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||David Enlow, Dean
From the Dean
do I get out of it?"
Sometimes one joins an organization to get
something from it. You might join the beer
of the month club, or the yarn of the month
club. You pay your money, and a product is
sent to you in the mail — all done,
transaction complete. Other organizations
one joins for the sake of belonging to the
thing, to be a part of it, to give it something
because one thinks its work is important.
You might donate to the ASPCA and volunteer
to walk or visit the shelter dogs not because
you wish to receive a product you have paid
for, but because you believe a greater purpose
is served by your labors. Which kind of organizations
are our churches and synagogues? Which kind
is the AGO?
If we join the AGO to receive exact value
for money, we might sometimes be disappointed,
though I think in our own chapter we offer,
handily, as much in the way of programs of
all kinds as anyone could purchase for around
a hundred dollars a year. How many top-flight
organ recitals can you attend in a year for
a hundred dollars? About 3-5, and we offer
about that to the membership, depending on
the year. That’s value for money without
looking very closely! We also have continuing
education programs, conferences, and social
events with catering either provided free
or subsidized. Then throw in the national
benefits, certification access and discounts,
insurance plans, convention discounts, and
The American Organist magazine on top of
the local programs — can’t beat
it for the money.
There is perhaps nothing wrong with weighing
the cost of membership in an organization
against the tangible benefits it provides.
But it might be better, at least some of
us will find it so, to say one is joining,
supporting, attending the AGO for the sake
of supporting the organ, its distinguished
players, its music and music education, not
only for what we receive for ourselves. Think
of President Kennedy, when you ask not what
you can get out of the AGO, but what you
might be able to put into it.
Imagine you attend an NYC AGO program, and
you don’t necessarily find it to your
taste, but you are able, at the reception,
to encourage a friend whose organization
is cutting its budget, or whose position
is being threatened. At the same event, someone
else present sees that you are there, and
thinks “well, X is here, he or she
thinks that the program is worth supporting,
and I feel better about this whole endeavor.” You
also applaud the distinguished presenter
with the rest of the audience and lend your
support in that way; anyone who plays an
instrument or talks in public knows there
is a wonderful difference between twenty
people clapping and fifty, and between fifty
and a hundred! By your presence and with
the merest words and actions, you will have
been of value and support to your colleagues
and friends, and supportive of the profession
and the instrument all around.
No one expects all organists to be at every
organ event in every borough; truly, on any
given program night some of us have services,
choral concerts, rehearsals, performances,
other ways of keeping the lights on with
food on the table, or maybe one evening off
this week on which we want to hear no
music. For our events, all I hope is that our members
will try their best to attend when it is
Our last event of this season is on June
1st. You can read all about it later in this
issue or on www.nycago.org, where you can
also make your reservation. Part of the discussion
on June 1st is the future of contemporary
organ music. Even if you play only Scheidemann,
come out and join us for a great dinner and
good company, if you can.
||Vicki and Bob Sirota
Event: Dinner at Orsay
MONDAY • 1
JUNE 2015 • 6.30
Chapter Dinner with
and Bob Sirota
1057 Lexington Avenue at 75th Streeet
Cost: $95 per person
Limited to 60 guests.
To reserve your place click
here, or advance tickets
may be purchased online here.
The dinner is subsidized by the
NYC AGO Chapter and costs $95 for members and
their guests. A three-course
dinner will be served with an open wine and soft
drinks bar. Orsay is a fantastic restaurant renowned
French cuisine. As always, these events are an excellent
way to unwind at the end of a busy season and to
get to know colleagues and friends of the organist
After dinner, beloved members and friends of the
NYC Chapter Bob and Vicki Sirota will discuss
CD recording collaboration, “Celestial Wind,” and
the future of contemporary American organ music.
A fascinating topic indeed!
Congratulations to Colin MacKnight, winner of
the First Prize in the NYC AGO Chapter Competition, part of
the 2015 AGO/Quimby Regional Competition for Young Organists.
Second Prize was awarded to Gregory Zelek.
The competition was held on March 21st. An enthusiastic crowd
heard two fine performances. The judges were John Cantrell,
David Hurd, and Stephen Tharp. Chelsea Chen is the chapter
The chapter winner will advance to compete at the regional
competition in late June at the New Haven Convention. The winner
of the regional competition will perform at the 2016 AGO National
Convention in Houston, Texas.
We are grateful for donations to the chapter competition from
the following people: Mark Bani (in honor of John Weaver and
McNeil Robinson), Gregg Patruno, David Enlow, Chelsea Chen,
Michael Hey, and Christopher Houlihan.
McNeil Robinson died on Saturday, May 9, 2015 after a lengthy
illness. A memorial service to be held in New York is being
planned for the fall at a time and location to be announced.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, McNeil Robinson quickly developed
a prodigious technique and repertoire as a pianist, studying
at the Birmingham Conservatory. In his teenaged years he played
with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (now the Alabama Symphony
Orchestra) on several occasions.
Neil attended Birmingham Southern College as a scholarship
student, and in 1962 came to New York City to study at the
Mannes College of Music with Leonard Shure as a full scholarship
student. He also studied piano privately with Rosina Lhevine
and Beveridge Webster. In 1965 he entered Juilliard where
he studied organ with Vernon de Tar and Anthony Newman, and
composition with Vincent Persichetti.
In his DMA dissertation on the life and work of McNeil Robinson,
our colleague Tony Thurman makes the following salient observation:
“From early childhood, Robinson displayed an inexhaustible
appetite for knowledge and learning. Even after graduation
from The Juilliard School, he continued to study. Continuing
education has always been a major focus in his life, even
after having achieved international acclaim as a soloist,
Robinson continued to seek out and interact with the major
teachers and performing artists throughout the world.”
In this vein McNeil continued his organ studies with George
Faxon, the noted teacher in Boston, and Clarence Watters,
the leading disciple of Marcel Dupré in this country
at that time. He also continued his composition studies with
Yehudi Wyner and Jacob Druckman in New York, and later Allen
Forte at Yale. Even in his mature years he continued to coach
with Russell Saunders and Catharine Crozier in this country,
and Guy Bovet and Monserrat Torrent in Europe. He was a fixture
at AGO conventions and NYC Chapter workshops, anywhere he
thought he might gain a new insight into a performance practice,
something of historical interest or pedagogical advice. And
in looking over those in attendance at such events he could
be fairly disdainful of those who were not present who, in
his estimation, could have used the information imparted—students
and colleagues alike. He was not shy in expressing himself
in his opinions, and needed not in the least any assertiveness
While still a student Neil gained two positions in New York
that thrust his name into the front ranks of the profession:
organist of Park Avenue Synagogue and organist of the Church
of St. Mary the Virgin. The music lists of each of these noted
houses of worship indicate the early use of his compositions
and there is much commentary about his prowess as an improviser.
His 1970 recording of Dupré’s Vêpres du
Commun at St. Mary’s earned him a letter of congratulations
from the composer.
Neil came to the Park Avenue Synagogue in 1965 at the invitation
of the famous Cantor David Putterman to whom he had been recommended
by Leonard Bernstein and Jack Gottleib, and he remained at
Park Avenue Synagogue until he retired in 2012. He came to
St. Mary’s also in 1965 first as the assistant to James
Palsgrove, assuming the directorship of the music program
in 1974. He continued in that capacity until 1982. Prior to
this time he served at Holy Family Roman Catholic Church,
even sharing duties there during his early years at St. Mary’s.
As his renown as a performer and improviser increased, prospective
students began to seek out McNeil Robinson, and his teaching
career began to increase, especially after he left the rigorous
liturgical schedule at St. Mary the Virgin. As his private
studio increased, he also assumed a faculty position at Mannes.
In 1984 at the invitation of John Walker, he joined the faculty
of Manhattan School of Music, later becoming chair of the
organ department after John moved to Pittsburgh in 1991, a
position which Neil held at the time of his death. During
this era he taught a succession of students who have gone
on to significant careers of their own, and who have won numerous
competitions and prizes. A
tribute on the web site of the American Guild of Organists notes that he taught more winners
of the AGO Improvisation Competition than anyone else.
As a composer his work continued to be performed in venues
throughout the world, including several national conventions
of the AGO, where his organ concerto was first performed at
the National Convention in San Francisco in 1984. His liturgical
compositions regularly find their place in the music lists
of Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant houses of worship
throughout the country.
After St. Mary the Virgin, Neil’s church career trajectory
took him to a lengthy tenure at Park Avenue Christian Church,
and later Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church, from which he
retired only last fall.
Throughout the history of music there have been notable exceptional
masters of the musical art who were equally gifted and proficient
in the complimentary disciplines of performance, improvisation,
composition, and pedagogy. Clearly McNeil Robinson was one
such master musician whose life and work happily intersected
with our own here in the New York City Chapter.
May his memory be for a blessing. Rest in peace, maestro.
||Gaston Dethier (1875-1958)
Several members understandably, but incorrectly, identified
last month's mystery member as either Pietro or Constantineo
Yon. However, the photo at right is that of Gaston Dethier.
Dethier is best remembered for his long tenure on the organ
faculty of Juilliard, and its predecessor institution, the
Institute of Musical Art, where Carl McKinley and Powell Weaver
were among his better-remembered students.
Dethier was born in Liège into a musical family that
included his father Emile, an organist, and brother Edouard,
a violinist. At a very early age he was appointed organist
of two churches in Liège.
He came to the United States in 1894 and eventually became
an American citizen. He was the organist of the Church of St.
Francis Xavier from 1894 until 1907, at which time the position
was filled by Pietro Yon.
Dethier taught at Juilliard from 1907-1945, where there is
to this day a scholarship awarded in his name. He also composed
much organ music which is highly idomatic to the organ, but
evocative of his era and is played only infrequently today.
His "Variations on Adeste fideles" has remained popular,
largely through the efforts of Virgil Fox who recorded it and
used to play it frequently around Christmas.
You Identify This Member From the Past?
. . . who is still very much with us?
Regional Convention in New Haven
here for information about our regional convention
June 28-July 1, 2015.
Forget to Renew Your Membership!
Most of us have memberships that run July 1 through
June 30 each year. If you haven’t already renewed for
2015-16, please remember to do so before July 1 so The American
Organist magazine and monthly chapter newsletters arrive without
interruption into the next membership year.
Since national AGO now handles all membership renewals, you
can renew online by going to their website: www.agohq.org.
Click on “Membership”, then “Renew Membership/Update
Personal Information” and follow the instructions for
signing in. If your employer pays for your membership, you
will see an option to print your membership invoice which you
can submit to your employer for payment.
As a reminder, you can now update your email address or other
personal information at any time by signing in to the national
AGO membership ONCARD database.
As always, if you have any questions please email Larry Long
connect with us
|The next chapter
newsletter is the July / August issue. The deadline
for submissions is the June 30, 2015. Material may be submitted
Editor. Nine issues are published through the
year on a monthly basis with combined issues for December/January,
May/June, and July/August. To make changes in your email address
or to subscribe to the e-newsletter, please contact Larry