Tuesday morning was the opening convocation at the Boston 2014 American Guild of Organists convention and as about 1800 of us organists and choirmasters gathered at the Church of the Holy Cross, I couldn’t help but think that this was not your typical Sunday morning congregation. Of course, how many in our parishes have 1800 people at worship, anyway? I was hoping to show a picture of this, but we have been admonished not to take photos at the venues relying on “official convention” photos. Unfortunately the official photographer has not been at all the venues!
Right off the bat, within seconds of the organist playing the first few notes of the prelude, everybody got really quiet to listen attentively. Most of our congregations think we are playing background music to their conversations, right?
And what congregation would tolerate having every single piece of music sung or played be a new piece? That’s right, nearly every hymn and every piece of music the organist played or the choir sang was newly composed and commissioned for this service. This included a prelude, March to Glory: Draw me nearer by Carol Barnett (b. 1949), a new setting of Jubilate Deo (Matthew Martin, b. 1976), a new anthem, Jesus, the very thought of thee by Paul Halley (b. 1952), and the organ postlude Fantasie sur l’hymne à Saint Jean Baptiste by Daniel Roth, organist of Saint-Sulpice, Paris. The hymns were all unfamiliar to me, Love divine, all loves excelling sung to BLAENWERN, and a newly-commissioned hymn, Eternal ruler of the ceaseless round by Libby Larsen. But hey, every single person in the church reads music, so no problem, right?
After the convocation, we walked to Trinity Church and heard a magnificent concert by Scott Dettra, organist of the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, but before that organist for five years at Washington National Cathedral. You might remember that the girls choir of the National Cathedral came to Hawaii several years ago (with Scott in tow), and sang where I am the parish administrator, St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church! Luckily our friend Edith Ho saved us seats in the very crowded church. She told us that Scott Dettra’s parents were sitting right behind us!
We had lunch with our friends, former Honolulu resident John Graham and his wife, Sharon Kleckner, at our second favorite restaurant in Boston, Skipjack’s, then went shopping —first at Marshall’s, then at the vendor displays at the convention. I’m like a kid in a candy store when I see all that organ music for sale, and I’m afraid that I didn’t restrain myself!
Back to Legal Seafoods for another dinner, then we took the “T” to Cambridge, where we heard the Handel and Haydn Society with period instruments perform Spiega, Ammonia fortunate by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Komm, Jesu, komm and Missa Brevis by J. S. Bach.This was the first time during this convention that we have heard A=415 (early music pitch) and I was glad to hear the choir sing with a lot of inflection.
There there was a short walk to the Harvard Memorial Chapel where we heard a superb concert by organist Christian Lane and trumpeter Chris Gekker ended the evening. Chris was Joey Fala’s organ teacher while he interned in Boston last summer and tour director for the recent European organ tour, and I was particularly thrilled to hear his colorful registration for Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue. He played the Skinner organ in the front for the first half of the concert, and the Fisk organ in the back for the second half.
It has been a super long day as we had started out by getting up at 6:30 am Boston time and not getting back to Newton Centre until 11:30 pm. As I heard one of the conventiongoers say, this is not a dentists convention where you’re done at 5:00 pm, it’s a marathon!
UPDATE: My esteemed colleague, David Link, informed me that the Paul Halley anthem was not “new” because he took it on a choir tour in 2003. It was “new” to us, as well as a couple of hymns which have probably been around somewhere, but just not in our experience! Thanks for the update, David!