October 2015
Generations of Music-Makers

NSAGO Dean Andrea Handley

Andrea Handley

I was doomed to start piano lessons as a child. My great-grandmother and grandmother were both piano and organ graduates of music schools – Cincinnati Conservatory and Julliard, respectively.

When people asked me what I wanted to be as a child, I said I wanted to be a musician. There just wasn’t any question about it from the moment I began studying piano. My father used to joke with other parents about the fact that while many parents pay their kids to practice, he’d pay me to STOP practicing. I was always the last one on the recital, something he also bemoaned because he couldn’t leave early. Obviously, the music came from my mother’s side of the family.

I “played” organ in church from the time I was in 7th grade through high school. “Played” is in quotes, because I was still a pianist playing organ, with no organ instruction, so we all know how abysmal my technique was at that point.  I went to Indiana University for my undergraduate degree, planning on majoring in piano. I studied organ my freshman year and became more interested in the instrument. So my sophomore year, I changed my major to organ. However, unfortunately, my teacher at that point….a well-known figure nationally who shall remain nameless….utterly killed my interest in the instrument because of his approach to technique. He tried to ‘break me’ of my piano technique. I would leave the organ practice room and race to a piano practice room so I could enjoy making music again.

I graduated with an undergraduate degree from Indiana in piano, got married, and moved to the Chicago area with my brand new husband who was about to start seminary. During his seminary days, he was an intern at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, where Maggie Kemper was the organist at the time. I sang in the choir that year, and sat right behind Maggie during services. Just watching her rekindled my interest in the instrument. So I studied with Maggie for a year, and then decided to pursue my Master’s degree in organ. Two years later, I graduated from the American Conservatory of Music with a M. M. in organ, and completed the AAGO certification – just two months before my first child was born.

A few years and two more children later, we found ourselves back at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston, this time with my husband as Senior Pastor. In a short time, I became the Associate Organist, then a few years later the Organist, and in 1999 the Director of Music and Organist.  After 26 wonderful years at that great church, we left. For the past 6 years I’ve been Organist at Trinity United Methodist Church in Wilmette.

You all have heard me say it in Dean’s Columns before, but I can’t imagine any more rewarding and enjoyable instrument to play than the organ. We can make more music on our one instrument than any other musician. And most of us have the privilege of doing it for a higher purpose than just making music – enhancing worship. Can’t imagine anything I’d rather do. And there’s nothing like being with other like-minded musicians who GET that – and that’s what AGO is all about.

Andrea Handley

Posted in Past Testimonials.