Category Archives: Articles

March Masterclass with Kraig Scott

Our March program will feature Kraig Scott, of Walla Walla University, in a masterclass setting dedicated to the music of J. S. Bach.

If there is a Bach piece, or a single section or a portion of a Bach piece that you would like to play, please sign up!

The calendar entry is located here. It has additional information, and a link to the signup sheet. If your email client doesn’t show you the link, just go to our main page at and click on the calendar entry for the masterclass. Signing up does not require logging in; however, if you do login first, your contact information will be pre-filled in on the signup sheet.

February Meeting: The Organist as an Employee

Many church musicians lack the knowledge and skills to negotiate a fair contract with their churches. There are many reasons for this. There is an unspoken expectation that musicians should give their gifts for the glory of God, and to be focused on things like salary and benefits isn’t “spiritual”. Another reason is that most churches don’t have skilled human resources leaders who understand fair hiring practices. Many churches, currently challenged by their own financial shortfalls, are reluctant to compensate staff adequately for fear of operating in the red. For this reason, the Tacoma Chapter decided to dedicate its February program to negotiating a contract that compensates church musicians fairly and is current with state requirements.

The February chapter meeting, “The Church as an Employer”, was attended by Tacoma and Seattle chapter members, as well as leaders from area churches. Amy Heller, a human resources specialist, discussed overtime regulations, contract language, and sick and family leaves.

Amy Heller discusses contract negotiation during the February 2019 program

Two handouts from the meeting are reproduced below, including a sample job description from Grace Episcopal Church, and a resource list.

Handout: Sample job description


Handout: Resource list


There are two additional resources available, including a sample contract from Grace Episcopal Church, reproduced below, and an online guide provided by the National AGO site for calculating hours.


February Program: The Church as an Employer

Our next chapter meeting addresses issues which are vital to all who are employed as church musicians. Amy Heller, HR analyst for Pierce County, will present advice on negotiating contracts and dealing with disagreements with employers. She will lead us through details such as compensation, definition of duties, and legal rights—with a sense of humor! I invite you to come with questions—and also to think of friends and colleagues whom you could invite to attend with you. Your music director? Clergy? Members of the church council/vestry/personnel committee? These issues touch on everyone who hires, fires, supervises, or simply values their organist, and the more folks at the table, the more we can help insure professional treatment of our current colleagues and of future church musicians.

In March, we have a very special event planned: a masterclass with Kraig Scott on Sat, March 23rd, at 10 AM (Christ Church, Tacoma). Mr. Scott is a renowned performer and teacher, and this particular morning will focus on the music of J.S. Bach (whose birthday is March 31st). Chapter members are invited to perform; we hope to delve into a variety of genres within Bach’s output. Please consider if you have a single movement or section of a larger work you’d like to play and be coached on. Sign up information will be out soon!

Music that Makes Community Workshop

Sometimes we want to simplify our worship – eliminate the physical things that can distract worshipers from the togetherness they come to experience. How can we lead (even complex) musical material through gesture, body language and voice? Music That Makes Community teaches oral tradition learning practices in a fun, supportive atmosphere.

Does Music That Makes Community advocate eliminating hymn books, bulletins and instruments? Of course not – the goal is to add a valuable skill that will deepen the worship of your church. Join us in Seattle on March 15 (Friday evening) and 16 (all day).

For more information and registration, visit the event website.

or call Paul Vasile at 929-266-4662.

Fritts Organs Opus 42

Fritts Organs Opus 42 is an imposing instrument by any standard. It fills the Fritts workshop visually, reaching almost to the ceiling. It impresses the observer with its classical design, the beauty of its detail, its inlaid music desk and embossed front pipes.

Full View of Fritts Organs Opus 42 from the balcony

The organ is not yet finished. Only seven of the 37 stops are playing. The pedal doesn’t work yet. It has no working reeds. Yet a magical transformation took place in the room when AGO member David Dahl sat down to play A Mighty Fortress on the principal 8 foot stop, gradually adding 4 foot, 2 2/3, and 2 foot stops.

The Fritts team worked diligently to get the organ playable for the January meeting of the Tacoma Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. On January 12, 2019, along with several very proud Fritts employees and colleagues from the Seattle AGO chapter, Tacoma AGO members listened as Paul Fritts talked about the history and design of the organ.

Paul Fritts introducing Opus 42

The story is bittersweet. Opus 42 is bound for First Lutheran Church in Loraine, OH, where it will replace Brombaugh Organs Opus 4, destroyed along with the church that housed it by an arsonist. The Brombaugh organ was groundbreaking in many respects, and its loss will leave a void in the organ world. Rather than rebuild the same building, the congregation bought new property and a new building; likewise, they would need a new organ.

The prospect of designing a new organ for a new building presented Paul Fritts with an opportunity to help meld a perfect match. He traveled to Loraine and met with the building committee, the architect, the acoustician, and others interested in the project. Paul successfully made his case that the building should be rectangular instead of square, and that it should be tall.

The church had already made the decision not to recreate the building, and not to attempt to recreate the Brombaugh organ. The Fritts organ was to be a creation in its own right. Yet Paul, who was familiar with Brombaugh Opus 4, wanted to pay homage to it in the new organ, and so designed it to be visually similar–pointed towers, a similar number of sections, and embossed pipes.

There are differences, though. The new organ has a swell division. Its case is made of fir, its keydesk of maple, part of which is heat treated in a vacuum in order to make it more stable. And, perhaps contributing to its startling clear and direct tone, all of the metal pipes are sand cast, including the reed resonators.

Fritts Organs Opus 42 key desk

The Fritts shop is the only organ building shop in the country sand casting pipes. It was a gradual process. Paul Fritts and colleague Bruce Shull worked closely with the Flentrop Company on a reconstruction that featured sand cast pipes. The Fritts staff became believers, and now produce all of their pipes through this time-honored process.

Casting the pipes on a sand table causes the molten metal to cool faster, making it slightly more brittle, but producing a livelier sound. Bruce Shull, who voiced all of the pipes, describes a trade-off in which sand casting is a lot more trouble up front, but greatly reduces the amount of work that goes into voicing after the pipes are shaped.

Sand casting is not the only way in which the Fritts Shop has returned to early organ building traditions. They have analyzed metal from organ pipes that have survived the centuries, and used the same alloy combinations, which are still mostly tin, 5% lead, and trace amounts of elements such as copper, bismuth, and even arsenic. Interestingly, this historic pipe composition was not deliberate. In earlier centuries, it was not possible to purify metal such as it can be done today. Now, however, the metals are too pure and have to be “contaminated” with trace elements to match the composition of pipes that have stood for centuries. Lutheran Bishop Rick Jaech, in attendance, observed that there might be a life lesson in the fact that pipes collapse when they get too pure!

The organ is close to completion. The last major component to be added will be the pipe shades, being hand carved in Dresden, Germany. When the pipe shades arrive, the organ will be disassembled and shipped to Ohio, where the Fritts staff will reassemble it in its new home. It will take 5 or 6 weeks to complete the voicing and tuning. The relationship to the room has been planned very carefully. For example, the organ case is expanded in the back, and the walls of the church will meet the case. The extra room on each side houses pedal pipes.

Wide posterior part of case

The new First Lutheran Church features a very live room, so the organ has been built on very low wind pressure–about 2 inches. The pipes are wide open, “singing as strongly as they can,” taking full advantage of the low pressure.

By the time the organ is assembled, most of the voicing will have already taken place previously, in the shop. There is still room for minor adjustments, even adjustments of the wind pressure. If necessary after hearing the organ in its permanent home, the wind pressure can be adjusted up or down by as much as 10 mm without adversely affecting the voicing.

Bruce Shull, the chief voicer, pointed out that the practice of voicing in the shop is also historical. In the sixteenth century, before extension cords and light bulbs, voicing in the case would have been done by candlelight. That would be difficult in many respects, not to mention what might happen if the candle fell over.

Having built the principal chorus using A Mighty Fortress, David Dahl demonstrated the flute pipes and various combinations using several other hymn tunes. His harmonizations were adventurous, but still tasteful by most standards.

David Dahl demonstrating Fritts Organs Opus 42

Following Paul Fritts’ presentation and a lively question and answer period, members enjoyed refreshments and the chance to play an organ that will soon claim its place in history–not as a replacement for Opus 4, but as a new work of art that will bring its own beauty into the world.

Shari Shull demonstrating Fritts Organs Opus 42

The organ specification is reproduced below.