Good morning, everyone. I am just now back from a fruitful trip to Europe. I have good news that is also bad news. I have just accepted a new position in the eastern United States and need to step down as dean. I was truly looking forward to this fantastic challenge, however, this is an opportunity I cannot turn down. I will miss all of the wonderful colleagues here and my teaching at the University, but I know my family will have a wonderful experience where we are going. I hope to be able to share more details with you in the coming days. All my best wishes for a fantastic guild season.
“Ask not what the organ culture can do for you…”
It is a tremendous privilege to write this first column as your new dean. I am honored to be elected and look forward to serving. We enjoyed hosting many of you in our home for the end of the year party and I look forward to working closely with the board and the entire membership for a rewarding and inspiring year in our chapter. I am certain you will all want to join me in thanking outgoing dean Naomi Shiga for her great work.
I think we all know that the Puget Sound area is known nationally, throughout the world, really, as a place with a particularly rich organ culture. While I was in graduate school and working in the Midwest, I certainly missed this aspect of living here. There are several factors that contribute to this glorious situation. OK, we have great organs! We may have one of the most distinguished collections of organs of any region in the United States. Two of the finest organ builders on the planet live and work right here in Pierce County. Their organs are beautiful to hear and see, and they inspire organists to practice more, learn more about performance practice, and refine their skills. These organs are fantastic teachers in university settings and inspire numerous congregations to experience a glimpse of heaven every week.
Yes, the organs are great. But how did these organs arrive on the scene? People. We can look back at every important organ in our area and point to the person or persons who made those organs a reality. At the University of Puget Sound, that person was my teacher, Ed Hansen. At Pacific Lutheran University, that person was David Dahl. The beautiful organ that now lives at St. Andrew’s was first the result of the work of the Tietjens, and now Naomi Shiga. We have and have had visionary people in our midst who have achieved amazing things.
So, what’s next? “Ask not what the organ culture can do for you; ask what you can do for the organ culture.” It is our turn to be those visionary people. I believe the organ is at a crossroads. Sure, there are churches who are hopelessly mired in their limited experience and are not much interested in the organ or musical excellence and true beauty. Yes, organ departments in universities struggle to keep students coming through the doors. However, the organ still clearly speaks to young musicians in the intangible way it speaks to all of us. Not a single one of my organ students at UPS is churched! They have not come to the organ the same way you and I did; they stumbled into a situation where they saw and heard something beautiful and wanted to be a part of it.
In future columns, I will explore ways we can promote and develop our organ culture. I would welcome your ideas and feedback. Even more than that, your chapter and the organ culture will need your presence and engagement. Let us be the ones who set a wonderful vision for our instrument and its music. Let us also be the ones who make that vision a reality.
As we reach the end of another wonderful season of programs, this will be my last dean’s letter to you. New board members for next year were elected at our last meeting, and we continue to have the good fortune of having great members and leaders that will lead us into the future. I’m excited for the new board and what they will have in store for us as we begin another exciting season in the fall! I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere thanks to the current board members for all of their hard work and dedication, and to all of you in the chapter who make the Tacoma Chapter of the AGO one of the finest I’ve had the privilege of being involved with. You make us who we are. Thank you for your continual and continued support. And now, it’s time to celebrate! See you at the party at the Thornocks’ on May 21.
Happy Easter! Spring is here, a time of new beginnings. In keeping up with events in the news and culture at large, this spring it seems that many are especially hungry for newness of thought and action. I’ve been especially moved by those in the #MeToo movement and the March for Our Lives protests held widely last month. Perhaps some of you in our chapter were involved. For me it was wonderful to see young people who don’t even have the right to vote be engaged and raising their voices in the hope of protecting the lives of children in our time. I feel that we can see a better future through their actions.
All of this seems far afield from music, but it is not. When I was 19, I moved to Boston, where I spent my first seven years of life in the United States. Even though I am foreign (my English was much worse than now) and female, the community I found in Boston was made up of people with creative minds—artists, writers, musicians, philosophers—and in my time amongst them, I never experienced any kind of segregation. Of course, I might have been too young and naive to notice anything yet, but I was truly impressed with peoples’ aim in communicating through art and music, removed from barriers, preconceptions, and prejudice. When I played music, there was an air that music was all that was needed to communicate.
As a student, I had a number of strong female instructors, who served as wonderful role models. Through their teaching, I learned of the the predominance of the patriarchy in the history of Western music. It is unavoidable; however, I was fortunate to be studying at a time when scholarship was reexamining the role of women in music. Today we have not only a much better picture of the contributions of women in the past but also a more open environment for female performers and composers. A simple Wikipedia search on “women in music” is revealing. Yet, the playing field is still not entirely even. As I meet female colleagues in conversation, both in person and through social media, issues of inequality in hiring, and salaries, and unfair treatment of pregnant women and mothers of young children continue to remain a challenge. Likewise, revelations of sexual abuse of both men and women in the world of classical music show that we are not immune from trends in the culture at large. In the years since my time as a student in Boston, I too have experienced bias, prejudice, and inequality in my life as a musician, and thus I feel strongly that it is important for each of us to raise our voices, to demand a higher ethical standard. Ultimately, music is about communication, and when barriers are removed and we can truly hear one another honestly, great art can flourish.
On April 29 at 3 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, I am playing a concert with two fabulous female musicians, Houston Symphony cellist Shino Hayashi and Noel Burns, principal oboist with our Symphony Tacoma. Together we will present a program of music composed by female composers. We were students at one point, but now we are all mother-musicians, and we decided that we would like to do this at this moment. Just like today’s youth marching with the wonderful message that we should protect them and future generations, we would like to do something for women now and for women in the future. In preparing this concert, each of us is finding great depth and beauty in the repertoire, and we are eager to learn more of these and other women composers. It is a repertoire we are discovering together and are looking forward to sharing. Just last week I played a number of pieces for church services at St. Andrew’s, and many people commented how much they enjoyed the music. I hope you can make it, and even bring a friend or two to our concert.
Happy Easter everyone! See you at our next meeting! Until then, enjoy the beauty of Tacoma in bloom. Spring is all around!
As organists, we all learned to play by taking lessons. In this way, the art and craft of making music on the organ is passed down from one generation to the next. I was fortunate in my student years to study with one of the great organ teachers of the last part of the twentieth century, Yuko Hayashi. Renowned as an international concert artist and professor of organ at New England Conservatory of Music, Boston, Yuko died on January 7. She was 88. Born in Yokohama, Japan, Yuko went to Tokyo University of the Arts in 1948 and for five years was organist for the NHK (the Japanese national broadcasting company) Symphony Orchestra. She came to the U.S. in 1953 on a PEO scholarship and studied for one year at Cottey College in Nevada, MO before transferring to the New England Conservatory. Famously, she said she went to Boston to be close to the ocean and good fish. After completing her studies at NEC, she received the highest degree of Artist Diploma in 1969 by then president Gunther Schuller, who hired her as an organ teacher at the conservatory. During her career she traveled frequently to Europe and Japan for concerts and masterclasses, including giving academies at International Christian University in Tokyo with Anton Heiller, Marie Claire Alain, and Luigi Tagliavini. In the 1990’s she took a leave of absence from NEC to accept a position as professor of organ at Ferris University, Yokohama, where she was instrumental in commissioning a new three manual North German style organ built by Taylor and Boody. It was during this time that I met Yuko and had my first experience on a historical style organ. Without meeting her and T&B organ at Ferris, I am certain I would not have pursued a life as an organist. It was eye opening for me to study with her in every way. She taught me how to be humble, to be under music and not over it. It was through studying with her that I truly learned how to be a musician. She taught me how to find myself in music and in real life. She was my teacher, sister and mother, and most importantly, a friend. Last November, I saw her for the last time. We talked about music, Bach and life. We asked the priest at Christ Church, Andover to come to her room, and we had communion together before my flight home. I asked her if she was scared; she said she was ready. I told her I could live my life until the end with the memory of my organ study with her, and I promised her that I would make music until the end of my own life with gratitude, saying thank you through music at all the times. I cried like a baby that day as she touched my head and face, and my son, Izumi. We prayed, and she said goodbye until we see one another again in heaven. And so her last lesson to me was teaching me how to say goodbye. Memorial services for Yuko will be held in Tokyo in March, and in Andover, MA in April. She was one of the last great organists of her generation to depart this world. But through her many students, including a number of us here in the Tacoma chapter, her ideas, insights, and incomparable musicianship continues. This is the great gift of music, that as one era ends and another begins, the music remains, and for that we can give thanks in our study, our listening, and our performing.