February 2017 Newsletter


February 2017

In This Issue


By Kari Miller

“A watched pot never boils.” “Birds of a feather flock together.” “Better late than never.” These short pithy sayings, commonly known as “proverbs,” give a piece of advice or state a general truth which can be applied in everyday life. We all have dozens of them bouncing around in our heads; we have heard them since our childhoods, from parents and grandparents, teachers and the kid next door. Most are anonymous, passed down from generation to generation, and many exist in slightly varied forms in different cultures. One can find an apt proverb for almost any situation in life. Besides the ubiquitous “practice makes perfect,” which we all live with one way or another, and the reality that “time is money,” the essence of a church musician’s life is encapsulated in the adage “hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” And who among us has not learned, through bitter experience, the truth that “failing to plan is planning to fail”?

Here are some useful (and colorful) proverbial suggestions that are sure to help you sail through the next tedious staff meeting. Perhaps you are dealing with a rosy-eyed, unrealistic member of the clergy - you can simply remind him (or her) that “fine words butter no parsnips.” For the excessive or bombastic talker, an appropriate comment might be “empty vessels make the most noise.” (Depending on who is doing the talking, however, you might want to keep that one to yourself if you value your job.) Some good, all-purpose advice might be: “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” And of course, when meeting with the finance committee one always has to keep in mind, whether one likes it or not, that “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” On the other hand, you are well within your rights to quote the Greek proverb, “from a broken violin do not expect fine music.”

Later, at choir rehearsal, you can tell yourself, as you look out over the half-empty soprano section and listen to your only good tenor coughing and sneezing, that “half a loaf is better than no bread.” (Although inwardly you are seething, thinking that you really deserve better and that “those who sleep with dogs will rise with fleas.”) The best advice here has to be to lighten up, do what you can, and remember that “laughter is the best medicine.”

So rich and broad is the store of proverbs that someday you may find yourself on the receiving end of a really good one. There’s always that ill-informed parishioner who thinks that “when the music changes, so does the dance.” As in: if only you played different music, not such boring stuff, more (or younger, or better, or livelier) people would come. In self-defense, you can come back with “those who can’t dance say the music is no good,” or the Yiddish version, “if the bride can’t dance, she blames the musicians.” However you decide to handle it, the good news is that all do seem to agree with the Irish proverb, “Poor is the church without music.”

Back to the top

Next Chapter Event - Joint Organ Recital

On Friday, March 3, 2017 at 7:30 pm, Alexander Pattavina (left) and Daniel Ficarri (right), two rising talents from Juilliard, will be presented in joint recital at St. James’s Episcopal Church, West Hartford. Watch for more details in an email blast later this month!

Members' Recital Review

By Alan MacMillan

A richly varied organ recital by members of the Greater Hartford Chapter of the A.G.O. was hosted by Trinity College, Hartford on Saturday evening January 28th in Mather Chapel. Appropriately, the recital was dedicated to the memory of “our beloved colleague and friend” David Spicer who had passed away just over a week before. Dean Kari Miller shared a brief but warm tribute to David which I’m sure spoke for all of us who knew him.

The 3 manual, 79 rank Austin organ of 1971 is a favorite of organ music lovers in the area and this recital certainly demonstrated why. The moderately reverberant acoustic of the chapel allows for a pleasing clarity of passage work yet retains enough ambience for a rich blend of sounds. This was apparent from the first dramatic utterance in the Franck Choral in a minor, played masterfully throughout by Ezequiel Menendez.

Edward Bairstow’s two movement Sonata in E flat is a rarity which proved to be the ideal vehicle to demonstrate virtually every conceivable registration of which the instrument is capable; I dare say with more clarity than the composer himself would have heard in his beloved, highly reverberant York Minster. A fanfare from the Trompette en chamade provided one of many dazzling moments in the performance and Vaughn Mauren proved equal to the task as interpreter of this difficult and colorful work.

What would an organ recital be without Bach? He was well represented by Natasha Ulyanovsky’s energetic performance of The Prelude and Fugue in a minor. Clearly this Prelude was the muse behind the Franck Choral, the two works beginning with nearly identical figures. The intriguing fugue subject, which manages a sense of off-beat rhythm within a string of even 16th notes, never ceases to delight and amaze. By way of contrast, Ms. Ulyanovsky turned next to music of Max Reger: Consolation, Op. 65 . The initial “consoling” string writing in this work gave way, in seeming contradiction to the title, to a busy contrapuntal middle section of characteristic Regerian angst. A return to the peaceful opening material featured the gentle celestes and a final satisfying rumble from the 32’ Bourdon.

The combination of cello and organ proved to be a most commodious pairing in Margreeth Ch. De Jong’s Sonate, performed by Kathy Schiano, cello with Christa Rakich at the organ. New to Ms. De Jong’s music, I was tempted at first to place her style somewhere between Fauré and Poulenc; or more appropriately I should say, between Chaminade and Tailleferre. By the end of the brilliant last movement: Fuga, however, I was certain I’d misjudged entirely. Subsequent research revealed her to be the contemporary, prolific and highly honored Dutch organist and composer that she is. This introduction to her music was heightened indeed by the well-matched and lovely ensemble playing of the artists.

The American organist and prolific composer Charles Callahan’s six movement Partita on “Slane” provided further glimpses into the myriad registral possibilities of the instrument. Peter Niedmann gave a fine performance in spite of one or two small interruptions by recalcitrant pipes. Peter followed up with a tribute to the late rock keyboardist Keith Emerson with his “Clotho” from The Three Fates, originally recorded by the composer in 1970 on the Harrison and Harrison organ of Newcastle City Hall in England. A fanfare gesture alternating with pedal reeds opened the piece followed by a scurrying section on flute stops, evoking, perhaps, the spinning of the cloth of human life by the “Clotho” of Greek mythology.

As frequently as it shows up in recitals and on occasions of various sorts, one never tires of marveling at Duruflé’s Prélude et Fugue sur le Nom d’Alain. Containing arguably the finest fugue subject of modern times and including, in seemingly effortless fashion, the theme from Jehan Alain’s “Litanies” in various places and guises, the work never fails to astonish and please. Susan Carroll finished the recital with a brilliant performance.

I would have happily listened to another hour of playing from such fine performers on such a versatile and beautiful instrument.

Cellist Kathy Schiano joined Greater Hartford Chapter members Peter Niedmann, Christa Rakich, Natasha Ulyanovsky, Susan Carroll, Vaughn Mauren, and Ezequiel Menéndez in a members' organ recital at Trinity College Chapel on January 28.

Photos by Dale Eberhardt

Back to the top

Thoughts about
David Spicer

Our chapter colleague David Spicer died on January 18 following a long struggle with cancer. He was the Minister of Music and the Arts at First Church of Christ in Wethersfield and a founder of the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival, an organ competition held at his church for many years. He was also an active member of our chapter and beloved by many of us.

In the days following David’s death, there were many testimonials to him on Facebook from choir members, students, parishioners and colleagues. They all, in one way or another, focused on his generosity of spirit. Known as “Uncle Spicer” within his church community, David was also a friend to every organ student and every colleague that stepped within his orbit. As host of our chapter’s PPP in 2015, David enchanted the children with his stories and his tour of his church’s musical treasures, including the church tower bell and a monster-sized handbell, all while wearing a Santa Claus-like sweater with a huge musical notation motif. In her comments at the recent members’ recital dedicated to him, Kari Miller noted that he was a man of high talent who shared his love of music with the humblest of musicians.

Two of our colleagues shared their thoughts.

By John Rose

Near or at the top of David's professional passions was his enthusiastic and unrelenting promotion of the organ to people of all ages. His unfettered style of hymn playing in the grand tradition of his teacher, Alexander McCurdy along with inspiration from Virgil Fox, was undeniably infectious. When he led (not accompanied) hymns, the congregation and choirs were "all in." It was impossible not to be.

Another arm of his tireless commitment to sharing his love of the organ was his co-founding and shepherding the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival for almost twenty years. His foresight in recent years to expand the festival beyond the walls of his First Church of Christ in Wethersfield guarantees its future as a major organ competition for Hartford. We his friends and colleagues were inspired by his ever present optimism and formidable talents. His honored legacy is assured.

By Lad Pfeifer

David Spicer was influencing my musical life for years and we had never seen each other eye to eye. While driving to church on Sunday mornings I would listen to WJMJ on the radio and would hear the radio broadcast from the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield. The program opened with David's classic rendition of Lift High the Cross. What caught my attention for several years was David's hymn playing on the program. David made hymns special. It is as simple as that. One could hear many fine organists from various churches over the air waves, but hymns played by David were always moments of inspiration. Every so often there would be periods of my life when I would devote extra time to the hymns and it was always because I had listened to David on the radio.
Eventually, I was able to actually meet him when he gave a workshop for the AGO in Hartford. I always remember two things from that day. He liked to quote an organist who exclaimed "You're practicing the hymns? For Christ's sake what are you doing that for?" and the reply was "If not for Christ's sake then for whose sake?" David was very devout and firm in faith. He strongly believed in practicing the hymns for Christ's sake. He was convinced that they were a powerful avenue where many met God. He finished that workshop with our National Hymn 'God Of Our Fathers' as only he could do and I have remembered it ever since.
Last summer David taught at the POE for the Springfield Chapter. He was not as robust as in the past, but still strongly dedicated to bringing people to God through hymns and the organ. He was courageous and very open with the young students about the art of organ playing, his health, and spiritual life. It takes a man of great inner strength to ask a group of teenagers to pray for him. 
Where I work there is a saying that no one will remember your name five minutes after you are gone. Because of David's passion for hymn playing I will be remembering him to every student and to myself whenever I play a hymn for the rest of my life. Priests, ministers, and organists come and go, but David left an indelible mark that will be long remembered.

A memorial service for David will be held on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 11:00 a.m. at the First Church of Christ, 250 Main St., Wethersfield. Donations in his memory may be made to the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival/USA, 31 Church St., Wethersfield, CT 06109.

Back to the top

Jolidon Fund Deadlines

By Suzanne Hertel

A reminder for Grants for Individual Projects:     
  • March 1, 2017 – Deadline for applications for 2017-2018 events, scheduled between September 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018.
  • April 1, 2017 – Applications reviewed.
  • May 1, 2017 – Announcements of grants.
Events must include the use of the organ.
Application forms are found on the Chapter website.

Back to the top

Upcoming Educational Events

Pedals, Pipes, and Pizza

On Saturday, March 18, 2017 the Waterbury Chapter AGO will be sponsoring a Pedals, Pipes, and Pizza event. This program is designed to teach students with basic piano skills about the organ. Pianists from second grade through high school are invited. The program will be at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Bristol from 11 am to 3 pm. Kids will be introduced to the instrument; then they will have time to ask questions and explore the instrument, so be sure to bring some fun music! Register at Email Ally Barone ( or Bill Degan ( with any questions!

Pipe Organ Encounter

Our chapter's Pipe Organ Encounter takes place July 16 - 21, 2017. Hosted at Trinity College, the event will showcase many of Hartford's finest organs, the Austin Organ factory, and the many great instruments at Yale University. POE is designed for teenagers, ages 13-18, who have achieved an intermediate level of keyboard proficiency. We will need many chapter members to volunteer to help make this a great success! For more details or to volunteer contact Vaughn Mauren at

Summer programs at Indiana University

Third Annual Sacred Music Intensive

Taught by faculty from the Jacobs School of Music, the course supplies continuing education enrichment to church musicians who seek a supportive and stimulating environment in which to sharpen skills and engage new concepts and repertoire.
June 5 - 9, 2017
Sacred Music Intensive
Open to church musicians aged 18 and older.
More Info
Inaugural Jacobs Organ Academies

Both academies are designed for the inquisitive and motivated organ student who seeks a week of engagement with artist faculty, the stimulation of encountering new ideas, opportunities to perform on outstanding instruments, and the camaraderie of other organists.
July 17 - 21, 2017
Pre-College Organ Academy
Open to organists and keyboardists ages 13-17.
More Info 

July 24 - 28, 2017
Collegiate Organ Academy
Open to collegiate students, recent graduates, or college-bound students ages 18 and older.
More Info

Back to the top

The Tool Box

By Mike Foley

After 50 years in the organ business, I’ve come to see a lot of churches and cannot help but notice that most Catholic churches no longer have their original pipe organs. Generations back, these churches were normally open and used every day—all day. Oil was cheap and therefore their central heating systems were often set at 70 degrees, 24/7. Seventy degrees downstairs usually equated to about 75-80 in the choir balcony. The resulting dryness baked the organ’s wood components causing cracks, leaks, dead stop actions and runs that led to the organ’s demise. Remember, most of these original organs were trackers and wood made up about 90% of the instrument. Needless to say, churches of any denomination that created such a dry environment would also bake their instrument.
However, there was often another difference in Catholic churches. Most of them had full basements with concrete floors. The reason being that the lower levels also served as a type of second nave for the frequent overflow at Sunday masses. Lower levels of many Protestant churches served as basements, or at least partial basements. Many, if not most, had undercrofts with dirt floors. That dirt represented a natural humidity system for the entire building. In addition, these sanctuaries were often only used on weekends and therefore, the heating levels were reduced when the church was unoccupied. The resulting higher humidity saved the lives of many an original organ.
Today, when the dirt floors are dug out and surfaced with concrete, the building’s humidity often plummets putting everything wood---pianos, organs, pews and trusses---into humidity shock. These building modifications are now so common that, about 25 years ago, the organ industry starting taking a serious look at somehow humidifying a pipe organ….from the inside out. There are many applications and some have worked well. Serious building dryness can ruin or at least compromise the best of pipe organs…pianos too.

Back to the top
View Online Calendar to see chapter and other local events

Event Calendar
Submit your event with our online form by clicking on the button below or from our chapter website.
Submit Event
Job Listings are now available on our chapter website. To post a job opening, contact   
Job Listings
Chapter Board

Dean - Kari Miller
Sub-Dean - Peter Niedmann
Secretary - Noah Smith

Treasurer - John Coghill
Registrar - Mark Child
Alan MacMillan
Mary DeLibero
Vaughn Mauren

Newsletter Editors
Edward Clark
Joan Pritchard

Job Listing Service
Kari Miller

Ally Barone
Copyright © 2017 Greater Hartford Chapter American Guild of Organists, All rights reserved.

unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp