March 2016 Deanery

March 2016 Deanery

by Kari Miller Magg

Crossword, sudoku, jigsaw, jumble, cryptograph, word search, Bach, Messiaen – take your pick!  Who can resist a good puzzle? Most of us find puzzle solving “fun,” unlike day-to-day problem solving, which seems like just so much hard work. It has been suggested that part of the appeal of puzzles comes from the fact that many of the problems (puzzles) we encounter in real life do not have clear-cut solutions, while even the most difficult crossword or sudoku does. We happily spend hours and hours on a puzzle, persevering with dogged determination in the face of repeated failure – all because we know with certainty that a solution is to be found.  We become encouraged and excited as the solution takes shape piece by piece, clue by clue, and when that final bit is filled in, we experience a real thrill of accomplishment – the reward of the “aha” moment. The intensity of that “aha” moment is often directly correlated with the amount of time and energy that has gone into finding the solution.

We would do well to carry this playful but persistent attitude to our work on the organ bench, puzzling out musical mysteries. Some pieces, riddles in themselves, reward us with an “aha” moment just for playing the right notes at the right time. Anyone who has learned a Bach Trio Sonata knows what I am talking about. What a thrill when it all fits together and “clicks” for the first time!

The DeaneryFiguring out registrations for a complicated organ piece often feels quite like solving a puzzle; certain things have to be a certain way and each element is related to and has an effect on every other element. But as we choose our stops, assign our solos, juggle the manuals and set our pistons, we can be led down attractive dead-end paths; a desired “solution” might prove unworkable because of a single sticking point. Just as when we are solving a puzzle for pleasure, we sometimes need to scrap it all and start over. It is not always easy to preserve that lightness of heart which can find this entertaining. We may be pressured by time, stressed by the need to find the solution right now (or at least by tomorrow’s rehearsal), or we are weighed down with nagging doubts because we know that in music there is rarely a single right answer. We are denied the innocent joy of the “aha” moment and must find our pleasure in the process itself.

While “church organist” doesn’t usually appear on lists of “Jobs for People Who Love Puzzles” (yes, there are such lists) it probably could. According to Will Shortz, crossword editor for The New York Times and Puzzlemaster at NPR, musicians might just have an edge when it comes to puzzle-solving abilities. Good puzzle solvers have the ability to quickly synthesize a lot of different information as well as an ability to easily recognize patterns. Those skills, Shortz says, “go along with math and music.”

Pedals, Pipes and Pizza: A Review

By Peter Niedmann

Seventeen young pianists were introduced to the organ in a fun and fascinating program presented by the Greater Hartford Chapter on February 17th. “Pedals, Pipes and Pizza” began with a wonderful tour of the Austin Organs factory on Woodland Street, Hartford. Our genial guide, Curt Hawkes, took the attentive kids through every nook and cranny of the venerable shop. They saw Ray Albright installing drawknobs on a massive console being built for a church in Pennsylvania, Dan Kingman voicing flue pipes, and Bruce Coderre working in his sprawling wood shop.

35be2bf99ed010b10d88500578d03106Then the group headed to St. James’s Episcopal Church, West Hartford for lunch. After lunch, the kids were divided into groups led by Jason Rob- erts, Kari Magg, Natasha Ulyanovsky, and Peter Niedmann. They spent time playing the organ (an Austin!) and at a piano preparing for the final mini-concert which concluded the day. Jason Roberts played a parting encore for the amazed group.

Many thanks to Austin Organs, St. James’s Episcopal Church, Jason Roberts,
Kari Magg, Natasha Ulyanovsky,
Peter Niedmann, John and Joanne Coghill for their work presenting this wonderful event.

If you have piano students or know piano teachers, help promote this event the next time it’s offered. You may be creating a future organist!


Opportunity for Organ Student

The Nahant Music Festival, which takes place June 3- 13, 2014 in Nahant, Massachusetts, is offering an organ apprenticeship as part of the festival. The apprenticeship comes with a stipend and will include:

Image• A full solo organ recital at the Village Church, Nahant (Hook & Hastings II/15 restored by Andover Organ    Co. in 2000)

• Playing for the Bach vocal master- class by RyanTurner of Emmanuel Music, Boston

• Coachings with Nancy Granert of Emmanuel Music and
Memorial Church, Harvard

• Playing continuo for the Bach cantata concert

• Room and board in Nahant during the festival

• The beach!

The artistic director of the festival is Donald Wilkinson. Each week will include music rehearsals and time for your own study and practice. Evenings will be free. To apply, please send a resume, head shot, letter of recommendation and an audio or video recording of one Bach piece and one piece of your own choice to Sylvia Martin, Festival Manager, 147B Brown St., Waltham, MA 02453. For the recording, links to a website, YouTube, etc. are acceptable. Applications are due March 1st but because this is a newly organized event there is some leeway. Get your application in ASAP. Notifications will be sent by March 31st. For more information, contact nahantmusicfest@yahoo. com or call 781-373-5496.

March Deanery

by Jason Roberts

The DeaneryI have a confession to make. Last week I played Gordon Young’s “Prelude in Classic Style” as my postlude. A colleague had told me that this piece elicits more comments from his congregants than anything else he’s ever played. “They love it,” he told me. Admittedly, I didn’t practice it very much. But it’s easy and you can play it without pushing any pistons or anything. Sure enough, people at church who hardly ever speak to me came up and asked “What was that song you played after the service?” I would venture to say that it got more compliments than anything else I’ve ever played (with the possible exception of the David German “Trumpet Tune.”) What is it about this little piece that makes it immediately appealing to so many people? It’s not poorly written, but then I don’t think it’s really very interesting either.

My guess is that it reminds people of other music that they know. I can think of lots of similar pieces – one organ piece that comes to mind is the first of the “little” Preludes and Fugues of Bach (or not Bach – I haven’t kept up with the latest on who is the true composer of these). Some of the figures in Gor- don Young’s piece are borrowed directly from the Bach – and it’s probable that Bach got them from somewhere else. It also reminds me of “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Everybody knows that piece – the familiar I-IV-V progres- sion and the jaunty repeated-note accompaniment. There are lots of pieces like this, so when we hear Gordon Young it’s like we already know the piece. Only the details are different. If it’s true that people like what they know – and I think it is – then they like “Prelude in the Classic Style” because they already know it. People eat foods they know and shop at familiar stores, so of course they want to hear music that sounds like music they already know.

What might account for musical taste is the degree of the unfamiliar that you want to experience. Many devoted classical music lovers don’t want to hear “modern” music because there is less to be familiar with in music that isn’t traditionally tonal or rhythmically regular. They want to hear new melodies, perhaps some novel harmonies and a rhythmic surprise or two, but in order to recognize something as “music” there needs to be a lot of familiar harmonic progressions and a regular meter. Others, less adventurous, want to hear no rhythmic or harmonic surprises at all – in fact for many the most unfamiliar element they are willing to tolerate is the clothing of the “artist.” These people listen to commercial music – it is intentionally as familiar as possible so as to be immediately appealing. Now, I’m not sure that Gordon Young fits into this category (I have no idea what he looks like or his style of dress), but he knows how to write a piece that is immediately appealing in its familiarity. I haven’t grown fonder of “Prelude in the Classic Style” as I’ve gotten to know it better, but it makes an awfully good postlude for a rainy day.

Pipescreams Needs Yoooooooo!


Pipescreams isn’t scary without organists!

Friday, October 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm at Church of Christ, Congregational, 1075 Main St., Newington.

Have you run into any of the following confusions among your own congregations? “Organs” belong
in funeral and wedding chapels where the music is ignore-able and to be treated as is done in daytime TV drama! Organs are half-alive terrors, living in basements and puffing smoke out of their pipes, playing haunting music and connected with “Phantom of the Opera!” Organs are outdated now in history, and it’s okay for a minister to assign Bart Simpson and his friend Milhouse to take wire brushes to the pipes as punishment for bad behavior. I have been told, “Our church has two organs – a pipe one, and a real one.”

I have met choir members who didn’t notice that the pedal board is different from a piano’s, and others don’t recognize the significance of stops. Colleagues! There is room for us to educate our friends and neighbors!

Pipescreams is a great opportunity to do just that. Building on the drama and attraction of the organ’s stereotype for spookiness, PipeScreams invites us to draw in the public and expand their sense of what a real organ can be and offer – “living and breathing” under our fingers, showing off music the audience came for, played in ways beyond the audience’s expecta- tions, live, and with more than the audience bargained for – in the best sense of that.

AGO pic 5This year, Pipescreams will be offered at the Church of Christ, Congregational UCC in Newington (1075 Main Street, Newington) on Friday, October 25, at 7:00 p.m. It has been three or four years since Pipescreams last moved in location. Each church and host musician has particular gifts to offer, but some things won’t change: come in costume, boo & hiss, and look for refreshments after!

If you are interested in playing, and for answers to most of your other questions, contact Meg Smith ( Come. Join the fun and “blow” our minds!

Be Our Guest! Anthem Reading Session

Be Our Guest!  Anthem Reading Session

AGO pic 1Our Chapter will kick off the 2013-2014 season on Saturday, September 21st with an Anthem Reading Session from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2080 Boulevard, West Hartford. We are encouraging you to bring yourself, bring an anthem, and most importantly, bring a guest who is not a chapter member.  A lovely lunch of sandwich platters, salads, sides, and cookies will be provided at no cost…something you can be proud to offer to a guest.  (Vegetarian options will be included.)  The program will provide plenty of time for singing and socializing.

The anthem reading session will emphasize works for the smaller choir. Pick an anthem that has worked well for you and bring copies to share. Participants will serve as the choir, sight-reading each piece. An accompanist will be available as needed. A list of titles and other ordering information will be compiled as a resource for all.  Guests may also bring an anthem, and people may attend even if they choose not to bring an anthem. Reaching out and inviting a guest is an important focus of this event.  At first thought, it is easy to think you don’t know anyone who would be interested and you might decide to come alone.  But don’t dismiss the idea of inviting a guest. Examples of people who might be interested include:

  • – Church/synagogue musicians in our towns who do not belong to the Guild
  • –  School music teachers who also serve a church or synagogue
  • –  Musicians who are primarily choral directors and may not know that our mission includes    the choral arts
  • – Choir members who also are interested in and supportive of the organ
  • –  Organ, piano, and voice students
  • –  Musicians new to the organ who think the Guild is only for degreed professionals!
  • Take a chance and invite someone to join you. If the first person you ask is unavailable, ask one or two others. Prepare to be surprised at how receptive and appreciative people can be to receive a personal invitation!
Suggested RSVP information: In order to facilitate planning, it would be helpful to get a head count for lunch and a partial list of anthems by Monday, September 16th.  Email Kari Magg at with name/number of attendees and if possible, anthem title, composer, voicing, publisher and pub- lisher’s item number.  Late RSVPs will still be helpful, and walk-ins are also welcome.

Deanery – September 2013

September Deanery 2013

by Jason Roberts

What a summer it has been for our chapter! Hosting a Regional Convention is a huge undertaking, and we’re so lucky to have dedicated volunteers who are not only reliable but can do their jobs very well. We were warned when planning for the convention began that the AGO had declined in membership significantly since Hartford last hosted a convention.  We were told not to expect the same attendance and it is true that attendance was a little lower this time, but with a total of 253 registrations I think we did very well.  The concerts and workshops were excellent, and it seems that unpleasant experiences with buses and hotels were at a minimum.  Our chapter members really did an enormous amount of work to make this possible: so a big “Thank you!” to all of you.

The DeaneryMany of you may have missed the launch of our new website in all the excitement of the convention:  Kari Magg and Amy Vinisko worked very hard to have the site ready for the week of the convention.  Why? Well, now there is a place to post pictures from the convention: forward any good pictures you might have to me for posting in the photo gallery (

There’s also a forum for discussion – was there a recital you loved or didn’t love?  We’d love to get your opinion!  Be the first to chime in on convention-related topics. One very useful feature is the regional con- cert calendar; concerts from all over our area are listed on the home page on the righthand side.  AGO members in Worcester and other nearby chapters are trained to post their concerts on this calendar, so at the moment it’s a little heavy with Massachusetts events. Our job is to fix the imbalance: post your events on this calendar. It’s free advertising and your colleagues really do want to know what’s going on in the Hartford area.  If you’re really lucky, some of them might even attend some concerts!

It’s an exciting time for our chapter don’t retreat into your organ loft just because the convention is over. Take a look at our website.  Consider coming to some chapter events.  Invite your friends to join the chapter.  Post a concert on the calendar!

Deanery – June 2013

Deanery – June 2013

by Jason Roberts

Sometimes it seems strange to me that as musicians we have to create a demand for what we have to offer. If we play concerts, we have to convince people to attend, and we have to convince them that the music we have to offer is actu-

ally worth something. As church musicians, we have to recruit choir members and churchgoers who are essentially our “consumers.” There’s not much preexisting demand for organ music or church music: we create the demand, hopefully, by inspiring our choir members and listeners to love the music as we do. Then they pay us our salaries. What a strange arrangement!

Although it’s a strange arrangement, it seems that it’s not an unusual one. Advertising to a large extent is about creating a demand for something that didn’t exist before. Coca-cola seems a good example: pre-Coke people weren’t wandering around thinking how much they would love a fizzy drink when Coke appeared: Coke ap- peared first, and advertising convinced people that a soda is what they need.

The DeaneryWhat makes our situation as musicians difficult is that we’re often
a one-man show. Coca-cola has people who manufacture the drink, people who advertise, people who ship if off and sell it, and more peo- ple who manage the whole thing. Most of us have to do all of those jobs ourselves. We’re the ones making posters for our concerts, preparing the choir, arranging the furniture and folding the programs; all the while trying to keep our own skills up by practicing. Sometimes having musical integrity is enough to convince people of the value of the organ and its music. Most often, however (just as with Coke, which in my opinion is a very mediocre drink in the pantheon of fizzy delights), the actual product matters less than how it’s advertised.

With this in mind, I want to tell you that our chapter is working on a new website. A website is really the “front door” to an organization like ours. Anyone moving to the area who is interested in the AGO will do a Google search for us, and the impression they get from the website may determine whether or not they become a member: it’s our image and our advertising. I know that our programs and our members individually have both the personal and musical integrity to back up the stunning image we hope to convey!

Calling All Members…Bring a Friend!

Calling All Members…Bring a Friend!

by Deb Gemma

June is here, and with it the call to renew our membership in the Guild. We are fortunate, as members of the Greater Hartford Chapter, to be part of a large, healthy chapter with many resources available to us. However, the realities of the 21st century are with us; many of our traditional institutions and organizations are experiencing declining membership. We ignore this trend at our peril. It is no longer sufficient to expect participants to seek to join our association, we must proactively reach out to others.

It is not simply about the numbers. We want to encourage new people to get involved with the Guild, not so we can boast of having a large chapter or keep the dues money rolling in, but because we value what the Guild has to offer and think others would benefit as well. Why do you belong to the American Guild of Organists, Greater Hartford Chapter? Is it so you can list affiliation on your resume or receive the journal, or does it go beyond that? I belong to the Guild in part for the workshops and concerts produced by our chapter and in part for the resources online and through the journal. But most importantly, I belong to be part of a community of colleagues. I value my affiliation with all of you: those whom I have sought for advice through the years and those who have sought help from me, friends and acquaintances, people who love the organ and choral music, and understand the particular joys and challenges of our profession. Why do you belong to the Guild? If you care to share, I’d love to hear! (I’ll be at the Regional Convention or email; please mention AGO in the subject line.)

Our chapter’s next program season will open with an Anthem Reading Session
on Saturday, September 21st from 10:00am-1:30 pm at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford; details to follow in the September newsletter. We are en- couraging everyone to bring a non-member to this event. Who are the organists in the town where you work or live that do not belong to the Guild? A personal invitation is always more effective than a blanket announcement…who can you invite to come? I wish each of you a summer of refreshment and renewal, and look forward to seeing you (and your guest) in September!