Kansas City: Day 4

11:00am: Strategic Planning Meeting

Over the past year, the guild has undertaken the intense and intensive work of developing a strategic plan. Vice President Eileen Hunt presented on itnlast night at the annual meeting and introduced it again this morning.  

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We split up into small groups and discussed various questions, such as: What do you value? What suggestions do you have for chapters? How is your chapter’s relationship with National?  

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I would also encourage you to comment on these ideas in the comments below!  

12:00pm: Lunch with Regional Councillors

One of the greatest delights of my first few days as RC has been the time of story-sharing, advice, and humor with my fellow RCs (formally known as the Board of Regional Councillors). There are seven of us, one for each of the regions:

  • Vicki Schaeffer (Southwest Region)
  • Matthew Burt (West Region) 
  • Wayne Wold (Mid-Atlantic Region) 
  • Sue Mitchell-Wallace (Southeast Region) 
  • Karl Bruhn (Great Lakes Region)
  • Karen Black (North Central Region)
  • and moi! 

We have had a number of meetings this week but this was the first time that the 7 of us sat down together, just us. We newbies were able to ask all the questions that had been swirling in our heads and the incumbent RCs have been nothing but gracious, welcoming, and encouraging. It is such a comfort to know that there are colleagues in the same position that can support and help one another. 

2:30pm: A (much needed) nap! 

Y’all... let me tell you: conventions are a marathon, not a sprint! The late nights, high heat, and busy schedule means that at some point, you will need a nap. Do not fight it... do not resist it... do not pass go... just give yourself a little break and you will feel energized and ready to go to the end of the week 😊 

4:00pm: PipeDreams Live @ Community of Christ Auditorium  

Such an exciting event! This multi-hour program featured Michael Unger and the winners of the 2017 AGO/Quimby Regional Competitions for Young Organists:

  • Ben Kerswell (North Central Region)
  • Clara Gerdes (Mid-Atlantic Region) 
  • Dominic Pang (West Region) 
  • Matthew Bickett (Great Lakes Region) 
  • Jiaqi Shao (Northeast Region) 
  • Bruce Xu (Southeast Region) 
  • Collin Miller (Southwest Region)

Naturally, I was particularly keen to support Ms. Shao from our very own Northeast Region!

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She played absolutely beautifully! She is currently a student at the Eastman School of Music, studying with David Higgs. 

7:30pm: Todd Wilson @ Community of Christ Temple

Firstly, what a cool building! As you approach it, it twists out of the ground like an inverted twister... seemingly appropriate for this part of the country!  

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Inside, it is no less dramatic. The ceiling goes right up into that spiral, which has an almost seashell-like appearance from this angle: 

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The organ is a 1993 Casavant and is a beautiful pale wood color that is simultaneously soothing and uplifting. 

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As you might imagine, a very special relationship exists between teacher and student. In my case, having studied with Todd for my undergraduate degree at the Cleveland Institute of Music has created a distinct “rock star” and “fan” dynamic. (Haha!) It’s one of my favorite things to hear Todd play and today was no exception!

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Jean Baptiste Robin’s new work was absolutely captivating- using the metaphor of time and the impressions of clock sounds made for a dramatic piece. 

Closing with the Duruflé Suite  was ambitious, to say the least. But in true Todd-style, his “calm focus” (the motto he used to write on the top of my music) carried the incredible work with only the called-for drama. 

10:00pm: AGOYO meeting

This time, I was here to just listen! AGOYO Convener Jillian Gardner led a session with her fellow young organists. Did you know that any AGO member under 30 is automatically an AGOYO? It’s technically a membership category and is such an exciting new(er) program. You’ll hear more about this soon! 

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Kansas City: Day 3

Everyone has a different convention experience... this is mine! 

8:00am: Regional Meeting

Let's be real: anyone that gets up early at convention (read: late nights!) for a regional meeting is a particularly dedicated sort of individual. Despite the promise of a free breakfast buffet, it is a tough sell on the best of days. Which is why I was so impressed with our Northeast region that we had so many wonderful attendees to our meeting! 

Our outgoing RC Cheryl Duerr organized a great meeting: she updated us on the goings-on of the region (how many chapters, what membership numbers are), discussed the POE for the coming year in Cape Cod (and the one this year in FINLAND!), encouraged support of of young people, and put together great door prized (Amazon gifts cards! Free convention registration!)

For my part, I told the group about this blog (hi!), the new website, the instagram account (@agonortheast), and the newsletter. I expressed how communication isn't perhaps the most glamorous of initiatives but it's the foundation upon which we can grow and thrive. My goal is to make it so easy to communicate with one another: you to me (via email, instagram, this website) and me to you (the newsletter, this blog) so that you can stay informed on what is going on and have a voice in the future of your guild. 

 Our brave early-morning attendees! Thanks for coming!

Our brave early-morning attendees! Thanks for coming!

11:30am: COMDACS Presentation

For the past five years, I've had the privilege of serving on COMDACS (Committee on Membership Development and Chapter Support... you can see why we don't use the full name!). This is such a vital committee and I think can serve a critical role where our members are concerned. So many people are worried (rightfully so) about the decline in our numbers (not on in the AGO but across the field) and so supporting those members and ensuring they feel as valued as they are is important. 

For the presentation, each of us gave a short talk. I had the first part and I wanted to focus on the reason people joined the guild; what impetus caused them to join the guild in the first place! 

We had an exciting group discussion in which members shared who/what/why they joined. A fascinating part of this was the discovery that no two stories were alike! There is no magic wand; there is no single solution.

I'm including my slides here, in case you're interested:

12:15pm: Lunch with National Council

What an incredible group of dedicated individuals! I am honored to (sort of) be listed among them... (since the AGO restructuring, the RCs elect a representative who sits on National Council. It’s lovely not to have to attend all those meetings). The group for lunch today was made up of national council members, plus outgoing and incoming regional councilors... it was a warm time of togetherness. 

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2:00pm: Chelsea Chen recital @ Kauffman Center

Chelsea Chen is a marvel; this we all know. She has such a way of programming pieces that you are continually engaged, entertained, and moved. 

3:30pm: Hymn Festival - "The Peaceable Kingdom"

Tonight's hymn festival was absolutely inspiring, touching, and meaningful! The creativity of the team that put it together cannot be understated. 

Anton Armstrong (of St. Olaf) led a choir made up of members of both the Kansas City Chorale and Spire. The hymn festival centered on social justice and the plight of the refuge. We sang of freedom, of hope, of despair, and action. What struck me was how the leaders of this festival had certainly planned this months in advance... yet it was so incredibly timely.  

 Handbells!

Handbells!

5:00pm: BBQ Dinner

Nommmmm...

 Need I say more?!

7:00pm: Annual Meeting

I was particularly looking forward to the annual meeting this year (shocking, I know!) because it was the official start of my role as Regional Councillor! Myself, along with the newly elected national council and regional council members were installed in a short ceremony by our chaplain Don Saliers. 

 Vice President Eileen Hunt

Vice President Eileen Hunt

9:00pm: Meeting with AGOYO Leadership

Our region is so lucky to have a team of vibrant AGOYO leaders! Anthony Rispo (co-chair), Janet Yieh (co-chair), Katelyn Emerson, and Michael Hey are brimming with great ideas to benefit not only our young members but engage and encourage all AGO members! You’ll hear more from me (and directly from them!) soon.  

Kansas City: Day 2

Everyone has a different convention experience... this is mine!

8:00am: Tech & Planning

I'll be honest: this morning was less than glamorous. Even though I am away at the AGO convention, life back home moves along and Sunday waits for no (wo)man! So planning was the name of the game. (Yes... I should have done that before I left town. I know I know!)

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In addition, I was finishing up yesterday's blog post and working on a promo video for Wednesday's Northeast Regional Meeting & BREAKFAST... Did I mention there's free breakfast?! You should come! We're going to show this video during the meeting to give people a taste of the 2019 Buffalo/Niagara convention. But what-the-hey, I'll embed it here, too!

3:30pm: Bach Vespers

Less than 24 hours later, we have the pleasure of hearing Spire Chamber Ensemble again! This time performing with the Spire Baroque Orchestra at Visitation Catholic Church, the performance was as bouyant as last night’s was ethereal yet no less moving. 

The first motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied  (Sing to the Lord a New Song), was jubilant. The athletic singing in no way got in the way of the soaring lines and generous phrases. 

 Spire Chamber Ensemble at Visitation Church

Spire Chamber Ensemble at Visitation Church

Here’s my question: is there anything more transcendent than a perfect Bach chorale? Methinks not! 

6:00pm: Dinner & a meeting! 

I had the fun opportunity to sit down with a couple of our AGOYO members (that’s American Guild of Organists Young Organists) and talk about how we can best serve our younger (under 30 members) in finding community within our organization. I remember being a young organist, about 14 or so, and knowing only one other organist my age. He was such a source of inspiration to me but it felt like we were both missing out on the wider community. Not until I started my undergraduate studies did I find the joy of sharing in what you do with a whole group of people! AGOYO is in the unique position of being able to foster that amazing feeling for so many younger organists who might not have any organist peers in their area. 

7:00 Vincent Dubois @ St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church

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This organ recital featured a world premiere (the convention is stock full of them!) by Cecilia McDowall titled O Antiphon Sequence. It’s seven movements “is structured on one of the seven notes of the diatonic scale in a ‘circle of fifths’ formation and each movement is a response to a short extract of the [corresponding] O Antiphon text.”

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8:30pm: Douglas Cleveland @ Village Presbyterian Church 

There were two highlights in this wonderful program: David Briggs' Tierces from his "Four Concert Etudes" and Pamela Decker's world premiere of Seven Last Words and Triumph of Christ. 

I swear that after Mr. Briggs piece, you could see the organ smoking! Mr. Cleveland put it through its paces and showed off a remarkable technique and control. Now excuse me while I go find a copy of that...

The Seven Last Words and Triumph of Christ was performed with a quartet of contemporary dancers. Performing first in dark raspberry and then changing to brilliant white for the triumphant toccata, the dancers enriched the music and added depth and visual interest to the storytelling. 

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(Hopefully) off to be early with me tonight... go to get ready for the 8:00am regional meeting tomorrow! I do hope you're coming... there are door prizes! (Including a free registration to next year's regional convention in Buffalo!)

Kansas City: Day 1

Everyone has a different convention experience.... here is mine!

5:00pm: Meeting of incoming & outgoing Regional Councillors

This convention is the first "official" event I have as the new Regional Councillor (RC). As a welcome to Kansas City and as a thank you to the outgoing RCs, we had a meeting of all of us together. It was a really special time of sharing and learning about each other. Many of the of outgoing RCs had served their maximum 3 terms (6 years!) and were ending their term on such a positive and generous note. We newbies felt so encouraged and welcomed. 

As a fun project, we filmed this short video for the upcoming annual meeting! (I joke that in my church job, I'm know as "Tech Girl", so it was only appropriate that I help out with the filming. You'll see my short-girl attempt at keeping everyone in frame, despite having to simply hold the camera (read: phone) in the air. I think the video turned out great! The AGO is lucky to have so many dedicated, hard-working folks.

6:15pm: Bus to Helzberg Hall

The meeting ended right on time so that we take the bus to the venue for the evening's Opening Celebration concerts at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. As any convention-goer knows, the bus situation can make-or-break a convention experience... and by the looks of things this evening, we are in great hands! The communication was easy and direct and we knew exactly where to go and how to find the buses after the event. (It might sound like a minor thing, but the moving of people from place to place is one of the most complicated elements of a convention). 

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Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts

6:45pm: Remembering Dr. John Obetz

The evening's programing started with a special dedicatory program for Dr. John Obetz, who dedicated his career to spreading music through his radio broadcast from the headquarters of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now the Community of Christ). Organist Jan Kraybill played music from the weekly broadcast (excerpts from BWV 542 & 734) while a narrated video showed images from the broadcast and from the organ. This was such a meaningful time to those who knew Dr. Obetz and was a beautiful introduction for those of us who didn't  get the chance. 

 (Ignore the empty seats in the front... concert attendees sat in the balconies for better views & acoustics)

(Ignore the empty seats in the front... concert attendees sat in the balconies for better views & acoustics)

7:00pm: Opening Concert: "Remembrance & Reconciliation"

Wow! I am still processing the experience of this program. As this years marks 100 years since the end of World War I (otherwise known as "The Great War" or "The War to End All Wars"), we had the opportunity to experience music that was directly inspired by these terrible events. John Muehleisen's A Kipling Passion, the world premiere of Ben Spalding's The Great War Requiem, plus new hymn arrangements by Zachary Wadsworth, John Bell, David Cherwien, and Richard Webster created space and boundaries for us to experience the impact of this war. 

Punctuating the music was a stunning narration by Dr. Matthew Naylor. Using historical accounts and personal reflection, Dr. Naylor guided us through what could have been a perilous journey. From the beginning of the war to its optimistic peace, we experienced the cynicism that only hindsight could bring: that this war did not end all wars. That this peace was temporary and human nature would once again cause irrevocable damage to our world and its inhabitants. 

I was once again reminded of the power of congregational song. The hymns not only allowed the audience to stand and participate, it made us part of the story. In the way that a Greek chorus is participatory in a play, we were active in the remembrance. We sang "What shall we pray for those who died, those on whose death our lives relied? Silenced by war but not denied, God give them peace."   In that same hymn by John Bell (hymn tune: KINGSTON), veterans and active military personnel sang the third verse: "What shall we pray for those who know nothing of war, and cannot show grief or regret for friend or foe? God give them peace."

 Golden hour at the Kauffman Center 

Golden hour at the Kauffman Center 

8:45pm: Kansas City Chorale

After a brief intermission, we were treated to a second concert! The Kansas City Chorale, under the direction of Charles Bruffy with organists Elisa Bickers and Kurt Knecht, treated to us a program with two world premieres: Walk With Me, Lord by Rosephanye Powell and Mirror Cantata by Forrest Pierce. Ms. Powell's composition combined the eponymous spiritual with "Go Down, Moses" and "Wade in the Water", creating a lush texture.

For Mirror Cantata, I can explain best by sharing this excerpt from the program notes:

Mirror Cantata takes as its conceit the inner "Clear Mirror" already awaiting the seeker, and builds from simple structures of diametrically opposed modes and triads a musical landscape of anticipation. Void and saturation, expansion and contraction, silence and sound- all these flesh out a Cantata in a 5-movement Baroque form, interleaving two mystical fragments from the words of Jesus, and the famous "Dark Mirror" passage from I Corinthians." - Donald Loncasty
 The lighting director had fun with this concert!

The lighting director had fun with this concert!

10:00pm: AGOYO Reception

As many of you know, we organists do love a good cocktail reception! This evening's was a celebration of our under-30 (but over 21!) members. We have so many fantastic younger members and it was such fun to get to know some of them better (yes yes... I am not under 30 but RCs and national council members were included so we could all get to know one another). I am looking forward to meetings with the Northeast-region AGOYO leaders over the coming week and hearing their ideas & visions for how we can best serve them. 

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Sheraton Hotel

Kansas City

That's all from today! Join me tomorrow for more from Kansas City!