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Meetings in April and May

Spring is here, and we have two meetings remaining for the program year.

Monday, April 16 at Kilworth Chapel UPS at 7:30 p.m.  is our masterclass with noted concert organist Bruce Neswick.  Those desiring to participate are encouraged to do so and to SIGN UP as soon as possible!  We still have open slots, but there is room for only four participants.  If you’re not planning to play, do come to watch Bruce work with the class participants and also to perform and improvise.

Our final meeting is a social event at the Thornock residence in University Place.   We will install our new officers at this meeting.  Come, bring refreshments and good cheer to share.   Those who are interested are welcome to try out  Paul’s 1974 Helmuth Wolff practice organ: two manuals and pedal with one stop.

March Organ Plus Concert

Una Hwang, organ, and Gwendolyn Taylor, violin

Our March meeting was an “organ plus” concert featuring singers and an instrumentalist with organ accompaniment.

Collin Whitfield, winner of 2017-2018 AGO scholarship

Performers included Gwendolyn Taylor, violin, Patricia Hendrix, soprano, Carlyle Jacinto, soprano, and Collin Whitfield, organist.  Collin Whitfield is the winner of the 2017-2018 Tacoma AGO scholarship, and studies organ with Tacoma AGO member Paul Tegels.  Organ accompaniment was provided by members Una Hwang and Paul Thornock.

The program featured two psalm settings by one of our own–composer and organist David P. Dahl, who was in attendance.

The program is attached.


March “Organ-Plus” Concert

Our March meeting will be a chance for members to relax in the congenial space of Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma and enjoy a concert of chamber music featuring vocal and instrumental soloists accompanied by the organ.  The organ at Immanuel is a two manual 1971 Casavant.  The evening will begin with violinist Gwendolyn Taylor of the Symphony Tacoma, who will perform the Bach A minor Violin Concerto with Una Hwang.  Paul Thornock will accompany our two vocal soloists, sopranos Patricia Hendrix and Carlyle Jacinto, performing both alone and together.  Pat will offer two psalm settings by David Dahl, and Carlyle will perform selections by Vaughan Williams and Eric Thiman.  Both singers will join forces to perform duets from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater.  Our final soloist will be our own Karen Bredberg playing her main instrument, the cello.  She will offer selections by Bach and others, assisted by our chapter’s scholarship recipient for 2018, Collin Whitfield.  We are pleased to introduce Collin to you as a soloist as well.  He will end the evening with Louis Vierne’s Divertissement.

We invite you to come, bring your friends and enjoy a delightful evening of music on Monday, March 12 at 7:30 pm.  Immanuel Presbyterian Church is at 901 N J Street.

Three Organs in Shelton

It was Old Home Week at Shelton United Methodist Church as AGO members from the Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia chapters gathered to begin their day of organ exploration in Shelton.  Fritts  Opus 1 is there, and Tacoma AGO member Paul Fritts was present to discuss his first mechanical action organ.  Tacoma AGO member Paul Thornock grew up as a member of Shelton United Methodist and met Paul Fritts  when the organ was being serviced a few years after installation.  Fourteen years old at the time, Paul Thornock began studying organ, continued those studies through college and graduate schools, and was on hand to demonstrate “his first organ.”  That church has produced a number of other organists, including Doug Cleveland, who is a member of the Seattle AGO chapter, and who served as Shelton UMC organist when he was in high school.

Paul Fritts stands in front of Opus 1 at Shelton United Methodist Church

In 1979, Shelton UMC was using a beloved Hammond “organ”, and many saw little reason for a change.  The town had a population of only about 7,000 but with a disproportionate number of scientists and visionaries due to the presence of a research institution.  Many attended Shelton UMC, and several ended up on the organ committee.  Paul Fritts was in his twenties and knew that he wanted to build tracker organs.  He had spent a few weeks in Holland, learning voicing and pipe making, but had not been to the rest of Europe.  He knew that he wanted to produce a sound like the “antique” organs of Europe but had not actually heard that sound.

With help from family, associate Ralph Richards, and pipe makers in Holland, Paul produced Opus 1, a 2-manual, 16-stop organ with suspended mechanical key action, mechanical stop action, and a flat pedal board.  Paul is clearly proud of his first organ and with good reason.  It has a bold sound that fills the room, thanks to a combination of good acoustics, narrow-scaled principal pipes in the Dutch tradition, and a higher wind pressure than would be found in his current organs.  The practice of using higher wind pressure with more closed voicing parameters at the mouth has been described as a “vocal” sound.  Many builders at the time, following John Brombaugh’s lead, took this approach.  Paul Fritts’ current organs use dramatically lower wind pressure, with more open voicing parameters, a practice known as an “instrumental” sound.  The pipe shades, an essential component in blending and focusing organ sound, were designed and carved by Paul’s father.

Paul thornock plays Opus 1 at Shelton United Methodist Church

Paul Thornock began the musical demonstration with Johann Gottfried Walther’s Partita on Jesu, meine Freude, followed by a Buxtehude prelude.  Audience members helped bring the program to an end by singing a setting of Hyfrydol as Paul improvised an accompaniment.

Curt Sather plays Pilcher Opus 595 at Faith Lutheran Church

The day’s program, organized by Curt Sather, organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia, reconvened at Faith Lutheran Church.  The organ at Faith Lutheran, Opus 595 of Henry Pilcher’s Sons, was built in 1907 and delivered to First Baptist Church of Sidney, OH.  Failing to recognize their good fortune, the Ohio Baptists sold the organ in 1979 but retained the case to house the electronic device they were purchasing.  Thus, in its Shelton home, the organ is housed by a makeshift case of plywood and glass.  The organ has two manuals, 13 stops, with a 30-note pedalboard.

Curt began his association with Faith Lutheran when he was asked to figure out why a pipe wasn’t working.  He solved that problem by removing the dead bird.  The birds apparently learned their lesson, so the organ was in good shape when Curt began his demonstration.  Using Bach chorale preludes, he showcased individual stops, groups of stops, and full organ.

St. David of Wales Episcopal Church

The group moved on to St. David of Wales Episcopal Church, which had prepared lunch.  According to the rector, the church was using an “electronic thing” when somebody left money for a new organ–and the gift specified a pipe organ.   The organ committee settled on purchasing an existing organ, but the sellers had underestimated its size by 3 feet and it didn’t fit.  Contracting for a new organ would be more expensive, but the vestry agreed to it if the organ committee could sell the Rodgers, which they managed to do.  The committee approached Paul Fritts, and he agreed to build the organ, but only if the church would remove the acoustical ceiling tile and replace it with spruce–which they did.

With the livelier room on the horizon, Paul set out to design Opus 2A.  Opus 2A was one of four organs sharing the same case design but with differences in disposition and voicing.  Opus 2B went to the home of David Dahl; 2C went to a former student of David Dahl; and 2D went to Joan Lippincott in Princeton, NJ.  All of the Opus 2 siblings featured Dutch pipes, but Paul was beginning to think about casting his own pipes because he ran into continued trouble with the Dutch firm failing to meet his standards.  One of the problems was that Paul wanted pipes with a high lead concentration, and the Dutch supplier was unable to produce them because their casting tables could not withstand the high heat required.  Instead, the supplier produced pipes with 15% lead that can be cast at a lower temperature.  Unfortunately, the 15% lead alloy is structurally weak.  Paul revived and honed the more ancient practice of casting pipes on sand tables and has been making his own pipes since Opus 4.

Fritts-Richards Opus 2A at St. David’s Episcopal Church

Opus 2A, in St. David’s, is a 2-manual, 8-stop organ, with suspended key action, mechanical stop action, and a flat 30-note pedalboard.  Since it was to be placed against a side wall, it had to be voiced in a robust way to fill the church.  At that time, most of the voicing was done on site.  Paul was still finding his way, and was very cautious, making small changes and then listening to the organ with the room empty as well as during church services.  Voicing an organ required prolonged site visits, sometimes sleeping in the church for days at a time.  Today, thanks to experience, Paul’s crew is able to do most of the voicing in the shop, having learned what pipes need to do in a particular room.  The final voicing, of course, is done on site, but goes much faster thanks to the “pre-voicing.”

Paul laughed when asked if there were things he would have done differently when he looks at his early organs.  For example, the regal at St. David’s has a tendency not to stay in tune.  Experience has taught Paul how to resolve that problem, and he would like to fix the regal some day.  There are other things that, when Paul looks at his early works, he wonders why he stopped doing them.

April Kuhr plays Opus 2A

Following Paul’s discussion, a demonstration of the organ was given by April Kuhr, a Shelton resident and member of the Olympia AGO chapter.


Many people contributed to the success of this program.  Curt Sather, organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church, conceived of this program and organized it.  Thanks to Paul Fritts for discussing the organs–and for building two of them!  Thanks to Paul Thornock, April Kuhr, and Curt Sather for demonstrating the organs.

Special thanks to our three host churches for graciously opening their doors and making us feel welcome–for cookies and coffee, and lunch, and for contributing to the discussions of their organs.

Upcoming Spring AGO Programs

We have interesting programs in store for you this spring! Please mark your calendars.

Our February program is a field trip led by Curt Sather to visit three wonderful organs in Shelton, starting with Fritts Op. 1 at Shelton United Methodist  Church and also including Fritts Op. 2a at St. David’s Episcopal Church plus the Pilcher organ at Faith Lutheran Church.  He will be assisted by Paul Thornock and April Kuhr, and Paul Fritts will provide an  introductory overview.  Please reserve Saturday, February 10 starting at 10:30 a.m. for this special day-long meeting, which includes lunch provided by St. David’s parish.  Since we do need a head count  for lunch, please register by visiting this page. Sign-up is easy and does not require logging in to our site.

On Monday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m., you can sit back, relax, and enjoy beautiful music in the delightful space at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in North Tacoma as we bring you a collaborative concert featuring the organ plus vocal and instrumental soloists: sopranos Carlyle Jacinto and Patricia Hendrix, violinist Gwendolyn Taylor and our own cellist Karen Bredberg.  We will also introduce to you our scholarship recipient Collin Whitfield as soloist.  He and others will provide accompaniment for our soloists on the Casavant organ.

In April, we are very proud to be presenting a masterclass by renowned concert organist Bruce Neswick — on Monday evening the 16th at 7:30 p.m.  Bruce will open the evening with a short performance on the Fritts Op. 8 organ in Kilworth Chapel at University of Puget Sound, and he will end it with an improvisation.  In between, he will work with four performers on either prepared repertory or improvisation — one of them could be you!  See the accompanying article for more details, and sign up here to participate.  We are limited to four slots, which will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis;  so, hurry!

That leaves our final meeting of the year in May, which will include the installation of new officers.  Details on that final meeting for this program year will be coming soon.   Please stay tuned!

February 10, Saturday at 10:30 a.m., Shelton United Methodist Church for a day-long exploration of three Shelton organs.  Please sign up to give us a head count for lunch, which will be provided!

March 12, Monday at 7:30 p.m., Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Tacoma for a collaborative concert with organ plus vocal and instrumental soloists.

April 16, Monday at 7:30 p.m., Kilworth Chapel at University of Puget Sound for a masterclass with concert organist Bruce Neswick. Please sign up  for one of four slots to play!

May 21, Monday at 7:30 p.m. Details TBA.  Stay tuned!