February 2016
Getting to Know Our AGO Friends

Michael Gagne at the Organ of Saint Matthew's

Michael Gagne

My interest in music began at an early age, while growing up in Deerfield. My late grandmother was my first piano instructor. She and my grandfather brought me to weekly services at Trinity United Church of Christ in Deerfield, where I first heard the wonderful W. Zimmer and Sons organ. My grandmother also asked me to play the piano for choir director Carolyn McBurney and Betty Aldridge, the organist at the time. After playing my first service on Youth Sunday, I realized that I was “hooked” on this great instrument.

It was through Betty that I met and began instruction with Dr. Marilyn Kay Stulken, of Racine, Wisconsin. We made weekly trips to play the three-manual Reuter organ at historic Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church. Following Dr. Stulken’s retirement in 2002, I began study with Dr. Marcia Van Oyen. She not only introduced me to some of the great works written for the organ, but also prepared me to take the Service Playing Certificate exam in 2003. Marcia also encouraged me to join the AGO North Shore Chapter, where I met some wonderful friends and colleagues. After Marcia’s move to Michigan, I began to study with Dr. David Christiansen. He took me under his wing, introduced me to more challenging organ works, and further developed my hymn playing capability.

In 2003, I came across a television program called “The Joy of Music” hosted by organist Diane Bish. I immediately became intrigued by this program and the many different organs of the world on which she would perform.  In May of 2004, I made my first trip to Coral Ridge and was introduced to the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, as well as Dr. Wilson and Samuel Metzger. I still, to this day, have a friendship and keep in regular contact with them. Samuel was kind enough to allow me access to the sanctuary one night at Coral Ridge, where I had the opportunity to practice and have fun with the famous Ruffatti organ. I would return again to Coral Ridge to attend their “Church Music Explosion” conferences and master classes led by Diane Bish, Dr. Ken Cowan, and the last CME with Dr. John Weaver.

In the summer of 2006, I attended my first AGO National Convention held here in Chicago and was amazed by the many different programs that were offered. I had a chance to meet the composer, Dr. Rollo Dilworth and reconnect with a friend and colleague, Leon Nelson. This was when I made the decision to enter North Park University. One of the special highlights during my time at North Park was creating what is now known as the annual “Hymn Festival,” a series which continues to this day. In 2012, I graduated with a BA degree in music. From 2004 to 2009, I played the wonderful three-manual 1929 Kimball organ of 39 ranks at Grace United Methodist Church in Lake Bluff. In 2009, I accepted the position of Music Director/Organist at Grace Lutheran Church in Villa Park. Unfortunately, after 88 years of ministry, they had to close their doors. I participated in the final farewell service in November of 2013. Also during the fall of 2013, I became the choir accompanist for Carpentersville and Lakewood Middle School District 300, where a friend and former classmate had been their choral director.

In March of 2014, a friend and colleague of mine asked me if I could assist him by playing a couple of Saturdays a month at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church & School in Hawthorn Woods. In the fall, I became the principal organist and have been so blessed to serve this church. In the summer of this past year, the senior pastor offered me the unique position of becoming the music teacher at the school. I saw this as a wonderful and exciting opportunity to be able to work with children of all ages, introducing them to some of the great composers of our time. Students also sing during worship services. Within the past year, St. Matthew’s concert series has hosted the internationally acclaimed Tim Zimmerman and the King’s Brass, the Concordia Wind Ensemble from St. Paul, and most recently, the Concordia Wind Symphony from Chicago.

It has truly been an amazing journey so far and I cannot wait to see where God will guide me next!

Michael Gagne

Posted in Past Testimonials.