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Happy 350th Birthday to François Couperin

In the present time, it is probably safe to assume that Clicquot champagne is better known than Clicquot organs. However, in eighteenth century France, the Clicquot name would have been more widely recognized as the family name of the organ building legacy that includes Notre-Dame and St. Gervais.

François Couperin was born into a musical family, much like J S Bach.  Eight generations of Couperins served the St. Gervais church. François began his organ career at an early age, sitting on the bench as a child as his father played.  His father died when François was only eleven years old, but by that time, the church had already signed an agreement to name François as organist on his eighteenth birthday.

David Dahl addressing the audience at the Couperin program

Thus David Dahl, Organist Emeritus at Pacific Lutheran University and Christ Episcopal Church, introduced the first program of the 2018-2019 year for the Tacoma Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.  The program, entitled “Celebrating the 350th Anniversary of the Birth of François Couperin,” focused on the historical context of the organ mass–and, in particular, the practice of alternating organ stanzas with sung parts of the mass.

In 1789, at the age of 21, François Couperin published two organ masses–the Mass for the Parishes, intended for a large space such as St. Gervais; and the Mass for the Convents, intended for use by individual monasteries.  Both are based on the practice of alternatum, the alternation of the sung parts of the mass with organ stanzas.

Sheila Bristow and Satya Jaech sing the Kyrie

For this program, David Dahl chose to focus on the Mass for the Convents.  Opening the demonstration portion of the program, AGO members Sheila Bristow (program chair) and Satya Jaech ( board member) sang the opening verse of the Kyrie, alternating with organ verses played by Cooper Sherry, also a Tacoma AGO board member.

Time did not permit a complete performance of the mass.  Instead, seven performers, all members of the Tacoma AGO, played selected examples as David Dahl discussed the progression of the mass through the Gloria, Offertoire, Sanctus, Elevation, Agnus Dei, and Deo Gratias.  Performers included Cooper Sherry, Sheila Bristow, Shari Shull, Thomas Clark, Mark Brombaugh, Satya Jaech, and Paul Tegels.

The French were particularly interested in organ color, going so far as to name pieces primarily for the prescribed registration.  For example, the opening organ verse of the Kyrie is named “Plein jeu: Premiere Couplet du Kyrie”, indicating that the organist should use the defined combination of flue stops known as a plein jeu–all of the principal stops of the grande orgue from 16 feet to mixtures.  Similar names might indicate a chorus of reeds or a solo stop.  The Christ Episcopal Church organ, built by John Brombaugh, is particularly well suited for classical French music.  It features two cornet combinations.  The cornet sound is composed of five pipe lengths, either as individual stops or a single one:  8 ft, 4 ft, 2 ft, 2 2/3 ft, and 1 3/5 ft.   It is a prominently featured tone color in classical French organ music, similar to a reed but stronger than a reed in the upper range.

Paul Tegels follows Couperin score

After David Dahl’s final comments, the program concluded with Paul Tegels, Associate Professor of Music and University Organist at Pacific Lutheran University, playing the last couplet of the Agnus Dei and the Deo Gratias.

The meeting concluded with a wine and cheese reception prepared by Nancy Ferree and Loi Le.

Credits: Thanks to David Dahl for sharing his vision, charm and expertise in French classical organ music, Loi Le for designing the handout, and Sheila Bristow, program chair.  Thanks also to the seven organists for bringing the music to life, and to Mark Brombaugh and Christ Episcopal Church for making the building and organ available for this meeting.

A handout prepared by David Dahl is attached to this article.

handout: Couperin performers
handout: St Gervais org

Update on Fall Programs

Thank you for responding to the board’s survey. We’ve changed the start time for evening meetings to 7:00 p.m.  and are using the programming questions’ results to craft the year’s programs.

This month’s meeting is Monday, Sept. 17, at Christ Church and celebrates the 350th anniversary of François Couperin. Our very own David Dahl will lead the program, which will include the performance of movements from the Mass for the Convents by chapter members. The evening will conclude with a festive reception.   I do hope you will join us!

Looking ahead, please save Saturday, Oct. 13, for an organ crawl on Vashon Island. Joint member Carl Kishline will lead a morning tour of historic organs, to be concluded with lunch at one of the island’s picturesque restaurants.   On Monday, Nov. 12, I will present a program on psalm settings for the church year. Please look for more details in upcoming communications.

Best wishes to all of you who are beginning your own program year!

Executive Committee Considers Poll Results

Your executive committee met this week to review the results of the program poll and to continue the process of  creating the program schedule for next year.

About half of our chapter membership voted on  at least one question.  The information is very helpful and will be used to guide our program choices and other events for the coming year.

The two most important program attributes are “being provided with educational objectives” and “learning practical things that make my job easier.”  Public outreach, audience participation, and social time are moderately important.  Inviting a nationally known speaker is not important.  Surprisingly (at least to me), starting and stopping on time is not important.

With regard to specific programs, the top tier of membership choices roughly matches the number of program slots available, making our work a little easier.  The top program choice is “an introduction to psalm settings and how to incorporate them.”  This program has already been scheduled for October.  Other top choices include a report from one of our members about a sabbatical trip to Europe, an introduction to the latest organ at the Fritts shop, a tour of organs on Vashon Island, and a masterclass with Kraig Scott of Walla Walla University.  All of these topics are being pursued for next year.

There was also significant interest in inviting Jeffrey Rowthorn of Yale University to discuss hymnody.  We are going to look for some partnerships for this one and hope to be able to sponsor such an event early in the 2019 program year.

With regard to the question of types of programs, there is a clear winner–“academic, such as history or musicology, with musical examples.”  The second tier includes masterclasses, tours of interesting organs, and “practical programs, such as how to conduct or how to reharmonize.”

There are also clear winners on the day of the week (Monday) and program time (7:00 p.m.).

The program year is coming together but still not final.  As events are finalized, they will be added to the calendar.  By the end of August, we hope to make a final announcement.

In the meantime, please plan to attend our opening meeting on September 17 at 7:00 p.m. (note the new time) at Christ Episcopal Church.  With the help of a number of members providing musical examples, David Dahl will discuss the Couperin organ masses.  There will be a reception following this program.

Financial Report August 2018

Our treasurer reports the following balances as of August 1,

checking 1,629.17
savings 3,137.66
scholarship 1,396.00
TOTAL 6,162.83

The proposed budget for the 2018-2019 program year is still a work in progress.  More budget information will be published as we finalize the slate of programs and special activities.

Greetings from Sub Dean Sheila Bristow

Greetings from your new sub dean! I am delighted to begin serving the Tacoma AGO chapter. I may be unfamiliar to many members, as I divide my time between Seattle (where I’m the Organist & Choirmaster at Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, and Associate Organist at Blessed Sacrament) and Tacoma (where I work with the opera program at PLU). In my idle hours between playing and driving, I try to compose…and attend organ recitals!

This coming Monday, July 2nd, there will be a program meeting to plan chapter events for 2018/19. If you have ideas, please join us for the meeting, or send me a note at