15 July 2006

The AGO convention last week

Thought I should blog about the American Guild of Organists national convention last week in Chicago, in which I was registered but also did volunteer work. Here's what I wrote to a friend who couldn't go... The AGO week was much fun. I did not go to everything--none of the evening events, for example--but I was very happy to work the hospitality desk, where participants could get information, parking discounts, and so on. I really enjoy helping people when I know I have ways to help, like knowing the city. I guess I impressed people with my knowledge of service times at downtown churches. :) Tom Gouwens of Fourth Prez came up and slyly asked when services were at Fourth Prez. I said, "8, 9, and 11, with music at all three, and identical services at 9 and 11." He said I was right and that there is a 6:30 p.m. service I should not tell anyone about because we want everyone to attend the opening concert. I met Edith Ho from Advent, Boston; Fred Swann formerly of the Crystal Cathedral; and probably some others, but nametags were hard to read. Some people magic-markered their names in huge letters to make them readable. Edith Ho should have come to Ascension--since she plays in a similar church--but asked for information about St James' Cathedral instead. She visibly cringed when I said they use Rite II. It is that East Coast fixation with traditional language being essential with Anglo-Catholic liturgy. Morning Prayer at St. James' was wonderful; I really like their choir, although I have never liked that they have to sit in the "card section" of "bleachers" off to the left. They should do a card routine during the sermon. Thierry Escaich played at St Paul's UCC in Lincoln Park and was ear splitting and amazing. For a German Evangelical and Reformed church, their organ is rather Saint-Sulpice. A woman in the front row stopped her ears the whole time and looked annoyed. Nobody is forcing you to attend the concert, lady! Anyway, he started his concert with the Tournemire Te Deum Improvisation, to give you an idea. Whew. I ushered at Ascension for the Alexander Fiseisky concert, which I found underwhelming but he seemed to get a good ovation at the end. I mostly heard it through the narthex doors. He wanted to practice afterward, and we told him he could but that there is a service (Evening Prayer) at 6pm. I vested and got ready to start just before 6, and he was still wood-shedding a phrase on the organ, so even though we don't normally ring a bell before Evening Prayer, I went to the sacristy door and gave the bell rope a good yank, and then went in and started Evening Prayer. Nobody else showed up, so I am sure he thought it odd that I was reciting a service with no congregation. Wednesday I ushered the Ascension Choir's Solemn Vespers and Benediction at St. Mary of Perpetual Help in Bridgeport. Scott the Younger was able to go, too, and even got to ride back with me on the AGO bus due to the kindness of the driver. It was a gorgeous service, and the choir was expanded for the occasion to about 25 from their usual 17. I didn't know they were going to do Benediction...it was interesting to hear 1,000 AGOers from many denominations saying together, "Blessed be God...Blessed be the name of Mary most holy...Blessed be her holy and immaculate conception..." :) Anyway, I hope the recordings of these events will be made available somehow; this will be one well worth hearing. Thursday I got to do whatever I wanted, so I attended the 9am concert of Carol Williams, the English-born civic organist of San Diego, at St Vincent de Paul, and then Thierry Escaich. He really uses his whole body...I thought his head would hit something as it flailed around. It was good to meet many people and especially to represent Chicago and our chapter to the visitors. I loved just standing at the entrance to Ascension, or St. Mary of Perpetual Help, ready to answer questions (mostly about the bathrooms) and have people smile at me and tell me how much they were enjoying themselves here. I cannot imagine the expense some must lay out to attend the whole thing, especially paying for a hotel room for six nights or so. However, I think the event was a great success. The chapter leaders seemed wired and very thrilled. I am sure there will be a Pipedreams show about it. I met Michael Barone at Ascension for the Fiseisky concert. Unfortunately, Barone was on a bus that was late coming back from Rockefeller Chapel, so I had to hold him and some others at the door until the end of the first piece, but he took it well. He has a long ponytail...who would have thought?

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