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Program on Hymn Interpretations

David Dahl published his first volume of organ music in 1999 through the publisher Augsburg Fortress. Entitled “Hymn Interpretations,” the book contains fourteen chorale preludes suitable for use throughout the church year. They range in complexity and length, with some pieces suitable for use as hymn introductions, and others as voluntaries. The book has been out of print for a number of years, and thus began the idea of reviving and performing this work at the AGO program on October 21, 2023 at Christ Episcopal Church in Tacoma, Washington.

Two men standing in front of audience with organ in background
David Dahl and Thomas Clark welcome the audience and introduce the program while standing in front of Brombaugh Organs Opus 22

The idea of this publication wasn’t just David’s. Norma Aamodt-Nelson, one of his former students, had just accepted a job at Augsburg Fortress. She contacted David to see if he had any interest in publishing a volume of pieces based on hymn tunes. At that time, David was performing frequently, both in recitals and hymn festivals, and had accumulated a cache of pieces that he had written for one occasion or the other. Interestingly, and for reasons unknown to David, Augsburg named each piece for a hymn text rather than following the convention of naming a piece for the tune.

man standing and holding book of music
David Dahl holds his copy of Hymn Interpretations

In considering this program, the program committee sought a mix of history, pedagogy, and performance. Rather than simply playing all of the pieces, the decision was made to select ten of them (it ended up being eleven), and for each of them, present some history of the tune, notes from the composer, and finish with a performance of the piece. In addition, for about half of them, the audience sang two verses of the hymn following the performance.

group of people posing in front of organ
A group photo of the performers Front row, left to right: Satya Jaech, Shari Shull Back row, left to right: Nancy Ferree-Clark, Tim Drewes, Thomas Clark, Cheryl Drewes, David Dahl, Kyle Haugen, Sheila Bristow, Jan Regier, Wyatt Smith

An AGO program featuring a composer and eleven organists (it ended up being ten due to illness) is definitely a Tacoma record, and could even be a record for a larger AGO scope. David made the decisions about which pieces to use, and recruited organists to play them. He helped each of the organists with interpretation and registration suggestions. He prepared his own mental notes concerning his oral presentation for each piece. The coordination of this program alone was a Herculean task!

group of people sitting in chairs in a church
Members of the Tacoma AGO chapter watch attentively as the program begins

The chosen hymn tunes represent a variety of nationalities and time periods.

Early German


This German tune, later adopted by the English, is a well known setting for several popular texts. David’s piece opens with a keyboard flourish followed by fugal treatment of the first and last lines of the hymn. Nancy Ferree-Clark offered a history of this tune. Sheila Bristow played the chorale prelude, and then accompanied two verses of the text “All Creatures of Our God and King.”

woman with microphone and woman seated on organ bench in front of an audience
Nancy Ferree-Clark gives a history of the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN while organist Sheila Bristow prepares to play

The piece was written in 1984 and dedicated to Paul Fritts and Ralph Richards upon the dedication of the Fritts-Richards organ at St. Alphonsus Parish in Seattle. David recalls that when the service began, a thurifer came down the aisle swinging incense, followed by a priest carrying holy water which he splashed on the organ. At that moment, the organ was heard for the first time: a fanfare based on the opening phrase of LASST UNS ERFREUEN, followed by a fughetta, then followed by the congregation singing with the organ. Fortunately the organ did not suffer any water damage.

woman playing the organ in front of an audience
Sheila Bristow accompanies the hymn LASST UNS ERFREUEN after playing a piece based on the tune

This piece opens with counterpoint based on the first line followed by a soprano/pedal canon that includes the first two lines and the last line of the hymn. Due to illness of the designated organist, Tom Clark played this piece following which the group sang two verses of the hymn “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.”

Man playing the organ
Thomas Clark playing David Dahl’s piece based on GROSSER GOTT

The piece is dedicated to Ruth Schepman Thorsell, a PLU organ student who became organist at a large Lutheran church in the Minneapolis area. David is not sure whether the piece was ever played there, but one must think that it was.


As David said, “If you want to get a congregation’s attention, use a trill.” And so this well known chorale setting opens with a four-measure trill over a contrapuntal setting of the first line. The history of this tune was presented by Kyle Haugen, followed by a rendition of the chorale prelude. Afterward, the attendees sang two verses of “Now Thank We All Our God” using the older, rhythmic version in which the melody notes do not have equal values.

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Kyle Haugen discusses the historical tune NUN DANKET ALLE GOTT prior to playing it

The piece was written for a hymn festival unrelated to Christ Episcopal Church, but was dedicated to Meg Mansfield who, at that time, was the assistant conductor of the Christ Church choir.


Wyatt Smith gave a history of this venerable hymn tune, then began playing the multi-tonal imitative fanfare followed by a fughetta based on the first phrase.

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Wyatt Smith selects his stops prior to playing a piece based on LOBE DEN HERREN

David doesn’t remember the occasion for which this piece was composed, but it is dedicated to Rodney Gherke, a former student. Rodney’s father invited David to the recital at which he heard his first tracker organ, a life-changing event.


Shari Shull presented a history of this tune and then, in a deviation from the established pattern, the chorale prelude was sandwiched between two sung verses. Shari accompanied the audience singing the first verse, played the chorale prelude, then accompanied the audience in singing a second verse.

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Shari Shull talks about the tune NUN KOMM DER HEIDEN HEILAND before playing it

The piece features an ostinato in the pedal with repeating themes constructed on the melodic idea of the first phrase of the tune. The piece is dedicated to organ builder John Brombaugh. It was written for and introduced at an Advent recital that David played at Central Lutheran Church in Eugene, Oregon.

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Shari Shull plays her piece based on the hymn tune NUN KOMM DER HEIDEN HEILAND

Tom Clark presented a history of this tune, including the fact that both triple meter and a duple meter versions of this tune descended from the same chant, and are named more or less the same thing in hymnals. The triple meter tune, on which David’s piece is based, has been set to multiple texts including Advent and Easter. David elected to use the Easter text during the presentation, so the attendees sang two verses of “That Easter Day with Joy was Bright” following the performance.

This tune was not written for a particular occasion, but because David wanted a “strong, festive setting” that could be used as a postlude on both Christmas and Easter. David used it numerous times as a postlude for the Christmas Eve service at Christ Episcopal Church. He dedicated this piece to Bruce Neswick both to honor him and because David was
“sure he would have no trouble playing it.”

Early French


Tim Drewes presented a detailed history of this tune, attributed to Louis Bourgeois who was born in Paris in 1510. Bourgeois later moved to Geneva and contributed to the Genevan Psalter.

man with microphone stands beside organ bench
Tim Drewes gives a history of the hymn tune RENDEZ À DIEU prior to playing his piece

David wrote this piece for the dedication of the Pasi organ at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lynnwood, WA, and dedicated it to Martin and Barbara Pasi. It is a trio based on a double ostinato between pedal and the left hand, with the melody on a cornet on the second manual.

Following David’s discussion, Tim played the musical work for the audience.

American (Southern Harmony)


Nancy Ferree-Clark discussed the history of this tune prior to playing the piece based on it. It is an early American folk tune which, in 1835, was published in Southern Harmony , a shape note hymn and tune book compiled by William “Singin’ Billy” Walker. It is most often matched with the hymn text “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy” written by Joseph Hart in 1759, a self-confessed “loose backslider and bold-faced rebel.” Nancy remembers singing this beloved hymn in the rural United Methodist church where she grew up during the call to confession or altar call.

woman seated arranging papers in folder
Nancy Ferree-Clark prepares to play the piece RESTORATION

David’s setting of this tune is equivalent to 3 stanzas of the early American hymn, making it more suitable as a stand-alone piece than a hymn introduction. It uses the techniques of canon over a descending pedal line, rhythmic and melodic alteration, and canon at the 5th over a double pedal point. It was originally written for a hymn festival but is also suitable as a prelude or postlude.


Cheryl Drewes, dean of the Tacoma chapter, presented the history of this well known tune that is almost always associated with the text “How Firm a Foundation.” This tune, one of two early American tunes featured, is from a group known as “fuguing tunes.”

In her rendition, the organ sounded surprisingly like a bagpipe thanks to some fancy ornamentation!

woman plays organ while two men look on
Cheryl Drewes preparing to perform the piece FOUNDATION with assistance from David Dahl

David dedicated this piece to Patricia Thurman Harris, organist at First Presbyterian Church, Klamath Falls, OR. The structure includes a 2-part canon and 4-part canon over a double pedal point drone. The pedal drone is intended to be a symbol of the firm foundation.

American (Contemporary)


Prior to the beginning of his tenure as organist at Christ Episcopal Church, David had never heard this contemporary American tune, but it quickly became one of his new favorites. The tune was written by Peter Cutts, born English, but who spent much of his working life in the United States (thus we can claim the tune as American!). It usually bears the text “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song.” After Jan Regier presented the history of the tune, David turned to the piano to play the melody for the audience as he began to talk about his experience with the tune.

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Jan Regier explains the history of the tune BRIDEGROOM prior to playing her piece based on it
man playing grand piano
David Dahl uses the Steinway piano to demonstrate a hymn tune

David was on a plane returning from a convention of the Association of Anglican Musicians in Houston, TX when he looked out the window, noticed the wispy clouds and thought of a bird flying and visualized his composition. It would be a good story to think that he wrote it down on a cocktail napkin, but he did it after he got home.

Following David’s introduction, Jan Regier played the composition on the organ, using flutes to render the quick fluttering figuration that suggests the flight of a bird.


Satya Jaech recalled the history of VINEYARD HAVEN, written by Richard Dirksen during his time at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, as a setting for the text “Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart.”

A woman standing in front of an organ addressing an audience
Satya Jaech discusses the history of the tune VINEYARD HAVEN prior to playing it

David does not recall a specific purpose for his composition, but his motivation was the unique melodic shape of the refrain. The composition was dedicated to Bruce Stevens, a member of the Organ Historical Society, and a champion of early American organs.

The tune is complex, as is the harmony. Satya played the tune first for the audience, then played David’s piece which includes complex rhythms of 3 against 2. The piece is suitable for use as a hymn introduction, so Satya went straight into the four-part setting of the hymn following David’s piece.


This PDF image is of the printed program. Its first page is the front and back of the program; its second page is the inside of the program. Depending on your browser, you can hover over the PDF or click on it to select the page.


Following the performances, Dean Cheryl Drewes thanked David for his contributions to the program and his contributions to music.

woman standing beside seated man with her hand on his shoulder
Tacoma AGO Dean Cheryl Drewes thanks David for his contributions

David then entertained questions from the audience. The discussion continued as the group headed to the narthex for coffee and doughnuts.

group of people in a lobby drinking coffee with man carrying shoes
Kyle Haugen carrying his organ shoes as he prepares to practice his piece


Hymn Interpretations is still out of print, but has been made available for purchase and download at the Augsburg Fortress store.

David Dahl contributed significantly to this article.


In addition to the author, photographs were provided by Cheryl Drewes, Nancy Ferree-Clark, and Loi Le.

We are grateful to the copyright holder Augsburg Fortress for giving us permission to duplicate and distribute pieces to the organists performing them, and for permission to perform these pieces in public.

Thanks also to Christ Episcopal Church for the use of their facility, the hospitality of their sexton Timothy Williams, and the splendid Brombaugh organ.

Fritts Organ at Notre Dame Completed

Paul Fritts
Paul Fritts

The organ workshop of Paul Fritts & Co. in Parkland WA has recently completed the delivery and installation of Opus 37 for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN.

The organ is the firm’s largest to date, with 69 stops and 4 manuals. There are some 5,164 pipes including a full-length 32’ Posaune in the Pedal.

The organ has numerous firsts for the company:

Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame
Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame

The majority of the pipework for the organ is made from tin/lead alloys that have been cast on sand instead of the previous method of casting the metal sheets on top of a cloth-covered slab of stone. The sand casting is a more ancient method of preparing the metal that causes the molten metal to cool much more quickly than on the stone slab. This rapid cooling causes the crystals which form in the metal as it solidifies to be much smaller than when the metal is allowed to cool more slowly. This crystal structure imparts a subtle but important character to the metal that seems to promote elegant pipe speech and a colorful sustained sound.

It is the first 4-manual organ built by the Fritts workshop.

Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame
Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame

It is the first organ by the company to incorporate both German and French reed stops on the same divisions. French reeds at 16’ and 8’ pitch in the Pedal, at 8’ and 4’ pitch in the Great and a Cromorne 8’ in the Rückpositive join the Cavaille-Coll style Hautbois 8’ in the Swell to add substantially to the ability of the organ to play French literature.

There is also a Renaissance-style Trompet 8’ in the Swell which is patterned after those built by the great North German Scherer family of organ builders.

The organ makes use of “thermally-modified” lumber in the playing action (keyboards, backfall levers, couplers, etc.) as well as in the windchests for sliders and toeboards. This material is the result of a new way of treating wood that has been cured at a high temperature in kilns where the oxygen has been removed to prevent the wood from burning. The high temperatures cause the cells of the wood to seal off effectively, making the wood resistant to absorbing or giving off moisture and thus remaining very stable dimensionally. The result is that dimensionally-critical parts of the organ remain stable throughout seasonal swings in the humidity level.

The organ is also the first to use carbon fiber rods as trackers throughout the instrument. These, too, are entirely impervious to humidity changes,  which is especially important in a large instrument with very long tracker runs. An added benefit is their lower mass.

Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame
Paul Fritts Opus 37 at Notre Dame

As in all of the larger Fritts organs, the Notre Dame instrument has “dual” stop action. The stop action is first and foremost mechanical with the drawknobs being physically attached to the windchest sliders. Electric solenoids can move the stops when thumb pistons or toe studs are depressed. These solenoids are controlled by a sophisticated computer system that has 999 levels of memory, meaning that all of the pistons and toe studs can be set 999 different times. Additionally, this is the first use of so-called “intelligent” solenoids that incorporate optical sensors to monitor the movement of the solenoid during the actual motion. If the solenoid is moving too slowly, the computer can send additional amperage to speed up the movement. It can also slow down a solenoid that is moving too quickly. The motion of the solenoid is also monitored to reduce the current as the slider reaches the end of its travel to quiet the system.

The organ was set up in the Basilica and voiced and tuned very quickly and efficiently. The entire process, from the unloading of the trucks to the tuning of the final pipe, required just 81 days. Preparation of the organ in the workshop along with the shop voicing of the flue pipes, and especially the careful voicing of the reed pipes on the actual windchests in the organ in the shop, contributed substantially to the savings of time during the installation.

Both the visual and sonic impacts of the organ in the Basilica have exceeded the expectations of all involved in the project. It is hoped that the organ will serve as an inspiration for both worship in the Basilica and for the organ students and other performers for many generations to come.

Bruce Shull
Bruce Shull

Please stop by the Basilica to see and hear the new instrument if you are in the South Bend area.

Bruce Shull

Erik McLeod
Erik McLeod

Listen to Erik McLeod improvising on some of the “bigger sounds” of the Notre Dame organ.

New AGO Website

In order to expand functionality and flexibility, we have migrated the Tacoma AGO website to the WordPress web framework.  The URL will remain

To Gain Access

  • Navigate to
  • In the login block at the bottom of the menu column on the left, select the “Lost Password” link
  • Enter the email address on file at (the national site)
  • A password change link will be emailed to you
  • If your email address on is not correct, you must change it before you can get access to our chapter site; it takes about a day for the update to propagate locally

Summary of New Features

  • Members will be able to log in to see additional features, such as the membership directory and private locations that are not shown to the public.  Members will also be able to add events to the calendar, submit articles, post classified ads, and participate in forum discussions on various topics.  Your AGO executive committee is working on a plan for editing and maintaining content.
  • Members can log in with either their email address or their national AGO membership number, and the password established at the time of the first login.  Corrections to email addresses, names, addresses, telephone numbers and other preferences should be made on the AGO National site.  They will be automatically propagated to our local site.
  • The calendar will be updated continuously as events are sent to us.  It is possible to subscribe to the calendar so that you don’t have to manually update your own calendar.  Details are available in an article on the site.
  • The newsletter will still be emailed monthly.  It will be a summary of all of the articles posted since the last newsletter, along with the calendar.  You don’t have to wait until the newsletter comes out to see the news.  It will show up gradually on the website.  Check it regularly!
  • The email addresses formerly used to contact officers (such as and submit events and articles are discontinued.  Members can look up other members’ email addresses in the membership directory, which is visible after logging in.  Non-members will use the Contact widget located on the main menu bar.  Members will be able to submit their own events and articles, including pictures.  Instructions will be forthcoming.

Many thanks to Paul Tegels for maintaining an excellent web site for the past four years.  All of the information from that site is being migrated to the new site, including articles and all of the newsletters published since Paul has been archiving them.  They will be indexed and searchable by date or by content.  Paul will be on sabbatical for a few months but, upon his return, will continue to work on web content along with other volunteers.

Pipe Organ Encounter (Technical)

POE Technical Report, Tacoma AGO Chapter
July 21 – 26, 2013
Submitted by Shari Shull, POET Director

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Shari Shull, Program Director

Nineteen students from ten states, Japan, and France arrived at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, on Sunday afternoon to participate in the POE Technical event. The Tacoma AGO Chapter collaborated with the Paul Fritts Organ Shop and the Martin Pasi Organ Shop to present the POE Tech week that included hands-on organbuilding and visits to 12 pipe organs.

Dr. Paul Tegels, Pacific Lutheran University organ professor, presented the opening concert at PLU, demonstrating the Brombaugh positive and the Fritts Concert Hall organ, opus 18. Following the concert, Bruce Shull, organ shop coordinator, unveiled the portative organ prototype that he designed for the POE Tech. Bruce’s announcement that the students would build one of these instruments during the week was met with amazement from the audience and excitement from the students. The first evening concluded with the students playing the two PLU instruments.

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POE Tech Volunteers

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David Dahl demonstrates the Brombaugh organ at Christ Episcopal Church

On Monday, time at the Fritts Shop included each student gluing up a wooden pipe, demonstrations of woodworking machines, and pipe voicing. PLU organ professor emeritus, David Dahl, gave a PowerPoint presentation of slides and musical examples titled, “A European Organ Odyssey.” The day concluded with Naomi Shiga demonstrating the Fritts organ, opus 8, at University of Puget Sound, and David Dahl demonstrating the Brombaugh organ at Christ Church Episcopal, Tacoma.


“What a wonderful way to insure that classic organbuilding skills are passed down to future generations.”  –Shari Shull


Time at the Pasi Shop on Tuesday included each student making action parts for the portative organ.

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Martin Pasi addresses the students

Demonstrations of pipe metal casting, sawmilling logs, metal pipemaking, tuning and temperaments filled the day. Organs by Schlicker and Kilgen at Trinity Lutheran Church in Tacoma were demonstrated by Dr. Jonathan Wohlers. Students played the organs in the evening.

Wednesday was our Seattle day. A visit to St. James Cathedral began the day with a demonstration of the Rosales and Hutchings-Votey organs given by cathedral musician, Joseph Adam. Dr. Mel Butler, cathedral musician, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral demonstrated the Flentrop organ in the nave and also the Fritts Chapel organ, opus 22, and the Pasi continuo organ, opus 8.

The POE Tech students and chaperones visited the Seattle Center and the Space Needle for some sightseeing in the afternoon. The group continued on to Lynnwood, Washington, where Dr. Carole Terry, organ professor at University of Washington, gave a concert on the Pasi Organ, opus 4, at Trinity Lutheran Church.

A return to the Fritts Shop on Thursday gave the students time to complete their wooden pipes following a voicing demonstration. Other demonstrations included computer CAD design, reed pipemaking and woodturning.

A visit to the Wurlitzer theatre organ at the Levine home in Gig Harbor gave the students a different view of highly specialized organbuilding and an opportunity to hear and play a large theatre organ.

Dr. Dana Robinson, organ professor at the University of Illinois, demonstrated the Fritts organ, opus 7, at Paul Fritts’ home. After the demonstration, students and staff enjoyed a pizza dinner. A drawing was held for the completed portative organ that the students had been building all week. One lucky student won the portative organ and all students made a wooden organ pipe to take home during the week.

The evening ended with Amadeus on the big screen. And the entire POE Tech event concluded on Friday with Sandra Tietjen and Shari Shull demonstrating the Fritts organ, opus 30, located in the Tietjen home.

The POE Tech students were a congenial group, interacting well with each other by taking turns playing the organs the group visited and working together in the organ shops. An exciting week was had by all with many students asking if there might be a POE Tech offered every year.

Special thanks go to the planning team and the following organizations and individuals for their support: National AGO, Tacoma AGO Chapter, Seattle AGO Chapter, Olympic Peninsula AGO Chapter, Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society, Al and Betsy Buck, David Dahl, Paul Fritts, Martin Pasi, Bruce and Shari Shull.