Category Archives: Articles

Sheila Bristow Attends Leadership Training Meeting

Tacoma AGO Subdean and Program Chair was invited to represent our chapter at a regional AGO leadership training session in California. The seminar was focused on developing a strategic plan that individual chapters can use to maintain and increase interest and membership in our organization.

Sheila has already done a preliminary report for the board. You can look forward to hearing more about this effort as we determine which ideas we can incorporate into our own planning.

A presentation given at the meeting by a professional communications specialist is attached below.


Professor Kraig Scott leads masterclass on the music of J. S. Bach at March Meeting

Following an introduction by Tacoma AGO subdean Sheila Bristow, new Tacoma AGO member Emma Kelly opened the musical portion of the program by playing Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein, BWV 734. Kraig Scott’s first question to her was, “How did you decide on the tempo?”

Subdean Sheila Bristow welcomes the audience at the Kraig Scott masterclass

Kraig Scott is professor of music at Walla Walla University (WWU). He has taught there since 1986 and directed the choral program since 2009. He also serves as minister of music and organist for the WWU Church and was music director at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walla Walla for eighteen years. As a member of the WWU music faculty Kraig Scott’s responsibilities include conducting the University choirs, teaching organ and harpsichord, serving as church organist, and overseeing all music at the University Church.

Kraig Scott discusses tempo with Emma Kelly

His question on tempo led him into a discussion of how one sets the tempo in the music of J. S. Bach. In Bach’s lifetime, there were no metronomes–they were not invented until 1810, half a century after his death. Thus, there are no specific tempo markings in any of the music of Bach, or his contemporaries. There was, however, a concept of tempo ordinario, the common tempo. Common tempo typically referred to a work with a 4/4 time signature, and marked by predominant 8th notes, and maximum value of 16th notes. It is likely that the ordinary tempo was based on the human pulse.

Emma Kelly gave good answers to the tempo question. She chose the tempo based on the acoustics of the room, and on wanting to make the cantus singable. She also happened to choose tempo ordinario.

Emma’s piece, Nun freut euch, is really a trio. The right hand has the fastest notes, and, if played by individual instruments, might be suitable for a flute. The left hand plays the cello part, and the pedal carries the cantus. In this case, the left hand, the cello part, would be the timekeeper, akin to the percussion section in a jazz band.

In performing this piece, it is important for the organist to feel the three different time pulses simultaneously. The most important is, of course, the cello part, which should reflect the feel of a cello. Likewise, the upper 16th notes should reflect the playfulness of a flute. The chorale melody, in the pedal, should sound singable.

Dr. Scott was complimentary of Emma’s playing–both in her setting of the tempo, and playing the three voices distinctively.

AGO Member Cheryl Drewes chose to play a trio sonata, the second movement of Sonata 4, BWV 528, with a tempo marking of Andante. Cheryl thinks of Andante as a walking tempo; Kraig Scott added his interpretation that Andante is a modifier to the concept of the tempo ordinario, slowing it down a bit. In this movement, 32nd notes are more prominent than 16th notes, also serving to slow the tempo. Turning his attention from tempo to articulation, Kraig discussed the inherently difficult task of performing trio sonatas, with three independent lines, all of which require independent articulation, including the pedal. Kraig asked the audience to consider how a string player would articulate the melodic line of a trio sonata. The string player would have to lift the bow to make a big leap, but would be able to play conjunction motion, motion between contiguous notes, more smoothly. Kraig advocates a similar concept for Baroque music–a relatively smooth transition for conjunct intervals, but more space in disjunct movement. It’s easy on one line, but much more difficult when playing three independent lines.

Performer Cheryl Drewes listens as Kraig Scott discusses articulation

Member Satya Jaech played BWV, the Dorian Fugue. Again, the discussion began with tempo. Satya set her tempo to honor the gravitas of the piece, but to still have a feeling of movement. Kraig did not disagree, but also pointed out that the tempo Satya selected was very close to ordinary tempo even though the piece is in cut time.

Satya Jaech practices before Kraig Scott masterclass

Kraig used this piece to talk about the concept of relaxation. On a piano, it is necessary to apply more force to get more volume, but not so on an organ. Even when playing loud, it is important to maintain good hand position and to remain relaxed.

Following the student performances, Kraig compared two harpsichord works, pointing out that their structure is similar yet performers often choose to play them at very different tempos. The session ended with a discussion of tempo changes within a piece, and how Bach’s designations such as Adagio or Allegro affect the ordinary tempo.

AGO members enjoy a continental breakfast before Kraig Scott masterclass

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!