Crawling Through New York

Crawling Through New York

-by Ron Coons

On the morning of January 19, Martin Luther King
Day, some 40 organ enthusiasts gathered at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in West Hartford for coffee and donuts prior to setting off on an organ crawl to hear and play instruments at three churches in New York City: the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grace Church in Lower Manhattan, and St. Bartholomew’s on Park Avenue. After we had had an opportunity to meet up with old friends and make new ones, Treasurer John Coghill, our master of ceremonies for the day, gently summoned us to our waiting DATTCO motor coach, which efficiently whisked us to the cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue. Here John gathered his flock for a few moments of orientation and gave instructions to reassemble precisely at 12:55 p.m.; our presentation would begin at 1:00 p.m. in the chancel. He then sent us on our way so that we could eat at one of a number of suggested nearby restaurants. After lunch, many of us returned early to the cathedral to wander through its vast interior and to gaze in awe at the exhibit “Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral,” which offered two massive bird constructions suspended from the ceiling of the nave.

Our host at St. John the Divine was the cathedral’s associate organist, Ray Nagem. After giving a history of the organ, he played two works from different periods to demonstrate the instrument’s diversity. His deft rendition of Bach’s “Pastorale” proved that it was possible to perform baroque music well even on this large organ housed in a huge space. To reveal the organ’s full potential, he then played Maurice Duruflé’s “Prélude, adagio et choral varié sur le theme du ‘Veni Creator,’” earning admiring applause. Ray concluded the program by answering questions and wishing our group well as we organ-crawled further through the city.

And crawl we did, as our coach slowly inched its way through heavy traffic to Grace Church at Broadway and 10th Street. Standing in the portal of this neo-Gothic structure awaiting our arrival were the church’s organist, Patrick Allen, and our own former Dean, Jason Roberts, whose defection to St. Bartholomew’s last May had in fact inspired the day’s excursion. (Erik Eickhoff, formerly of Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, had earlier joined us at the cathedral.) A number of hugs preceded our entry into the church, where Patrick gave an informative history of the church and an account of the purchase of its new Taylor and Boody organ. (An interesting feature of this mechanical-action instrument is that pipes are located on both sides of the chancel, with long track- ers running underneath the floor between the two cases.) Then, to demonstrate the organ’s rich sound, he accompanied the group in a stately rendition of the hymn Let Every Voice. As we indeed raised our voices in song, we proved that organists can not only play but can also sing. And to prove that they can indeed play, a number of participants then tested the Taylor and Boody’s tonal resources.

When our time at Grace Church was up, Treasurer Coghill summoned us back to our bus for the ride across town to St. Bart’s. Here Jason unlocked doors and led us through passageways to the nave of this impressive building that had, he explained, been largely financed by Vanderbilt money. Like Patrick and Ray before him, Jason spoke about the history of the building and of the organ, the largest in the city, and after demonstrating its tonal possibilities he urged participants to play the instrument for themselves. Finally, before time ran out, Jason was coaxed into offering two improvisations on familiar hymn tunes: Let Every Voice and Sine Nomine. Both earned appreciative applause.

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As our departure from New York neared, Treasurer Coghill once again herded us into our waiting motor coach. On the way home we stopped at the Darien rest area on I-95 to catch a bite of fast food and to do what one often does at rest areas. Before too long we were back at St. Mark the Evangelist, in time for some of us, at least, to catch the 10 o’clock news. Before leaving our bus, we expressed our appreciation to our driver Paul for safely getting us to our destinations, and to John Coghill and Dean Kari Magg for having so successfully organizing the crawl.

Simon Thomas Jacobs:  A Review

Simon Thomas Jacobs: A Review

ByVaughn Mauren

373f57e3cb1c29d034f89e9d99202ac2The St. Alban’s International Organ Competition has
a long tradition of providing select young artists with the exposure and career assistance they deserve. As Simon Thomas Jacobs recently demonstrated to his audience at Hartford’s Center Church, that legacy continues even into the Internet age, where Facebook and YouTube have broadly challenged the relevancy of traditional competitions. But while social media can be an effective tool for promotion, the rigor and unfor- giving nature of competing at St. Alban’s means that whoever comes out on top has proven themselves in a multitude of ways.

In addition to the notoriety his recent competition win has created, several concertgoers were also familiar with Simon from his tenure as Associate Director of Music at Christ Church Episcopal, Greenwich, Connecticut – a job he took upon graduation from Oxford. Since then, Simon has been in the midst of a very busy performance schedule and academic life. He is finishing an Artist Diploma in Organ Performance at Oberlin College Conservatory and touring the world as a recitalist. Until this past summer, he was also the Fellow in Sacred Music at Christ Church Cathedral (Episcopal), Indianapolis, Indiana.

For an organist, graduate school provides that rare time in life when your daily interactions with col- leagues include passionate conversations about your favorite composers and organists. It was no surprise then that Simon offered interesting and informative commentary throughout the concert.

Overall, Simon’s program featured music from France and Germany. He gave a rhythmically driving and spar- kly performance of Krebs’ E Major Toccata and Fugue and then delighted the audience with Georg Böhm’s Partita on “Comfort, Comfort ye my people.” Simon’s use of contrasting registrations and wonderfully clear technique brought the piece to life in a way that is un- common in performances of early baroque repertoire. It was also nice to hear three of J. S. Bach’s settings

of “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.” Along with the Böhm, the Bach pieces remind us of how creatively the great baroque composers could accompany a theme.

The second half of the concert featured music of France, beginning with the whimsical Fantasia and Fugue in B-flat by Alexandre Boëly. In his commen- tary, Simon painted a portrait of the early 19th century composer as an insouciant curmudgeon, hanging

on to classicism and angrily rejecting the Romantic movement. It offered a possible explanation for why the Fantasia has a flair of sarcasm, with all of those dis- sonances on strong beats, disrupting otherwise lovely arpeggios.

Then it was on to Franck’s lush E Major Chorale. It takes a lot of guts to perform this piece because for many, the interpretive choices are so personal. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Simon’s performance. While his tempo was on the quicker side, it worked well with the instrument and served to highlight the composition’s internal structure.

Jehan Alain’s Scherzo, from Suite pour orgue, was a highlight. Played with rhythmic exuberance, the organ sounded at its best (save for the encore, which I’ll get to) because it gave the piece its needed tonal palette and clarity.

“Dieu parmi nous,” from Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur, closed the program. As the piece came to an end with that famous final E Major added sixth chord, Simon rightly noted that the audience deserved a fun encore. This we received in Leon Jessel’s Parade of the Tin Soldiers. While Messiaen’s music painted Christ’s Nativity as mysterious and awe-inspiring, Jessel’s piece conjured up memories of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, leaving everyone in the audience with a youthful grin on their face before walking outside and into the rain.

Simon’s concert was hosted by Jason Charneski at Center Church, and co-sponsored by the parish’s Music and the Arts committee and the Greater Hartford Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. 

January 2015 Deanery

January 2015 Deanery

 

The Deaneryby Kari Miller Magg

An organ is not a piano. A piano is not an organ. We all know this, but I wonder how often we stop to consider how very little the two instruments have in common. Both are keyboard instruments and both play music which is usually written in treble and bass clefs. There the similarities end. Most of us need to switch back and forth between the two instruments, but playing re- spectably on both is not always an easy proposition, no matter which side of the fence we come from. The skills and techniques needed for one or the other may be related, but they are not automatically transferable.

It seems to me that many of our failures and frustrations have to do with not knowing how to properly listen and react to what we hear. We are all taught to ‘listen’ as we practice, but what exactly are we listening for, beyond the right notes and rhythm? Think about it – a pianist is taught to listen, evaluate and react with hair-trigger response to each sound, to carefully balance each chord, to shape the melody ‘just so.’ Hours and hours are spent developing the fine finger control to achieve those subtle inflections that are the life-blood of expressive piano playing. Sadly, very little of it is of any use on the organ. No wonder that to many pianists the organ feels like an unmusical, unwieldy behemoth. Even something as basic as just playing in time can seem difficult without the ability to ‘feel’ the pulse in one’s fingers.

Instead of simply laying the blame on the organ, the pianist-turned-organist needs to approach the task completely differently, to get the ears and brain and imagination working together like a giant super- computer, weighing all available options and choosing the solutions that sound best for the highest percentage of the time. It is a lot like figuring out a puzzle. The good organist listens for the ‘big picture,’ even while attending to the difficult tasks of keeping hands and feet playing strictly together and achieving the desired touch.

The organist going to the piano has a different set of issues to over- come. Listening only for the big picture on the piano is like playing an organ with only one or two stops to choose from. The organist- turned-pianist may find the piano ‘boring,’ may complain about the unchanging, bland character of the sound, or may relegate the instrument solely to the utilitarian arena. What a mistake that is!  So many wonderful colors and textures are available on the piano, but they don’t happen by themselves (or even at the push of a button). The novice needs to experiment, to actively search for and learn how to produce the wide range of sounds that will bring the music to life.

An organ is not a piano. A piano is not an organ. Yet each is beautiful, demanding and worthy of our best efforts.

Chapter hosts ‘Annual’ Anthem Reading Session

Chapter hosts ‘Annual’ Anthem Reading Session

We kick off the new program year on Saturday, September 27 with an Anthem Reading Session. Last year’s session was so helpful and fun, many attendees asked for it to be repeated. This year’s event will be held at First Church of Christ, Congregational, 2183 Main Street, Glastonbury. We start at 9:30 am and finish at 1:00.

We encourage you to bring a potential new AGO member if possible. Also, bring 1 or 2 of your favorite anthems (less well-known encouraged). A wonderful lunch will be provided at no cost to attendees. The program will provide plenty of time for singing, sharing, and socializing.

5ef79ccd86881f21f38dc48cae5038ffThe anthem reading session will emphasize works accessible to small choirs. Please bring enough copies to share (at least 12). Participants serve as the choir, sight- singing each anthem. You can accompany the anthem you bring, or someone else will be happy to play. A list of titles will be compiled as a resource for all.

In order to help our planning, please email Mary De-Libero (marydelibero@comcast.net) by September 22nd if you are attending. Let her know who’s coming and the anthem titles, composers, voicings, publishers.

Come and get some great fresh ideas for your choirs’ upcoming season.

Directions to First Church, Glastonbury

From points West of Hartford

Take 84 East to exit 55, Route 2 East to Norwich-New London. Route 2 to exit 8, Hebron Avenue/Route 94, take right off exit. Go 1/2 mile to stop sign at Main Street. Take left onto Main Street. Church is 2/10 of a mile down on the right.

From points East of Hartford

Take 84 West to exit 55, Route 2 East to Norwich-New London. Route 2 to exit 8, Hebron Avenue/Route 94, take right off exit. Go 1/2 mile to stop sign at Main Street. Take left onto Main Street. Church is 2/10 of a mile down on the right.

From points South of Hartford

Take Route 91 North to exit 25, Route 3 North. Follow over bridge and follow signs for Route 2 East-Norwich. Take exit 8, Hebron Avenue, take right off exit. Go 1/2 mile to stop sign at Main Street. Take left onto Main Street. Church is 2/10 of a mile down on the right.

From points North of Hartford

Take Route 91 South to exit 25N. Follow over bridge and follow signs for Route 2 East-Norwich. Take exit 8, Hebron Avenue, take right off exit. Go 1/2 mile to stop sign at Main Street. Take left onto Main Street. Church is 2/10 of a mile down on the right.

From points East of Glastonbury

Take Route 2 West to exit 8. Take right off exit, then a quick left onto Route 94, Hebron Avenue. Go 1 mile to stop sign at Main Street. Take left onto Main Street. Church is 2/10 of a mile down on the right.

PIPESCREAMS! needs yoooo….

PIPESCREAMS! needs yoooo….

Pipescreams isn’t scary without organists.

Don’t forget the costume! 

Image 11Our popular Halloween extravaganza Pipescreams will once more be hosted by Church of Christ, Congregational, 1075 Main St., Newington. The fun begins on Friday, October 24th at 7pm, with a program of organ music ranging from the sublimely creepy to the weirdly wonderful, with everything in between. Whether you are feeling like an old mummy, a young werewolf or maybe just the most beautiful princess in the world, get out that crazy costume and add to the show! Strut your stuff in the ‘costume parade’ or just sit back and boo and hiss at our talented chapter organists. Invite all of your friends and family to this evening of entertainment for the young-at-heart. A reception featuring devilishly delicious treats and spooky snacks will follow the concert.

Organists – it’s not too late to offer your unique contribution! If you would like to give that unusual piece a whirl, you know, the one that is so much fun but somehow just wouldn’t fly on a Sunday morning, contact Kari Magg (kari.magg@snet.net).

A Short History of Pipescreams

Image 33You might be interested to know that our chapter has mounted a Pipescreams show since 1989. The first spooktacular was held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford. The following year it went to St. John’s Episcopal in West Hartford and then on to a number of other locations, including Asylum Hill Congregational Church, Trinity College Chapel, Christ Church Cathedral and South Congregational Church — all located in Hartford.

For seven years (1999-2005) Pipescreams held forth at the United Methodist Church of Hartford where there must have been many devils to exorcise. Then the First Church of Christ in Glastonbury was brave enough to take us on for four years (2006-2009). In 2010 the event materialized at St. John’s Episcopal in West Hartford and reappeared for two more years. Last year, the ghouls and ghosts showed up at the Church of Christ, Congre- gational in Newington and will pop out there again this year.

 

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September 2014 Deanery

by Kari Miller

The DeaneryIt’s been quite a few years since I attended school, yet every year when September rolls around I still get that “back to school” feeling. It’s a weird mixture of excitement and dread, with hope and fear jostling for supremacy as the blank slate of a new year looms ahead. We bustle about gathering our supplies, get- ting ourselves ready, preparing for either the familiar or the unknown, or both at the same time. There isa faint tinge of sadness hovering around the edges, sadness at the passing of the carefree days of summer, but then the new routine kicks in and we are on our way.They say that most people have dreams about their schooldays throughout their entire lives. I certainly do; the dreams of high school always feature a lost locker combination and the college-era dreams usually involve an impending final exam in a class thatI didn’t attend but forgot to drop. (That one is more like a nightmare, but not as bad as a performance- anxiety dream!) All kidding aside though, somehow my school days do not seem so far away or long ago, and I do not feel myself to be so different from the person I was then. I am still learning and study- ing and yes, (in the school of life) still taking tests and making good or bad grades.

We probably all feel ourselves to be educators of some sort, whether
or not we officially “teach.” We are constantly educating our choirs and our congregations, sharing our ideas and insights with those who find our music a somewhat mysteri- ous business. We should remember that we all are also students. Our student days never end. If we are to thrive and grow as musicians (and as people) we need to keep on learning – learning all sorts of things. We learn by practicing and performing, by attending concerts and workshops, by reading, by talking with colleagues, by follow- ing our trails of interest, by asking questions (and listening to the answers); we even learn from our failures and disappointments. If we pay attention, we can learn a lot every day about ourselves, about other people, the world, life and of course music.

What a privilege to be in a profession which offers so many opportunities to learn! There will always be a new organ piece or choir anthem to add to the repertoire, a new modulation or unusual registration to experiment with, a new skill to add to the toolbox. We are never too old or too accomplished to learn something new. Hopefully we are never too set in our ways or too bored to be interested in learning something new. Learning new things, things that we choose  to learn, things that truly engage us, can be tremendously rewarding and empowering.

So, even though a few of my lazy bones are groaning, even though my inner child is screaming “too soon!,” even though I didn’t get through half of my summer ‘to-do’ list, I still say – it’s September and it’s “back to school” for me!

GHC-AGO:  Many Parts Make for One Dynamic Organization

GHC-AGO: Many Parts Make for One Dynamic Organization

A Review of the GHC-AGO Annual Meeting, Monday, May 19, 2014

-by Amy Vinisko

Part Old Friends and Colleagues – Part Networking and New Acquaintances

Just as the GHC-AGO is comprised of many mem- bers, with differing interests and areas of expertise,
our annual gathering consists of a healthy blend of long time members and new acquaintances. We are united in our mission of promoting great organ music and camaraderie with our fellow devotees. Conversa- tions of the evening centered around possibilities and responsibilities of our various individual contributions to the mission, relaxed banter between old colleagues and new connections between those being intro- duced for the first time through the network that is the GHC-AGO.

Part Social Reunion – Part Business Agenda

Gathering for the social hour, congenial conversation, sung grace and breaking bread all set the stage for the business of the evening.

Part Familiar – Part Future and Change

Our recent turnover in the Deanery was a shock
to many (Jason Roberts has taken a position at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City), but Kari Miller Magg has competently executed the transition. She ran the meeting with grace and order and during her initial Dean’s Remarks, announced her intent to complete her full term as Dean (to rousing member applause!).

Part Service – Part Support

The GHC-AGO Chapter is running strong. The Slate
of Officers for 2014-2015 was unanimously approved by all: Kari Miller Magg, Dean; Peter Niedmann, Sub- Dean; John Coghill, Treasurer; Amy Vinisko, Secretary; Mark Child, Registrar; Members-at Large: Jerry David- son (2015), Ronald Coons (2016) and Mary DeLibero (2017).

Dean Kari Miller Magg proceeded to thank several members for their various contributions to the orga- nization. Sub-Dean Peter Niedmann announced the

2014-2015 Program Roster which includes a blend
of workshops, concerts and events sure to appeal to nearly all. Treasurer John Coghill gave the Treasurer’s Report, which was approved. He commented on the recently formed Jolidon Committee which, in col- laboration with the Board, is responsible for all matters concerning the generous Jolidon Bequest. Chapter member, Anne Harney, has taken on bookkeeping responsibilities to monitor this asset.

Region I Councillor, Cheryl Duerr spoke enthusiastically of our Chapter’s position to truly move the mission of the AGO forward, whether it be through Chapter initi- ated programs or through underwriting events spon- sored by our nearby Region I colleagues.

Joan Pritchard contributed a piece of new business. She presented “A Letter of Commendation” for Rich- ard Coffey, retiring Artistic Director of CONCORA. The crowd eagerly approved the glowing letter written by Pritchard that will be sent on the GHC-AGO’s behalf in appreciation for his long lasting contributions to Greater Hartford Area.

Part Beautiful Location, Good Drink and Food and well, it really was a beautiful setting at The Mill on the River in South Windsor and my food (and drink!), at least, was quite good. Here’s to another successful Annual Meeting! A big thank you to all who made it possible and memorable.

Peter Niedmann Workshop Review

by Mary Rose DiGiovanna

On Saturday, November 16, a very enthusiastic group of church musicians turned out for the workshop presented by Peter Niedmann at Sacred Heart R.C., Bloomfield. The morning began with a “coffee and” which led into the first session of the day, “Music Arranging.” Peter took us through arranging a familiar hymn tune in several different ways. We created a re-harmonization which could then be used as a prelude/postlude or a choir anthem – especially useful on that rare occasion when the anthem is ‘just not going to happen,’ and created a descant on a pre-composed harmonization. It was quite an interactive event as the attendees provided melodic and harmonic material to make this happen under the guidance of the pro.

A delicious lunch of homemade soup, wraps and other goodies was a welcomed break for additional fellowship and networking with colleagues

We reconvened for the afternoon session
to learn how to maneuver through Sibelius software. Those of us who were beginners got our feet wet and found its many uses
for making our bits of compositions look professional. The more advanced users came away with many a shortcut to get their works completed with greater speed and accuracy.

Many thanks to Sacred Heart Church for use of its facility and to John and Joanne Coghill who cooked, baked and hosted us for this event.

December Deanery

December 2013 Deanery by Jason Roberts

The DeaneryA couple of years ago, I was stopped in West Hartford center by a man taking a poll for public radio. What did I think of background music, he asked. I dutifully told him that background music is evil because it trains people to ignore music. There is music going on all the time around us: during movies, in the store while we shop, even in the bathrooms at the Olive Garden!  This music isn’t intended to be listened to: in fact, many times we don’t even notice that it’s there at all, so well have we trained ourselves to not listen. In films, we pay attention to the visual clues and dialogue:  if we don’t we won’t understand the plot.  The music is not important- it’s background.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that audiences for concerts are diminishing.  If you ignore the music and pay attention only to the visuals on the stage (and possibly the verbal program notes which are increasingly popular and increasing in length!), there’s not much to interest a concertgoer.  Is it possible to ignore music in our daily lives and then suddenly pay close attention when we attend a concert?

I sometimes notice at the weddings of friends and relatives the consequences of our background music culture.  Flowers at weddings are often very impressive.  Enormous amounts of time and effort are put into the clothes and the food. But most often the music is either recorded or very poorly performed.  Would the bride consider having fake flowers at her ceremony?  Would she have McDonald’s cater the reception? Then why have recorded music?  It’s because the music is background and therefore not important.

Will all this background music ever go away? Music can cause so much joy, and can be full of interest; it’s
a terrible thing to ignore. If background music could be a gateway into the appreciation of music for its’ own sake, then it might deserve a little credit; but it seems to create a world full of musical zombies.  As Psalm 135 says: “They have ears, but hear not; neither is there any breathe in their mouths.”

After I had finished my rant, the poor fellow from public radio thanked me and moved on to the next interview. I don’t know if any of my statements made it onto his show. I never listen to the radio: too much background music.

October Deanery

The Deanery – by Jason Roberts

I know that lots of historians have speculated about where music is headed: we can see looking backwards how the chant of the middle ages turned into renaissance polyphony, and how this gave way to the baroque and then the galant style. And then we can trace how composers gradually extended their harmonic language through the romantic period until we ended up with twelve-tone serialism. It does seem, as some of the historians say, that composers today just imitate music of one period or another, and this seems a little unfortunate. Where will music go next?

The DeaneryHow did composers in the past come up with new compositional styles? It seems that it was often by combining ideas from the music that they heard around them: folk music was an inspiration to the composers of the early classical period and also very important
to those in the late nineteenth century. Asian music inspired lots of early twentieth-century Europeans, and more recently all kinds of non-musical sounds have been fashioned into some kind of music by adventurous composers.

Although I think a lot of today’s popular music is horrible, maybe something about it will prove to be a seed for the music of the future. And perhaps we, as organists, are well placed to be on the forefront of new music. While much “art” music is composed without much regard for the average uneducated listener, as organists we often encounter these people week after week when we work at religious institutions. In churches and syna- gogues all over the place there are very talented musicians struggling to reconcile the kind of music that they think is valuable with what their congregations are wanting.

I wonder if, rather than being the death of religious art-music, this conflict could actually bring about something new and worthy. After all, art music has been popular in the past. Why not in the future?

Before I end, I want to mention one practical item. I trust that many of you have been to our new website at www.hartfordago.org. One of its best features is the concert calendar, which we share with several other AGO chapters in our region. You may view the concert offerings in Worcester or Springfield, and they may view ours. But… we have to list our concerts in order for others to see them!   Train yourself to put your concerts on the regional calendar.  Its free and so easy that even I can do it! Under “Programs and Events” choose “Submit Regional Calendar Event.”  This is a great advertising tool. Let’s use it!