As the year winds down with the celebration of Advent and Christmas, we look forward to the new year and new programs for our chapter.
In January, Cheryl and Tim Drewes will introduce the Hook organ at St Matthew/San Mateo Episcopal Church in Auburn on Saturday January 20 for our annual joint Tacoma/Seattle meeting. You are encouraged to plan for a group lunch at a local restaurant following the morning’s program.
On Saturday February 10, we have an extended half-day meeting organized by Curt Sather featuring a field trip to Shelton to see, hear and try three organs, including two early Fritts instruments. Plan ahead to share rides!
For March we plan a organ-plus concert featuring vocal and instrumental soloists in the wonderful acoustical space of the Church of the Visitation in Tacoma accompanied on their Wicks organ.
In April we are especially proud to present a masterclass with Bruce Newsick, which will feature prepared performances or improvisations by three participants, and a brief performance and improvisation by Bruce. Please watch for details and a sign-up, coming shortly! This special event will be held on April 16 in Kilworth Chapel at UPS.
For our final meeting in May, we’re planning something a little different with a trip to Wurlitzer Manor in Gig Harbor for an introduction to the world and music of the theater organ.
Some details for our spring programs are still to be confirmed. Please look for the detailed final schedule on our website at the end of the year.
Organists are often asked to conduct choirs, either as a routine part of their job, or for special occasions, but many of them do not have formal training in conducting. By offering a workshop in conducting, the Tacoma AGO hopes to make that problem a little bit better.
On November 20, 2017, Tacoma AGO member Don Dunscomb led that workshop as our November program. Don recently retired and moved to this area to be closer to family. He spent the last years of his working life as Music Director at a church in Roseburg, Oregon, where he oversaw the development of children, youth, and adult choirs, various vocal and instrumental groups and ensembles, and a small orchestra. While in Roseburg, he conducted the Roseburg Concert Chorale for a season, as well as the Umpqua Community College Orchestra. In the late 90s, Don studied choral conducting with Gordon Borror at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon.
Drawing on his experience in both choral and instrumental conducting, Don emphasized the importance of communication, and maintaining clarity for singers who may be inexperienced or lack confidence.
The group began its conducting experience by singing Randall Thompson’s Alleluia accompanied by Curt Sather on the Fritts organ in Kilworth Chapel. Standing together, with Curt playing, each of the members got to practice giving a clear downbeat. We learned to subdivide for clarity, how to handle irregular measures, and how to bring in voices and end voices at the same time. Most of us are probably not ready to conduct Parry’s I Was Glad, but everybody left with a few skills and a little confidence that they didn’t have previously.
With a large audience in attendance, composed of members of the Tacoma AGO and Christ Episcopal Church, Dr. Samuel Torvend, Associate Priest for Adult Formation and Dr. Mark Brombaugh, co-Director of Music, presented a program entitled No Greater Art: A Revolutionary Change in Congregational Singing.
Using musical illustrations of congregational singing ably accompanied by Dr. Brombaugh, Dr. Torvend described the transition from a world in which almost all aspects of liturgy were reserved for clergy, to one in which the average congregant had a right to participate and to express opinions.
In the sixteenth century, public singing was popular and widespread–everywhere except the church, where the congregation had a limited role, if any. The participation in worship services was passive. Under the practice of ocular theory, it was felt to be sufficient to gaze upon events in order to derive benefit.
Martin Luther was born into this environment of working class parents. He played lute, sang in the streets for cash, and in church choirs, eventually becoming a friar. He became active politically, criticizing the religious teachings that were part of his daily life. In the course of these changes, Martin Luther began to espouse democratic evolution in the church. He proposed establishing tax-funded public schools with equal access for girls and boys. In 1524, Luther published the first German hymnal.
Luther considered singing to be the most democratic of art forms. He translated many well known Latin texts into German, keeping chant melodies in many cases, but using many musical genres to advance his ideas of reform. Martin Luther approached reform differently from others in that he wished to blend new music into the existing musical heritage, but also to expand his vision to include visual arts and architecture. His goals may have included the truth, but also necessarily included a need to distinguish his religion of the people from its competitors.
“If Martin Luther were alive today, he would be a remarkable user of the Internet.” –– Samuel Torvend
Luther’s reforms were not limited to the Mass. He had a deep investment in the Psalms, wrote his own version of the Daily Office, made changes in the Mass as well, but did not abandon it. He wrote hymns that could be used in every part of his Catechism. Luther defended his actions as being those of a “conservator” rather than a reformer.
Luther insisted on a sung liturgy, emphasizing the importance of song in church assemblies. We have an opportunity and responsibility today to promote singing–in churches, synagogues, cathedrals, and universities. The Lutheran tradition would have us continue to expand the role of singing, with expanded instrumentation and the inclusion of international music.
The handout (minus the hymns) is reproduced below.
Our October program, co-hosted by Father Samuel Torvend and Tacoma AGO member Dr. Mark Brombaugh, will focus on hymns of the Reformation. In this AGO gathering, participants will explore the revolutionary changes in church music set in motion by Martin Luther, sing a number of Luther’s hymns, and discuss current trends that suppress and support the assembly’s voice.
Fr. Samuel Torvend is Associate Priest for Adult Formation at Christ Episcopal Church and Professor of Religion at Pacific Lutheran University. Dr. Mark Brombaugh is Co-Director of Music at Christ Church. Together they will lead this event that marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Paul Fritts, founder of Paul Fritts & Company, talks about a “warm, live room” in describing First Presbyterian Church in Bloomington, IN, the destination of Opus 41, a large 2 manual organ undergoing final touches in the Fritts Organ Shop in Parkland, Washington. While the room itself is inviting, and a good acoustical home for an organ, the climate is not. The very cold winters, and hot, humid summers have the potential to make the wooden organ parts swell and contract, and even crack. To reduce this effect, the wood used in the organ is cooked–heat treated in a vacuum for varying periods, depending on its intended use, greatly reducing the potential for being altered or damaged by a changing environment.
The aesthetics of the organ are also important, and carefully considered with respect to how the organ will appear when it takes its place at the front of the church. The width of the pedal towers, for example, is compared to the space in between them, and those ratios compared to architectural ratios found in the church. The pipe shades are carefully and intricately carved, and have been painted with gold leaf to enhance the visibility of the detail.
Three Members Perform Varied Repertoire
On Monday, September 18, the Tacoma Chapter of the AGO met to see the almost-completed organ and to hear a members’ recital. Paul Tegels, organist at Pacific Lutheran University, opened the musical portion of the program with an echo fantasia of J. P. Sweelinck, and continued, with Haydn pieces for a musical clock, and pieces by Franck and Krebs.
Curt Sather, organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Olympia, added music of two Bachs–chorales of J. S. Bach and a movement from a C.P.E. Bach sonata. Demonstrating the versatility of the organ (and the organist) Curt included pieces from A Quaker Reader by Ned Rorem (born 1926).
Naomi Shiga, organist at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Tacoma, and current dean of our chapter, introduced the program, and concluded the musical portion with Bach Allein Gott and Fugue in C Major.
“This chapter is so fortunate to have so many talented organists and organ builders. It’s unusual.”
–David Dahl, Organist Emeritus, Pacific Lutheran University
The Chapter is indebted to Paul Fritts for graciously hosting this program and providing an introductory talk. Many thanks also to Karen Bredberg for providing refreshments for this opening program.
The recital program is attached below. Note that page 2 includes a stop list, with indications of which stops are currently playable.