Organ Guild pulls out all the stops for regional convention | St. Louis Public Radio

Organ Guild pulls out all the stops for regional convention

Jun 19, 2015

The organ of Third Baptist Church in St. Louis

The organ has been deemed by some as the “king of instruments.” But regardless of what it’s called, the organ will definitely reign supreme in St. Louis next week when the American Guild of Organists (AGO) holds its 2015 North Central Regional Convention in churches and concert halls throughout the metropolitan area.

Hosted by the AGO’s St. Louis Chapter, the convention runs from June 22 – 24 and will offer a variety of workshops, worship services and concerts for the almost 200 attendees, most of whom are church organists and music directors. The workshops will cover topics ranging from Gregorian chant to jazz, and from singing techniques to personal finance for musicians. The concerts include solo organ, hymn festivals, children’s choir, bell choirs and brass.

Andrew Peters, pastoral musician at Second Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, is the convention coordinator. Also on the organizing committee is Brent Johnson, organist at Third Baptist Church in Grand Center. They joined “Cityscape” host Steve Potter along with concert organist Christopher Houlihan to talk about the convention, the organ and work of the organist.

Houlihan will perform a pre-convention recital on June 21 at Historic Trinity Lutheran Church in Soulard. The third event in a seven city coast-to-coast tour, the recital will include works by Bach, Brahms and a full performance of Louis Vierne's Symphony No. 4 in G Minor.

Christopher Houlihan
Credit Ali Winberry

Houlihan explained that he started his musical career as a young child by taking piano lessons before he had ever seen or heard an organ.  

“But one day,” he said, “I sort of noticed for the first time the pipe organ in the church attached to the school I was attending and I was just overwhelmed by the sight of it and the sound of it – to see the organist playing and all the stops and keys and pedals moving and the shiny pipes and it just seemed so much cooler than the piano. And I just got hooked.”

Houlihan also observed that there are many misconceptions about the organ and organ music, frequently from those who have never heard it outside of a church service.

“Often when people attend an organ recital for the first time, I hear comments that it’s just so much more exciting and colorful and fun than they expected, he said. “The organ has such a wide variety of repertoire written for it and if you’ve never experienced this great music it’s just absolutely thrilling to be a part of it.”

While many of the events during the AGO convention are just for the registered attendees, there are five public performances in addition to Houlihan’s pre-convention recital. They include concerts by Christopher Marks and Thomas Murray, a hymn festival led by John Behnke, a concert by the three finalists in the young organists competition and another by the competition’s winner. Peters commented, “It’s always exciting to hear a young player who has won something like that.”

But once the convention has concluded, St. Louisans still have many opportunities to enjoy great organ music. Johnson explained that organ series are much more prevalent these days and it’s possible to find an organ recital almost every day of the week. He added “The opportunities are just endless to hear music not just like you’d hear it in a church on Sunday mornings, but in a concert situation.”

And as Houlihan proudly stated, “There’s nothing really like attending a live organ recital.”

Related Events

Christopher Houlihan Pre-Convention Recital

  • When: Sunday, June 21, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Historic Trinity Lutheran Church, 812 Soulard St.
  • More information

AGO North Central Regional Convention Public Concerts

  • What: Competition for Young Organists Finalists Concert
  • When: Monday, June 22, 1 – 5 p.m.
  • Where: First Presbyterian Church, 100 E. Adams Ave., Kirkwood
  • What: Christopher Marks Concert
  • When: Monday, June 22, 7:30 p.m.
  • Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust St.
  • What: Hymn Festival Led by John Behnke
  • When: Tuesday, June 23, 11 a.m.
  • Where: Third Baptist Church, 620 North Grand Blvd. at Washington
  • What: Competition for Young Organists Winner’s Concert
  • When: Wednesday, June 23, 12:45 p.m.
  • Where: First Presbyterian Church, 100 E. Adams Ave., Kirkwood
  • What: Thomas Murray  Concert
  • When: Wednesday, June 23, 8:15 p.m.
  • Where:  Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4311 Lindell Blvd.
  • More information

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.