For the past several years I have been a member of the Utah Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. That’s our official name; which sounds a lot more stuffy than what my husband calls us—the Utah Valley Organ Geeks.
The purpose of the American Guild of Organists (commonly referred to as AGO) is “to promote the organ…to encourage excellence in…performance…and to provide a forum for mutual support….”
Our chapter calendar in past years has included some great activities, including: hands-on experience with the BYU Carillon, an organ crawl at the LDS Conference Center, member recitals and lectures & demonstrations on accompanying a choir, organ teaching techniques and playing baroque music on modern organs.
Among the highlights of my 5-year membership is having the opportunity to play many of the larger organs in the area, including: the Provo Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Tabernacle and the Cathedral of the Madeleine. (Click on an image for enlarged carousel viewing.)
These things have been enjoyable and have made for some real impressive Facebook posts. But it’s just stuff we’ve done. I think the real important part of the chapter is not found in our calendars, but in our hearts—it’s who we are.
Unfortunately, the American Guild of Organists can sound pretty intimidating. After all, its local membership includes an impressive list of well-trained, professional teachers, performers and composers of organ music. However, the membership also includes people who are not that impressive—like me! I’m just a lowly amateur pianist who, less than 7 years ago, in a moment of immense faith or temporary insanity, told my bishop, “Yes. I will learn to play the organ.” And now I’m the dean of the Utah Valley Organ Geeks. Sometimes I wonder, “What am I doing here?”
Last year I was working with Don Cook, organ & carillon professor at BYU, to put together an AGO event. Multiple copies of a particular piece of music were needed for the event. So Don sent out an email to a large number of people asking if they had a copy that he could use for a day. When I received the email, I looked at the list of people to whom he had sent his request. They were people you would expect a professional organist with a doctorate to send emails to—other professional organists with doctorates. I scanned the list and saw Richard Elliott, Andrew Unsworth, Robert Cundick and other tabernacle organists and well-known composers. And then there was my name. The song from Sesame Street went through my mind, “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn’t belong.”
But the amazing thing is that I do belong. My lack of formal musical training has nothing to do with my love of music and my ability to promote the organ, to encourage excellence in performance and to provide a forum for mutual support. I belong. And if you have any spark of passion at all for the organ, or even just a desire to have passion, you belong, too.