I am now in Bakersfield, CA where I came a day early to be a judge at the AGO/Quimby Regional Competition for Young Organists (RCYO). I was most impressed with the organization of the competition — each judge was given a three-ring binder with the complete set of rules, note paper, repertoire lists, and evaluation sheets for each contestant. The competition was held at St. Paul’s Anglican Parish which has a three-manual Schantz organ.
The purpose of the competition is to encourage younger organists to pursue excellence, to gain performance experience and to receive recognition for their achievements. The winner of each Regional Competition will be invited to perform at the 2014 National Convention in Boston, MA. The AGO/Quimby Regional Competitions for Young Organists are made possible by a generous grant from Michael Quimby, President, Quimby Pipe Organs, Inc. The first place winner receives $1,000 and the second place winner receives $500.
Each competitor played a work of Bach, a work from the Romantic period, a work from the contemporary literature, and a hymn, including an introduction and a varied accompaniment. Judges were to consider accuracy, rhythmic security and freedom, tempo, phrasing and articulation, registration, awareness of stylistic period, musicianship and imagination. We were not allowed to see the contestants nor was applause allowed. A numerical grade was to be assigned for each piece on a scale of 0-100, with a maximum total score of 400. The other judges were Christoph Bull, Frances Nobert, and Carey Coker Robertson. I was designated the alternate, in case one of the other judges keeled over in the middle of the competition, but I was happy to participate in the discussion of the performances.
All of our contestants turned out to be girls — the youngest was only in 11th grade! The winner was Chinar Merjanian from the Palo Alto/Peninsula Chapter. She played the best performance of the afternoon: Litanies by Jehan Alain.
Something that all the judges were in agreement about was that we need to work on teaching better hymn playing. So often we spend so much time teaching and students learning repertoire that we don’t devote as much attention to playing the congregation’s song — and that’s what people in the pews love the most.