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César Franck 200th Anniversary Concert at Spanaway Lutheran Church

March 2022 marks the 200th anniversary of the birthday of César Franck, a legendary French organist and composer. The Tacoma AGO celebrated this birthday with a March program featuring a recital of the music of César Franck played by members at the Spanaway Lutheran Church.

The 1905 Woodberry organ is in a case at the front of the room, with a traditional style key desk and a keyboard cover that can be lifted to form a music rack. There are two manuals, with a compass of 61 notes, three divisions, 22 stops, 18 registers, and 20 ranks. The pedalboard is flat, with a compass of 30 notes.  The organ features slider chests, and mechanical key and stop action.

Dean Sheila Bristow standing at front of church holding notes
Dean Sheila Bristow welcomes audience at the March 2022 meeting

After Tacoma AGO Dean Sheila Bristow welcomed the members, member Tim Drewes began the program with Chorale Number 2 in B minor, one of three organ chorales that Franck wrote at the end of his life.

Member Wyatt Smith continued the program, with Pastorale in E Major, Opus 19, following which he was joined by Dean Sheila Bristow at the Steinway piano for a duet performance of Prelude, Fugue and Variation in B Minor, Opus 18. Franck wrote two versions of this piece–one for organ alone, but the second to be played as a duet with a pianist.

The program concluded with Chorale Number 3 in A minor, played by Cheryl Drewes, who is the organist at Spanaway Lutheran Church.

Cheryl Drewes standing in front of organ bench facing audience
Cheryl Drewes acknowledges the audience

Following the program, members enjoyed a wine and cheese reception in the church narthex.

February Program: The Saint Matthew Passion

On Monday evening, February 21, the Tacoma Chapter sponsored a program on J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, presented by Seattle conductor and composer, William (Will) White. Will currently serves as music director of Harmonia, a Seattle performing ensemble comprised of a chorus and orchestra. For four seasons, he served as Assistant Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and is a frequent pre-concert lecturer for the Seattle Symphony. Will is also a composer, and is one of the commissioned composers for the 2022 AGO National Convention in Seattle. His choral composition will be part of the O Antiphon service at St. Mark’s Cathedral during the convention.

Seattle Composer and Conductor William White discusses the St. Matthew Passion
Seattle Composer and Conductor William White discusses the St. Matthew Passion

While there are many ways to approach a talk on this monumental opus, White focused on the considerations and challenges facing a conductor when performing this work. For instance, the Matthew Passion calls for two choirs, so there’s a question about the best placement for each choir. J.S. Bach performed his Matthew Passion four times, always on Good Friday. Where might the two choirs have been placed in the Thomaskirche?

There is also the question of whether to use early instruments and tuning (415Hz) or modern instruments and tuning (440Hz). Yet another consideration is whether to use a harpsichord or portative organ, or both, for the continuo parts. (In the case of Harmonia’s upcoming performance of the St. Matthew Passion in March, both will be used, in addition to a theorbo.) Finally, there is the question of how to conduct the recitatives in a way that gives the soloist freedom but gives solid cues to the continuo players.

One example of a stylistic question in the Matthew Passion is whether to observe the fermatas in the chorales as holds, or whether to consider them as lifts, giving the choir an opportunity to breathe but move onto the next phrase of the chorale.

If all this sounds like a bit of a snore, it absolutely wasn’t! Will White made the presentation engaging and interesting, using visual examples of the score and sound examples to illustrate points.

The final conversation of the evening focused on Will’s experience as a composer, including how to compose for the organ when the composer isn’t an organist! The conversation broadened to composing in general, which generated lively questions and discussion from the attendees.

For more information about the upcoming performance, visit the AGO calendar entry.

January Meeting at St. Mark’s

We will attend the January organ concert at St. Mark’s Cathedral featuring organists Michael Kleinschmidt and John Stuntebeck as our January meeting. More information about the concert is available in our calendar listing.

We have negotiated a group rate with St. Mark’s Cathedral, and the cost of admission for full voting members of the Tacoma Chapter will be covered as part of your dues.

Free admission applies only to full voting members (regular, special, and dual) in good standing. It does not apply to the chapter friends or young organist categories. It does not cover spouses or partners–only members. Your dues must be current in order to gain free admission.

When you arrive at the concert, identify yourself as a member of the Tacoma AGO chapter and be prepared to show identification in addition to your proof of vaccination.

Christmas Party 2021

Our Christmas party will take place on December 20 in Lagerquist Hall. Members will have an informal opportunity to play the Gottfried and Mary Fuchs Organ at Pacific Lutheran University. Please sign up (see below) to share a musical gift with your friends. Each person who plays will be able to sign up to practice in advance. The available times have not yet been determined.

PLU is not currently allowing food consumption in their buildings. As an alternative, we plan to have an outdoor reception on the portico. Bring a thermos of your favorite hot beverage. The chapter will provide cookies.


  1. You must be fully vaccinated to attend this event, as well as any other Tacoma AGO events until further notice. You must wear a mask over your nose and mouth at all times while in the PLU building.
  2. You must sign up in advance to attend this event, even if you’re not playing. We have to maintain a list of attendees in case we have to send out a notification of COVID-19 exposure. The signup link is below.
  3. For this events (like all events at PLU), you must show proof of vaccination upon entry.


An Organ Odyssey

There are few organists who have the experience and political skills needed to join a church staff, develop the music program, and convince the church to add a new organ into the mix of a planned capital campaign and building renovation. Yet that is exactly what Dennis Northway did at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Gig Harbor. On Monday, November 15, 2021, Tacoma AGO members gathered entered the sanctuary through the new, brightly lit narthex to hear the story of the new Rieger/Pasi organ.

The building renovation was dramatic. Gone is the wall to wall carpet, with new, glistening hardwood floors in its place. The beautiful stained glass window at the liturgical West end is visible again, as the Moller Artiste that had blocked it is now gone.

Dennis began his campaign for a new organ with an educational event–teaching the capital campaign committee about the role of congregational singing in the life of the church. They hired David Dahl as a consultant, and the project took off. The capital campaign committee agreed that the Moller Artiste had to go.

The church initially planned to buy Fritts opus 16, currently on lease to a church in New York City, but discovered that it was going to cost an additional $450,000 to reinforce the floor over the heating system in order to accommodate the Fritts organ at the liturgical East end. The extra cost was not financially feasible. David Dahl remembered that there was a Rieger organ available, originally purchased for a school in New York. Martin Pasi, formerly a Rieger employee, and now an organ builder in Tacoma, agreed to install the organ on a side wall at the other end of the church. It also required floor reinforcement and seismic protection, but at a much lower cost than the original plan.

The organ is only partially installed at this time, but Dennis used BWV 549, Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, as the first musical example, filling the room with a strong principal sound. Florence Price’s In Quiet Mood, showcased the flutes and principals with its lush harmony. Dennis used a prelude by Jacques Boyvin to demonstrate an 8,4, and 2 combination, and Bach trio sonata BWV 529 (slow movement) to show a balanced flute combination.

A long view of the nave, showing the organ placement against a side wall in the back
Nave of Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Gig Harbor, WA

As part of the installation, several stops will be removed, and several others added by organ builder Martin Pasi. Dennis provided a handout entitled “Pipe Organ History” to document the disposition of the former Moller organ and the plans to complete the present organ, including a new Great trumpet and a new Pedal fagott. That document is attached at the end of this article.

Rector Eric Stelle was a designer before he was a priest, and is very pleased with both the architectural changes and the addition of the organ. A member said to him that the church still looks like St. John’s, but it also now looks good. Stelle was also very complimentary of Dennis Northway, calling him a gentle presence who saw this change as a necessary part of a larger mission.

Following the demonstration, members were treated to a reception served by church members.

Table of refreshments and fresh flowers
Refreshments served at a reception following the AGO program