Category Archives: Articles

January Meeting: New Year, New Music

On January 16, 2023, Tacoma AGO members gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Gig Harbor to celebrate the completion of the Emily Speight Stearns Memorial Organ and to share new music for the new year with each other.

Dean Cheryl Drewes called the meeting to order with the help of a stray handbell.

Woman standing in front of organ holding hand bell
Dean Cheryl Drewes calls the meeting to order with a handbell

Prior to the musical portion, both St. John’s organist Dennis Northway and Martin Pasi spoke about the history of the organ–its original construction by an Austrian company, its first home in an auditorium at the State University of New York (Purchase), and its subsequent purchase by Tacoma AGO member and organ builder Martin Pasi on Ebay. Much of this history is encapsulated in the handout attached to the end of this article.

Man standing beside organ
Dennis Northway discusses the pieces he will play

Using his own published compositions, Dennis then demonstrated the latest additions–the second and final phase of a two-part renovation project. The list of pieces can be found in the program attached at the end of this article, and are described on Dennis’ website.

Acknowledging the Martin Luther King holiday, David Dahl began the demonstration portion of the program with an improvisation on “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”

Man sitting on bench in front of organ
David Dahl sitting on the organ bench

In keeping with Epiphany, sub-dean Wyatt Smith presented “How Lovely Shines the Morning Star” by Norwegian composer Egil Hovland.

Man standing in front of an organ speaking to an audience
Subdean Wyatt Smith announces upcoming programs

Tim Drewes chose “Austrian music to play on this Austrian organ,” in his rendition of “Sorrow and Gladness,” from a book of seven Danish chorales by Anton Heiller. Will Stuivenga, a dual member from the Olympia Chapter, played Rheinberger Monologue Opus 162, which he first played in 1975 at Walla Walla College. Elliot Sander presented an improvisation on the Kyrie from “Missa Lux et Origo”. Cheryl Drewes ended the program with a selection from “Sacred Sounds from George Shearing for Organ.”

The church hosted a reception following the meeting.

Group of people standing and talking
AGO members beginning reception after program

Many thanks to Dennis Northway and the hospitality committee of St. John’s Episcopal Church for a wonderful program and reception!

Three women standing behind a table of food and wine
The hospitality committee at St. John’s Episcopal Church

Wyatt Smith Presents Program on Margaret Sandresky

On November 10, 2022, Tacoma and Seattle AGO members joined a large audience of residents at Wesley Des Moines to hear Wyatt Smith discuss the life and works of Margaret Sandresky. Wesley is a retirement home and continuing care community located in Des Moines, WA. Wesley is fortunate to have a spacious chapel with a gallery that houses Fritts Organs opus 46. There are few retirement communities that can claim ownership over a world class mechanical action organ in an acoustical setting that was designed to house it.

Woman in yellow jacket standing in the front of a room holding a microphone
Susan McConnell, Executive Directory of the Wesley Community Foundation, welcoming attendees

Residents and AGO members were welcomed by Susan McConnell, Executive Director of the Wesley Community Foundation. In addition to graciously hosting the event, the Foundation provided an elegant reception afterward where chapter members got to chat with Wesley residents.

A woman sits on the bench of a 3-manual tracker organ
Margaret Sandresky, organist and composer

Margaret Sandresky was born in Macon, Georgia, attended schools in Winston-Salem, NC, and graduated from Salem Academy and College. She earned a Master of Music in Composition from the Eastman School of Music where she studied with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson. She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the State Institute of Music in Frankfurt, Germany. Sandresky has taught at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the University of Texas at Austin, the North Carolina School of the Arts, and at Salem College. She has received commissions funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Carolina Arts Council, the Reynolda House, Museum of American Art, and the North Carolina Music Teachers Association. She now lives in a retirement home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and at age 101 still composes every day.

Man standing in gallery in front of organ holding microphone
Wyatt Smith delivering introductory remarks on Margaret Sandresky

Wyatt Smith, Subdean of the Tacoma chapter and member of the Seattle chapter as well, has studied the music of Margaret Sandresky for several years, and is planning a recording project featuring her music. Sandresky has left a sizable set of compositions, eleven volumes to date. In presenting an overview of her work, Dr. Smith chose representative works from various volumes, gave some background information on them, and then played them, ending with Helena’s Wedding March from volume XI.

The handout provided at the event is attached at the bottom of this article.


Fright Night!

Film poster showing Buster Keaton sitting in a pile of money with a can of glue
Publicity poster from 1921 silent movie The Haunted House

By day, Tacoma AGO Dean Cheryl Drewes is a respectable church organist. When Halloween rolls around, though, she reveals another aspect of her talent. On the evening of October 17, 2022, dressed in her witch costume, Cheryl accompanied Buster Keaton’s 1921 silent movie “The Haunted House” on the organ at Spanaway Lutheran Church as the highlight of the October combined meeting of the Tacoma and Olympia chapters of the American Guild of Organists.

Cheryl Drewes bows to the audience
Cheryl Drewes acknowledges the audience after accompanying The Haunted House

Cheryl Drewes is not new to theater organs. Growing up near Boston, MA, her family was in the American Theater Organ Society, and frequently attended silent movie events in a local restaurant. She doesn’t remember accompanying this particular silent movie in the past, and doing so required unusual preparation. In most theater organ settings, the organist sits at a console in front of the screen and can easily follow the action. Spanaway Lutheran Church, however, was not designed for silent movie productions, and the organ is behind the screen. Cheryl had to memorize the movie by watching it repeatedly on her phone. She was then able to match her accompaniment to the action by using a small mirror on the music rack in which she could see enough of the screen to keep her place. In the theater organ tradition, most of the music was improvised.

The program also featured several additional performers. The evening opened with Tim Drewes playing a movement from Suite Gothique, Op. 25 for organ composed by Léon Boëllmann in 1895 followed by the Scherzo from Grand Sonata, Op. 22, by Dudley Buck published in 1868. While the Buck composition may not have a direct Halloween link, Tim stated that he had always thought of it as “diabolical.”

Man playing an organ in costume with woman in costume assisting
Tim Drewes plays the organ with assistance from Cheryl Drewes

Past Dean Sheila Bristow accompanied her husband, opera singer Glenn Guhr, in a selection from Howard Hanson’s opera “Merry Mount” (1934) followed by a rendition of “That Old Black Magic Called Love,” by Harold Arlen. Arlen is known for composing the music for the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz.”

Man singing in long black robe with organ and piano in background
Opera singer Glenn Guhr performs in costume

Dennis Northway, a member of both the Tacoma and Olympia chapters, led the group in singing “pumpkin carols” beginning with “We Love Bewitching Time,” sung to the tune America. Other selections included “O Pumpkin Patch!,” sung, of course, to the tune of O Tannenbaum, and “The Twelve Days of All Hallows.”

Man in costume playing organ
Dennis Northway accompanies “pumpkin carols”

Following the program, members Sandy Tietjen and Jan Regier prepared a beautiful reception where attendees stood around talking for quite some time.

Sandy Tietjen and Jan Regier at refreshment table
Sandy Tietjen and Jan Regier at refreshment table

Special thanks to Spanaway Lutheran Church for hosting this event, and to Dick Tietjen for assisting with the reception.