocesan Choir School and began organ lessons there with John Dunn. He earned his B. A. from Yale University in 2009, as a double major in Music and Psychology, and studied the organ with Thomas Murray, and his M. A. in 2011 from Juilliard. He has worked since 2010 at St. John the Divine, where he has primary responsibility for service playing and choral accompaniment and frequently conducts the cathedral’s several choral ensembles. In addition to these duties, he performs in recital both in New York and across the country.

Highlights for the 2018–19 season include an October recital featuring Karg-Elert’s magnificent and rarely played Organ Symphony, a performance of J. S. Bach’s complete Orgelbüchlein at St. John the Divine, as well as recitals at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, Trinity College, Hartford, and the Geneva Music Festival. Dr. Nagem’s album Divine Splendor is available on the Pro Organo label.

January Deanery

January Deanery


By Peter Niedmann

Few things compare to the feelings experienced during a stellar performance of a masterwork. Our body changes: goosebumps, quickening pulse, smiles, tapping feet and hands, a lump in the throat, tears. And we feel a range of emotions: joy, sadness, longing, suspense, triumph. The reaction that was ignited by the performance can stay alive for hours. Even the next day, one may be able to rekindle the powerful response and savor it anew. The mystical nature of organized sound affecting a listener remains a beautiful, unsolved mystery that elevates us all.

A few days ago, I joined the ranks of Hamilton devotees—attending the boundary-breaking, award-winning musical at The Bushnell. I knew the score from the cast album, and admired it for its quick, clever lyrics and its fulsome fusion of so many musical styles. But, the emotional impact of the live production—set, choreography, lighting, acting, and of course all those great songs—worked together to “blow us all away” (as the lyrics say). And, since leaving the theater—teary and transformed—with thousands of other souls, I’ve been thinking about what an amazing thing the creators pulled off. Starting with a dry, dusty history of one of America’s lesser-known founders, they molded Alexander Hamilton’s story into a riveting and captivating three-hour musical. Universal themes of ambition, insecurity, love, lust, grief, betrayal, forgiveness, and greed are woven into the narrative. So, the seemingly staid and linear history of a politician becomes a mirror for the audience to look into—seeing itself, and feeling what the characters feel.

The work we do as church musicians has similarities to the work of our musical theater colleagues. We both strive to bring old stories alive through the power of sung music. [If anyone suggests church music is irrelevant or unnecessary, ask them to read the beginning of Psalm 42 aloud. Then, have them listen to Howells’ Like as the Hart.] Church music at its best is transformative and inspirational. We have the privilege and duty of curating what our congregations hear—drawing on music of many styles that span centuries. When immersed in the everyday details of our work, we can sometimes lose sight of the powerful force that church music is.  How fortunate that our chosen profession envelops us in this music, and affords us the opportunity to share its beauty with others.

Best wishes to you in the New Year!

Next Chapter Event – Members’ Recital

Next Chapter Event – Members’ Recital

Next Chapter Event – Members’ Recital
Friday, January 25th at 7:30pm
St. Peter Claver Church
47 Pleasant St
West Hartford, CT 06107

Our chapter’s next event is a home grown concert by members Scott Lamlein, Kari Miller, Cheryl Wadsworth, Nathan Lively, Noah Smith and Michelle Horsley Parker. The venue offers us a chance to hear one of the few tracker organs in the area, a two manual, nineteen rank Dobson installed in 2008. Music to be played includes Buxtehude’s Toccata in D minor, Hindemith’s Sonata 2 and much more.

Members’ Roundtable

Members’ Roundtable

We asked chapter members to recommend pieces for Christmas that they think folks may not know about. Here are some of the responses:

Edward Clark suggested two publications:

  • Amen! Tell It on the Mountain! arranged by Mary McDonald – Lorenz Corporation, 10/44412L (SATB) or 10/4801L (SAB). Both versions are also available in a downloadable e-print edition at J.W. Pepper. This is a great blues-swing style arrangement which combines two familiar spirituals: Amen! and Go, Tell It on the Mountain with a really fun piano accompaniment and accessible voice parts.
  • Two Advent Carols from the Shape-Note Tradition arranged by Pamela M. Robertson and published by Ring Press Handbell Music available online at (This is a great site with many fine downloadable arrangements of handbell music.) Scored for SATB and piano with optional handbells. Both arrangements are really easy with frequent unison singing for either the women or the men and just a few sections in four parts. It is always refreshing to hear familiar words sung to new tunes. The two pieces are:
    “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming” – uses both WEDLOCK, Sacred Harp, 1844 and ES IST EIN ROS as arranged by Praetorius. One handbell (B5).
    “O come, O come, Emmanuel” – uses PISGAH, Kentucky Harmony, 1816. Four handbells (D5, G5, A5, D6).

Bill Hively recommends:

  • Lift Up Your Heads by one Peter Niedmann (SATB with organ, Augsburg 11-10774). We’re singing it Sunday!
  • Or, Come and Praise the Lord with Joy by Dolores Hruby (who just died in August). SATB a cappella with triangle and hand drum (Concordia 98-2170).
  • This one might be too well-known, but my favorite Advent/Christmas anthem is E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come by Paul Manz, SATB a cappella (Concordia 98-1054). Manz died 10 years ago this year.

From Jerry Davidson:

A little like asking which one of your children you like the best…

My very favorites, used with almost every choir I’ve conducted.
  • Christmas Day by Gustav Holst, Novello (all-time winner, I have parts for WW Qt & organ)
  • Tyrley-Tyrlow by Peter Warlock, OUP (rather difficult in spots but truly wonderful)
  • Lullay my Liking by Gustav Holst, available on CPDL, exquisite
  • Whence comes this rush of wings by Balbastre/Davidson, VERY EASY, uses the Balbastre Noel variations interspersed, available at no cost from me.

All SATB except mine which is SA/TB

From Deb Gemma
  • On This Day Earth Shall Ring (Personent hodie), arr. by David Cherwien, Concordia, 2-part Voices, Organ, optional Handbells.
A fresh setting of the familiar tune for small choirs. The first three verses are sung in unison by different combinations of voices, fourth verse adds a descant. Variety and color in the organ part give this piece a full sound. The handbell notes are cued in the score, and translate readily to the organ; the piece works beautifully without the optional bells.
December Deanery

December Deanery


By Peter Niedmann

Remember the childhood feeling of worry regarding Santa Claus’ “naughty or nice” list? Every December, you would think back over the previous year and do a self-evaluation of your behavior, and wonder how Santa would feel about it. Such a heavy and unsettling notion for a kid to contend with!

This time of year is full of lists. What gifts shall we give to our family and friends? Who shall we invite to our party? What food will we serve? To whom will we send a Christmas card?

And there are the lists on our desks at church. Which carols to sing? Which pieces to play? Which musicians to hire? Are the choir rosters for the program accurate? Did we leave out any concert series donors on that list?

I actually like lists very much. It’s probably my father’s influence—he has always kept a folded index card in his shirt pocket with his “to do” list. (I do the same, only electronically–emailing myself every couple days with a fresh “to do” list. It really helps.) I’ve got a list of anthems I want the choir to learn. A list of organ repertoire I want to learn. A list of pieces I’m composing to fulfill commissions. Lists of choir members. Lists of potential choir members. Lists of possible concert booking ideas for next season. And, of course, a list of AGO newsletter article ideas!

It may sound like a daunting deluge of information, but for me, it’s the opposite. Having everything itemized in writing, in various categories, frees up my brain and spirit.

And, I’m happy to report I just checked off another item on my list: “Write December Deanery”!

Merry Christmas!

Pipescreams Review

Pipescreams Review

Pipescreams Review

By Alan MacMillan

St. John’s Episcopal Church, West Hartford once again rang with hisses, boos and hollering: the traditional greeting (and dubious form of acclaim) for the many costumed performers at the annual Pipescreams organ concert on Friday evening, October 26. This highly entertaining event was, as in many previous years, introduced by “Mistress of Sorrow-Moan-Ees,” Meg Smith (St. Matthew’s Lutheran, New Britain), whose pig costume led to some serious “hamming it up.” Meg did double duty on the organ bench as part of a “hostile takeover” version of the obligatory “Toccata and Fugue in d minor,” BWV 565 by Bach; a performance in which St. John’s organist, Scott Lamlein and six of his students playfully hurried one another on and off the bench, and sometimes shared manuals by reaching around from both sides of the console in a sight reminiscent of a Victor Borge act.

The concert opened with a biker/hippie costumed Peter Niedmann (Dean of the Greater Hartford A.G.O. chapter) performance of the “Toccata” from the Suite Gothique of Boëllmann with a suitable emphasis on the spooky pedal melody. A great gag was the ringing of Peter’s cellphone, which, most amusingly, he answered both as he was about to begin playing and later a split second before the final chord. (Someone backstage had some spot-on timing!)

Next, a bear-costumed Vaughn Mauren (A.G.O. sub-dean and organist at St. James’s, West Hartford) treated the large audience to the Prélude from the Op. 5 Suite of Duruflé. The beauty of this work, while dark in character, made one briefly forget the context and want to applaud in the normal fashion…..but, of course that’s a no-no at Pipescreams!

Mark Child (Grace Episcopal, Windsor) offered a brief chemistry lesson before launching into “Two Noble Gases: Neon and Argon” by American composer Daniel Gawthrop: works of a mystical yet pleasingly melodic character.

The prelude from the film “Psycho” effectively arranged and performed by a knife wielding Kari Miller sent a chill through the air preceded and followed by a mock knife attack on poor Miss Piggy.

A sea-captain-hatted Jim Barry (St. James’, Glastonbury) next launched into Noel Rawsthorne’s “Hornpipe Humoresque: A Nautical Extravaganza” which cleverly combines the familiar Sailor’s Hornpipe melody, Arne’s “Rule Britannia,” Bach’s 3rd Brandenburg, Vivaldi’s “Spring” Concerto and the Widor Toccata into a genuinely funny mash-up. Jim continued with Gounod’s “Funeral March for a Marionette” in the Frederick Hohman arrangement while the Costume Parade commenced; complete with a shower of candy to the delight of the many children present.

Susan Carroll (Asylum Hill Congregational) and Nathan Lively (St. John’s Lutheran, Stamford) joined forces for a four-hand, (and presumably four- foot), performance of a “Fantasia in D Minor” by the obscure 19th century composer Adolph Hesse. Going for broke with the registration, this dynamic duo made the piece sound a good deal better than it was!

Franck’s Pièce HéroÏque is a natural for this type of program, and host organist Scott Lamlein deftly demonstrated the registral possibilities of the resourceful Austin, ending with a rafter rattling full organ.

A scampering, “moto perpetuo” ragtime, cheerfully belying its title, “The Devil’s Rag,” ended the program on a fun and cheerful note. Composed by the Tunisian-born Jean Maetitia, this work, arranged for saxophone and organ, was breathlessly (especially for the sax) and brilliantly dispatched by Natasha Ulyanovsky (Congregation Beth Israel) and Max Schwimmer, saxophone.

November Deanery

November Deanery


By Peter Niedmann

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen

“Children Will Listen”
-Stephen Sondheim

Of all the aspects of a church musician’s job, one of the most important is the interaction with children. The awesome responsibility and opportunity to introduce children to the beauty of music is a gift. When we teach young singers a piece, it is the first time they have heard it in their lives. Remember the first time you heard a beloved piece of music? The sense of discovery, wonder, and excitement is tremendous. As choir directors, we have the honor of unveiling so many moments of beauty and power to young people. We also have the obligation to teach them how to read music, use their voices correctly, understand what they are singing, and so much more. We share stories about the composers to bring their names and dates to life. We explain the theology of the text. We guide them, as they mature, into more refined and precise musicianship. We show them how to work together as a group to achieve great things.

And, if we ever doubt that we are “getting through” to our young choristers, they let us know over and over again—they are “getting it.” Yesterday, in rehearsal I asked them to get out “Praise” by George Dyson. Our youngest singer exclaimed, “I love this one! I sing it all week!”

Before the Pipescreams concert, the Orgelkids organ was being assembled for the very first time by an enthusiastic group of kids. When they completed building the organ (in record time!) they all played tunes on it. One boy took his turn at the keyboard, and called me over. He started playing a melody and smiled. I said, “What’s that?” He repeated it. It was the organ introduction of my Five New England Songs—a piece he had sung four years ago when he was ten years old. I was touched. Something I had written had become a part of this boy. I was overwhelmed. It made me realize the importance of what we offer young singers. They don’t sing it and forget it. They sing it and it becomes a part of them.

We need to always be aware of our role in young people’s lives, and not take it lightly.

Children will listen.