June Deanery

June Deanery


By Peter Niedmann

Well, here we are—the end of church choir season (for many of us). The congregations dwindle, many choirs go silent, and for some fortunate folks—the air-conditioning kicks in! I always enjoy this time of year. We can look back, hopefully with satisfaction, at a job well done. And we can look forward to a couple months of a slower pace, more free time, and the chance to relax and recharge.This month has an extra layer of change in it for me. On June 30, my time serving on the AGO Greater Hartford Chapter board ends—member-at-large for 2 years, Sub-Dean for 2 years, and Dean for 2 years.  It has been a very satisfying experience. The people I served with are smart, creative, passionate, funny, kind, and completely committed to organ and church music. I will miss our monthly meetings, when in addition to the work of the chapter, we had the chance to chat, laugh, and share stories about our various work situations. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to help celebrate and promote the organ in the region.

Thank you to every person on the board and beyond who gave of themselves to further our mission. We are all part of a very special AGO chapter, and should be so grateful for this.

Our new Dean, Vaughn Mauren, and board members, will work hard to present inspiring and creative events for the membership and general public. I look forward to next season—amazing concerts, workshops, a Pipe Organ Encounter for young organists from around the country, and even a river cruise.

Best wishes to you for a wonderful summer!

Review of Faythe Freese Recital

Review of Faythe Freese Recital

Review of Faythe Freese Recital

by Ray Giolitto

On Sunday, April 7, 2019, Faythe Freese played an organ recital on the Aeolian-Skinner organ at Hartford’s Asylum Hill Congregational Church. The single-sentence program note about the opening piece was an excellent indication of what we were about to hear during her entire recital. “Fanfare for Organ, featuring syncopated rhythms, is the perfect work to showcase the plethora of reeds on this organ!” Yes, this work by the composer Ronald Arnatt (1930-2018), past president of the AGO, composer, organist, educator, conductor, and editor, was the start of a recital that proved Dr. Freese was excited to explore everything this organ has to offer. It was a lively opening piece; I saw a few joining me in moving to the rhythms.

Given the resources of the AHCC organ, it was almost “required” that the program would include a work by a 20th century French composer. Dr. Freese didn’t disappoint, playing the “Choral varié” from Maurice Duruflé’s Prelude, Adagio et Choral varié sur le theme du Veni Creator, Opus 4. The chant was beautifully sung before each of four variations by tenor Mark Child. The theme is heralded in many forms and in every voice, from the pedal, to the manuals, to a canon and finally in a brilliant toccata with the tune in the right hand and pedal. The overall effect of the solo voice alternating with the organ was beautiful.

Mendelssohn’s Sonata V, opus 65, is a three-movement work with a chorale-style opening movement, a contrasting second movement with motion and a beautiful leggiero bass line, and a final movement that shows off the organ’s capacities, splendor, and brilliance. Dr. Freese again stayed true to her desire to show off this organ. The registrations for each movement aptly showed the contrasting character of each and gave us a superb look into what Mendelssohn might have had in mind as he wrote the sonatas to illustrate his way of “treating the organ.”

Dr. Freese was happy to discuss her Connecticut premiere of the next piece, called The Freese Collection. She regaled us with a short, entertaining story of how she acquired, at auction, one of the three works of art, by the Southern American artist Nall, which Pamela Decker then used to inspire the first of the three movements of this work commissioned by Dr. Freese. Each movement of the piece “represents and depicts” one of the three works of art: Augenmusik (Eye Music), Lirio e amapola (Iris and Poppy), and Le Croix de foi (The Cross of Faith, or “Faythe” as Dr. Decker explained in the notes), all of which are displayed in Dr. Freese’s home. We heard German, French, and Hispanic influences, figurative outlines, flowing lines, colors, symbolism, musical symbols, and a samba rhythm.

The music is complex, impressionistic, intense and demands your attention to “hear” the three-dimensional quality of the art. It seems to be, as noted by “Pipedreams” host Michael Barone: “suspended in mid-air.” Dr. Freese played with the apparent goal of portraying the art and the story of the process of the birth of this wonderful piece. She said she had other stories on how she acquired the other two works of art. I forgot to ask her about them during the reception and I’ll bet she would reply with her typical animation and laughter. If anyone asked, I’d love to hear the stories.

For her final three pieces, Dr. Freese discussed the upcoming 125th anniversary of the birth of the American composer, organist and educator Leo Sowerby. He has over 500 compositions to his credit in almost every genre. And he left behind a legacy of many organ students that are part of the organ world to this day. Dr. Freese’s organ teacher was a student of Sowerby.

When thinking about Aeolian-Skinner, I suspect every organist thinks: “I’ve got to hear those strings.” Freese noted that those strings are perfect for Sowerby. Requiescat in Pace, written in honor of the deceased soldiers of World War I, is an expression of Sowerby’s pain over the loss of the young lives. The performance instructions attest to his thinking. The opening theme: “Measured and Mournful” is followed by the B Section: “Faster and brighter than before,” expressing hope and eternal life and then to Part C: “Slower; Exulting” and moves to “Quietly,” and finally to “calm and peaceful….the peace of a soul at rest.” The beautiful combination of organ and artist took everyone through the gamut of emotions to the final suspended chord, using those gorgeous strings and a bit reminiscent of the Duruflé piece heard earlier.

The second movement from Symphony in G Major, “Fast and Sinister,” was a fantasia, a fanfare, and certainly fast at a tempo marking of 208 to the quarter. Some say it is fast for the listener and sinister for the player. There are some jazzy moments, and has a sense of menace.

The final piece by Sowerby, Pageant, was nothing short of an amazing presentation of a technically difficult pedal extravaganza. Sowerby wrote the piece as a challenge to the Italian organist of the Vatican, Fernando Germani, after being impressed with his pedal playing. Germani accepted the challenge, tackled the work and then replied: “Now write me something really difficult!” Dr. Freese clearly enjoys this piece and was in her element, showing that all of her educational snippets on how to learn music well really do work. It was exhilarating to watch her play on the big monitors in the nave. My wife commented to her during the reception that she must have strong ankles. Dr. Freese laughed and said that she thinks it’s because she was a figure skater in an earlier life and she has kept them strong, “sort of.”

I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the Master Class the previous day. Right from the start, Dr. Freese was engaging, kind, encouraging, and made it easy for all five performers, myself included, to step up to the bench and play. Her comments were insightful and helpful, she told many anecdotes and stories, discussed the music and their various publishers, and encouraged us to explore every note and phrase and always make the music our own. It was a highlight for me, this being my first participation in a Master Class.

Thanks to AGO Hartford, AHCC, Susan Carroll, Vaughn Mauren and, of course, Faythe Freese for a memorable weekend of music.

Masterclass Photos

Zachary Schurman, one of the five performers, with Faythe Freese  and Vaughn Mauren. Zachery is a first-year student at Trinity College where he is Assistant Chapel Organist and studies with Christopher Houlihan.

Masterclass performers and auditors gathered in the organ loft of Asylum Hill Congregational Church surrounded by the pipes of the 1961 Aeolian-Skinner organ. Changes to the organ in 2005 include a new four-manual Skinner-style console by Austin Organs, new pipe additions and tonal revisions by Messrs. Czelusniak et Dugal, and digital stops by Walker Technical Company.

May Deanery

May Deanery


By Peter Niedmann


“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”
? Dalai Lama XIV

April 15th, as Holy Week in the Christian church had just begun, the world watched in shock and sad disbelief as a great monument of civilization was horrifically consumed by fire. Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most beautiful and historically important buildings on the planet, seemed to be disappearing before our eyes. When its spire fell, it was like a living creature had been slain. Ultimately, the blaze was extinguished by the firefighters, and we held our collective breath to learn the scope of the damage. And organists were thinking, “what about the organ?” How could such a finely crafted instrument—a sonic sculpture of wood, metal, leather—possibly survive the flames, the smoke, the heat, the debris, and the water?

A few days later, incredible stories and photos from the cathedral organists and curators were reporting the Great organ was unharmed. [The Choir organ, however, was severely damaged by water.] Holy Week was—fittingly—a rollercoaster of emotions, with an unexpected happy ending.

Just two days before the fire, I had received a grim email from a choir member. He and his wife wouldn’t be singing on Palm Sunday. They had driven through the night to Ohio to be with their son, who was having emergency heart surgery. After an episode of severe chest pain, he went to the hospital to learn he had an aortic dissection—a potentially fatal condition. Certainly, that long westward car trip had to be the darkest ever for these two parents.

The heart surgery was successful. And after several days in the hospital, they drove their son to his home, where he and his wife could begin their lives anew.

It’s amazing how seemingly hopeless situations sometimes play out to reveal there was hope there all along.

Review of Trafka Lecture-Recital

Review of Trafka Lecture-Recital

Review of Trafka Lecture-Recital

By Alan MacMillan

Organist William Trafka, formerly of St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, and currently organist of Christ Church, Ridgewood, N.J. presented a lecture-recital on the life and works of J.S. Bach at St. James’s, West Hartford on Saturday, March 16. The event reprised a similar presentation given for the young people of the POE at Trinity College here in Hartford in the Summer of 2017. In this expanded version of his presentation, Trafka first gave a thumbnail sketch of the chronology and geography of the composer’s life, then began to delve into the developing style of the master as it unfolded.

As his first musical illustration, he played the complete Chorale-Partita: “O Gott, du frommer Gott,” BWV 767, one of the composer’s earliest important works. The frequently spare texture of the variations, and the apt registration of the artist, afforded a chance to hear the beautifully voiced solo reeds and flues of the recently renovated and expanded Austin organ of St. James’s: an instrument beautifully matched to the church’s acoustic.

Before launching into the “Arnstadt” Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 549, Trafka discussed the tonal simplicity of Bach’s early approach to fugal composition and the influences of Buxtehude and Georg Böhm. It was particularly informative to be given the opportunity to listen to this piece in contrast to the later and more mature Prelude and Fugue, BWV 546 in the same key: the work with which the recital concluded.

Another example of Bach’s earlier, still developing style was his setting of “In Dulci Jubilo,” BWV 729, known to many of us as the obligatory Christmas Eve postlude for the annual King’s College Service of Lessons and Carols. Trafka referenced a quote from a reprimand given Bach by church authorities for something like “various unusual additions to the chorales sung during service.” He suggested that this setting may be the perfect illustration of what the composer was apt to do extempore, with phrases of the chorale interrupted by elaborate passagework. The organist continued with “Ein feste burg ist unser Gott, “BWV 720, a similar example of Bach’s early chorale prelude style.

As their work became available in print from the forward-looking Dutch publishers of the early 1700s, music of Vivaldi and other Italian masters exerted a strong influence throughout Europe. Bach’s study of this music led to an even more profound result than his excellent transcriptions of Vivaldi string concerti for organ would indicate. Trafka maintains that Vivaldi’s influence, in particular, revolutionized Bach’s style in terms of motivic consistency, continuous motoric rhythm, and a sense of inevitability in his melodic and harmonic flow. To illustrate, he gave a fine performance of the finale of the Concerto in d minor (after Vivaldi), BWV 596, a work from the Italian’s Op. 3 collection, L’estro Armonico (Harmonic Fancy).

Importantly, Bach’ spiritual life was dwelt upon at some length by Trafka. Notations in the composer’s copy of a biblical commentary, indicate that he felt his to be a Levitical calling; a God-given vocation akin to that outlined for King David’s musicians in I Chronicles, chapter 25 of the Old Testament.
The large audience, who packed the organ loft to capacity, were treated next to a moving reading of “O Mensch bewein,” BWV 622, one of the small masterpieces of the Orgelbüchlein. Our performer observed that the ability to improvise chorale preludes of this type was and is an expected part of the German organist’s skills up to the present day.

The recital continued with the popular Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541 which interjected some major mode cheer amid the predominantly minor key music surrounding it. This was followed by a Trio in D minor, BWV 583, a lesser known work in the same mold, but not part of, Bach’s well-known set of trio sonatas.

The important Clavierübung, Part III, also known as the German Organ Mass was represented with a performance of the Chorale Prelude “Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot,” (These are the ten Commandments) BWV 678, a piece in which a certain repeated chromatic turn of phrase almost foreshadows Brahms.

At the conclusion of the final, imposing Prelude and Fugue in c minor, BWV 546, the large and appreciative audience gave Mr. Trafka a well-deserved ovation for a well- played, thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable presentation.

Annual Meeting

Annual Meeting

Annual Meeting

The Greater Hartford Chapter, American Guild of Organists
Annual Meeting and Dinner
The Pond House at Elizabeth Park
1555 Asylum Ave.
West Hartford, CT 06117
Tuesday, May 21, 2019 at 6:30 pm

Cocktails – 6:30 (cash bar)

Buffet Dinner – 7:15

  • Thai Salad
  • Penne a la Pond House
  • Moroccan Pork with dates, apricots, dried plums and almond served over herbed couscous
  • Stuffed Sole with crab over citrus rice, topped with buttery herbed bread crumbs and a saffron tomato bisque
  • Herb and Pepper Roast Sirloin

Business Meeting – 8:00 (with dessert of chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting, coffee, tea)

COST: $20.
Reservation deadline: Monday, May 13 (with payment included)

To make your reservation and payment click here: https://www.emailmeform.com/builder/form/0vaC1x29Al

April Deanery

April Deanery


By Peter Niedmann

Have you ever played the drop-needle quiz? Someone plays a snippet of a recording, and you try to identify the piece. It’s interesting how often a single chord, because of the way it’s orchestrated or sung, can reveal its context.

Our depth of knowledge of music repertoire is actually quite varied. There are some pieces we could sing or play in their entirety. There are some pieces we know sections of, and can sing along. Other pieces, we may be able to deduce the composer by the compositional style. Some could only be categorized into a time period.

There’s a great app called Shazam, that I use regularly. If a piece is playing on the radio, pull up Shazam on the phone, and it “listens” to the piece, and tells you what it is! I always try to come up with my own answer before I use Shazam, and sometimes I’m vindicated. But, it’s an easy way to broaden your knowledge of repertoire.

In pre-Shazam days, one could call the radio station and ask what the piece is. Radio stations also have their playlists online to refer to. Another music-identification resource from the old days: a book called A Dictionary of Musical Themes. The book is divided into two sections. The first is composers listed alphabetically, along with the first few measures of their most famous works. The second part of the book is quite something. It’s called the notation index, and it helps identify where a melody comes from by the first few intervals of the piece. So, for example, one entry looks like this:

A G C D G E     M1025

If you play that sequence of notes, you’ll recognize it as Mussorgsky’s Promenade theme from Pictures at an Exhibition. If you refer back to the first part of the book, M1025 is the actual notation of that theme.

Going to the other end of the knowledge spectrum, musicians should always be deepening their understanding of the music they perform. If it’s a fugue, analyze it for subject entries, episodes, stretto, etc. Study the construction of a sonata for its structure. Read biographies of the composers. Look and listen to other pieces they wrote for a different instrument or ensemble. If the piece is vocal or choral, study the text independently to better understand its meaning and inner music. Listen to several recordings of a piece to learn how other performers have approached it. The process never ends!

Here’s a fun drop-needle quiz video:


OrgelKids in Farmington!

OrgelKids in Farmington!

OrgelKids kit a big hit in Farmington

The chapter’s OrgelKids instrument has started its touring around the state with a March 1-3 weekend event at First Church of Christ, Congregational in Farmington where chapter member Edward Clark is Minister of Music. The event was part of the year long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the installation of the church’s Holtkamp organ. The church’s young people assembled the kit in about thirty five minutes and after giving everyone a chance to try playing and pumping the organ, the OrgelKids instrument and all the people moved across the church campus to the Meetinghouse to hear the world premier of a piece commissioned by the church for this occasion. The composer, Tom Schmutzler, is also a Hartford Chapter member even though he now lives in North Carolina. His piece, David and Goliath; a musical fantasy for OrgelKids organ and Organ, was performed by a local middle school aged boy on the OrgelKids (David) and Ed Clark on the big organ (Goliath) and proved to be lots of fun and received a rousing ovation.

On Sunday morning David and Goliath was repeated as the Children’s Message. The OrgelKids instrument was used throughout the service playing the recorder part of Alessandreo Scarlatti’s Quartetto in F for blockflöte, two violins and basso continuo as well as movements from Loeillet de Gant’s Sonata in A Minor, Op. 1, No. 3 for blockflöte and basso continuo. Accompanying instruments included a string trio of middle school musicians and harpsichord.

Next the OrgelKids kit moves on to the middle school in Enfield where chapter member Susan Carroll will help her husband introduce the organ to his students.

If you are interested in learning how to assemble and demonstrate this small working organ or wish to reserve it for your event, please contact Susan Carroll, .

The frame is ready for assembly, the pipes are ready for sorting by type and by size, and the toe board is waiting to receive the pipes.

Keys have been arranged in the right order and the windchest is ready for connecting the trackers

Attaching the trackers to the keyboard is one of the hardest tasks, but it’s no problem for these kids!

The last step: attaching the bellows to the wind reservoir.

Testing it out and learning how to pump the bellows.



Next Chapter Events

Next Chapter Events

Next Chapter Events

Faythe Freese in Concert


Sunday, April 7 at 4:00 pm.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave., Hartford.We are very excited to welcome back concert organist Faythe Freese. Faythe served as faculty on the 2017 Pipe Organ Encounter held at Trinity College, and many of you will remember her fiery performance of the Franck A minor Choral. Two years later, Faythe returns to perform a full-length recital.

Master Class with Faythe Freese

Saturday, April 6 at 10:00 am.
Asylum Hill Congregational Church, 814 Asylum Ave., Hartford.

As a bonus, Faythe will offer a masterclass to chapter members. If you are interested in playing for Faythe, please email Vaughn Mauren at  by March 15.

Click here to view her bio and list of recordings

March Deanery

March Deanery


By Peter Niedmann

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Benjamin Franklin

One inevitable fact of being a church musician is the relentless recurrence of Sunday. As soon as Sunday winds down, before you know it, it’s Sunday. Preparing all the music required in a worship service—organ voluntaries, hymns, anthems, psalms—takes time. Often, one’s schedule will only allow a cursory approach—a  quick run-through of a piece, rather than a systematic, thorough rehearsal. But, with some discipline and planning, this can be improved upon.

Firstly, begin working on the music sooner rather than later. There is no harm in having a piece ready to go a few weeks in advance of its appearance in the service. Choir members will feel confident and prepared, rather than worried and tentative. Not only does the music come out better, everyone involved is happier—always a good thing!

There’s the temptation to attempt more than is practically possible. It’s laudable to set high goals, but the journey to achieve them needs to be carefully considered. A movement of a Bach cantata in German—new to the singers—is obviously going to take much more rehearsal time than Stainer’s God So Loved the World. Start the Bach six weeks before the time it’s programmed, not two weeks before. Choirs are generally open to challenging music if they are given the time to figure it out.

Be ready to “call an audible.” That anthem or organ prelude you had planned for Advent 3 may need to be pulled and replaced with something that can be polished up in about ten minutes. There is no good reason to present music that isn’t ready. It may have been the perfect fit for the day’s lectionary, but if it isn’t done well, what’s the point? Sometimes, bad weather creates this situation; a snowstorm keeps two thirds of the choir home, and the anthem isn’t working with the diehards who showed up. Better to sing a hymn that sounds presentable.

And, don’t get too comfortable. Just when you think you’re in control…Holy Week arrives to keep things interesting!

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.