Category Archives: Articles

When Music Sounds, a composition by Sheila Bristow

I’m grateful for the opportunity to write for Orchestra Seattle|Seattle Chamber Singers! My childhood violin teacher, Eileen Lusk, was a founding member, and I grew up attending OSSCS concerts. In college, I played violin in the orchestra, and I’m delighted to now be back onstage with the group as keyboardist.

Walter De la Mare’s poem “When Music Sounds” alludes to Greek mythology about the power of music. In each of the three verses, the music summons forth a different part of the cosmos: first, nature responds; second, naiads (water nymphs) arise; and finally, time itself sings.

Thinking about Greek mythology, I imagined a sylvan setting for the poem’s action, and the piece opens with a calm “forest” theme. As the chorus sings about bourgeoning plants, the string lines rise and become more complex. This is followed by the entrance of the naiads—whom I cheekily imagine rehearsing a water ballet. After the dance break, the chorus sings them up from the forest pool, accompanied by soft winds and strings.

In the final verse, time’s arrival on the scene is heralded by an ambiguous juxtaposition of keys and colors. However, the full chorus and brass “break into distant song” in the home key, then quickly taper off as the protagonist exits the scene. The piece concludes with a reprise of the forest theme, layered with a relaxed version of the naiad’s ballet.

When Music Sounds

Walter de la Mare, 1873-1965

When music sounds, gone is the earth I know,
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow;
Her flowers in vision flame, her forest trees
Lift burdened branches, stilled with ecstasies.

When music sounds, out of the water rise
Naiads whose beauty dims my waking eyes,
Rapt in strange dreams burns each enchanted face,
With solemn echoing stirs their dwelling-place.

When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came;
And from Time’s woods break into distant song
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along

How Classified Ads Work

The Tacoma AGO website has a classified ads section that is intended to be for the benefit of members.

If you have checked “Available to Teach” or “Available to Substitute” on your profile at the national AGO site, a generic classified ad will automatically be created for you on our local site. If you log in to the site, you may “claim” your ad and edit it to your liking. If you have an ad for either teaching or substituting and no longer wish to do so, you should go to the national site and uncheck the relevant boxes in your profile. The local site will be updated within 24 hours of the time you make changes on the national site.

In addition, members of the public may create ads that could be of benefit to our members, such as ads seeking an organist or choir director. All such ads, though, must be of potential benefit to members. Organists who are not members are not allowed to place ads advertising their services. Members of the public may not place ads to sell items that would be of no interest to members.

The contents of ads are submitted to Google and other search engines on a regular basis. If you are interested in teaching or substituting, placing a classified ad is a good way of distributing your message without the cost of maintaining your own website.

May Program on Effective Practicing

Whether you are a concert artist, church musician, aspiring student, or among the many who make music solely for one’s own enjoyment, the goal is the same: to learn music well, interpret it deeply, and perform it with confidence and grace. Dr. Catherine Rodland will share approaches that develop accuracy, poise and expressiveness woven holistically from the beginning of the learning process. Join us on May 10 to learn how slow practice, fluid technique, and musical gesture become the foundation toward confident, expressive performance – and what that looks like in practice. The presentation will conclude with an opportunity to ask questions and share insights together.

Catherine Rodland, whose playing has been described as “transcendent” (The American Organist), is Artist in Residence at St. Olaf College. She graduated cum laude with departmental distinction in organ performance from St. Olaf in 1987.

She received both the MM and DMA from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY where she was a student of Russell Saunders. At Eastman, Catherine received the prestigious Performer’s Certificate and the Ann Anway Award for excellence in organ performance. She is a prizewinner in several competitions including the 1994 and 1998 American Guild of Organists Young Artists Competition, the 1994 Calgary International Organ Competition, and the 1988 International Organ Competition at the University of Michigan for which she received first prize. She concertizes extensively throughout the United States and Canada.

At St. Olaf College, Catherine teaches a full studio of organ students as well as music theory and ear training classes. She performs regularly at St. Olaf, in 2007 dedicating the new Holtkamp organ in Boe Memorial Chapel, and performing as a featured soloist with the St. Olaf Orchestra and the St. Olaf Band. These performances were released as CDs through St. Olaf Records. In 2010 Catherine released two CDs: “Dedication”, and “American Weavings”, the latter recorded in Boe Chapel at St. Olaf College with violist and duo partner Carol Rodland. The Rodland Duo is managed by Concert Artists Cooperative.

Dr. Rodland’s handout appears below.


Olympia Chapter Holy Week Recital

The Olympia AGO Chapter sends along this invitation to a virtual recital that includes Tacoma AGO member Dennis Northway.

The Olympia, WA Chapter of the AGO (American Guild of Organists)  usually offers daily lunchtime organ recitals during Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter).  This year, due to the pandemic, we decided to condense our efforts into one virtual concert video.  We hope to resume in-person recitals next year, but this year we’d like to present the following video, with a rare chance to see a number of local Olympia Organs, and a number of talented local organists. 

Please enjoy!, and do pass on the following link to anyone who may be interested:

Musings on the AGO Service Playing Exam: My Experience as an assistant Proctor

I recently assisted the proctor during an exam for the Service Playing Certificate offered by the American Guild of Organists. This was the first time I’d ever been present at an AGO certification exam, and have never embarked on this journey myself. This led me to reflect on medieval guilds and about how, during the Middle Ages, knowledge, skill, and artistry was handed down from master to apprentice. Apprentices would become journeymen, and then would eventually become masters themselves. For a quick but interesting history refresher, click here. First established in 1896, the AGO has its roots in this system.

The exam was held on a dreary Saturday morning at the Church of the Visitation in South Tacoma. As I entered the nave, a faint aroma of incense greeted me. The sweetness of the little Wicks in the gallery, its sonorous principal chorus, and the acoustics of the building itself are a conversation for another time. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I learned that the requirements of this certification are as follows:

  • Play three organ pieces chosen from a list of works from different historical periods. For example, your pieces might be a fugue from one of Bach’s Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, a movement by Mendelssohn, and a short contemporary work.
  • Choose two hymns from the 2013 Revised AGO Examination Hymn Booklet, and play two stanzas of each as though accompanying a congregation.
  • Transpose a hymn, again from the AGO Hymn Booklet, no more than a whole step up or down (you can choose the hymn and work it out in advance).
  • Play the accompaniment to a psalm chant, taken from the AGO Hymn Booklet.
  • Play two anthems chosen from those listed in the certification requirements.
  • Sight-read a short passage of music.

Holy-moly, I thought, this is a bit challenging! Although I was a church musician for at least 25 years, I’m not sure I ever transposed a hymn without first writing it out unless it was from E flat major to E major. Nor, did I ever accompany Rutter’s Shepherd’s Pipe Carol on the organ, which is one of the anthems on the AGO list of options for anthem accompaniment (if it counts, I did accompany it on piano, while conducting the choir with my eyebrows).

The process was interesting and a bit unnerving. Since the examination is sent to the AGO and is evaluated by two national examiners, it needed to be recorded. The proctor followed a script and announced which part of the exam was happening next. The tone was serious and professional.

The whole experience made me think about completing the Service Playing Certification as a fun project if the Coronavirus hijacks another year of our lives. It also made me wonder how many church organists apply for this certification each year, and whether AGO certifications are as prestigious today as they were 40 years ago. These ponderings brought a wave of sadness as I remembered all the esteemed organists I’ve known, some of whom are no longer with us, who have had the initials F.A.G.O. after their names. Should we expect more from our church organists, and how should this be monitored and evaluated? How can we expect consistent professional standards for church musicians if they aren’t being compensated equitably for their education and time?

This one-hour experience opened up a whole file of memories and questions. The questions aren’t easily answered, but I’m grateful that there are still organizations with formal certifications for organists, and I have a  new admiration for the organists who undertake this journey.

For a link to the AGO’s site on Service Playing Certification and other certifications, click here.