My first experience hearing a pipe organ live happened when I attended the graduation of the Medical School at the University of Michigan as a child. We were in Hill Auditorium when all the newly minted medical doctors, including a family friend, stood up for the recessional. At that moment, Marilyn Mason launched into the Toccata from Widor’s Fifth Symphony. My sisters and I were totally overwhelmed. Although my mother was a church organist, I never thought I would play a pipe organ or play that Toccata. It seemed like a complete fantasy.
But then, much later in life I became an organist the way I believe many do. The church I attended in Grayslake, IL decided to add a service and, since I was accompanying choirs and soloists regularly on the piano, I was asked to play the organ for this service. After a few weeks of being clueless about pedaling and registration, I found a teacher. Dr. Marilyn Stulken, of Racine, WI and former Dean of the Kenosha-Racine Chapter of AGO, taught me all the basics and then decided I should work for my Service Playing Certificate. So the initial impetus for joining AGO was to achieve a higher and certifiable standard of playing, which I was able to achieve. Then, she helped me find a job playing a pipe organ. So now, many years later, I am still playing the 55 rank E.M. Skinner at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church that Ernest himself installed in Kenosha, WI during the 20’s, an organ that was completely refurbished by Marilyn’s husband, Tom Rench and Co. in 2003. I also, on occasion, play that famous Toccata.
I have taken advantage of as many AGO activities as I can. When Chicago hosted the National Convention, I helped at registration and monitored the ballroom. Afterwards, the convention workers had a wonderful recital and party at the San Filippo Estate. I also attended the Boston Convention where I attended a lecture on the history of the Skinner organ. The week following the convention, the presenters of this lecture surprised me by coming to Wisconsin and visiting St. Matthew’s to see our Opus 505. I also attended a Regional Convention in Kalamazoo that was very inspirational. I plan to help Milwaukee with their regional convention in 2019. A year or two ago I played on their Members Recital at St. Joseph’s Convent Church in Milwaukee.
On the local level, I have really enjoyed what the North Shore Chapter has to offer. Last fall’s hymn workshop was just outstanding. This year’s recital and masterclass by Janette Fishell was also wonderful. And of course, I have loved the Epiphany parties! My plan for the future is to have a POE event at St. Matthew’s church. We have a number of people, including some from Carthage College who are interested in pursuing this.
As a resident of Illinois and an employee in Wisconsin, I have found it beneficial to belong to the North Shore, the Milwaukee, and often the Chicago chapters of AGO. I have made great friends in all these organizations. A few years ago we held a Halloween concert at St. Matthew’s and friends from the Milwaukee and North Shore chapters performed. We packed the church and a good time was had by all.