V o l .   6 5 ,   N o . 8
M a y  /  J u n e   2 0 1 5

In This Issue
From the Dean
Next Chapter Event: Dinner at Orsay
Chapter Competition Winners
Obituary: McNeil Robinson
Members from the Past
Can You Identify This Member From the Past?
Northeast Regional Convention in New Haven
Don't Forget to Renew Your Membership!
The very best, to the best! Yvonne L. Sonnenwald-Melin
  David Enlow, Dean, NYC Chapter, American Guild of Organists
  David Enlow, Dean

From the Dean

“What do I get out of it?"

Dear Colleagues,

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 possible.

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.

Yours truly,

David Enlow

  Arthur Lawrence   Choral Music by Nancy Wertsch

  Vicki and Bob Sirota
  Vicki and Bob Sirota

Next Chapter Event: Dinner at Orsay
MONDAY • 1 JUNE 2015 • 6.30 PM

Chapter Dinner with
Vicki and Bob Sirota

Orsay Restaurant
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 for its 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 community. After dinner, beloved members and friends of the NYC Chapter Bob and Vicki Sirota will discuss their latest CD recording collaboration, “Celestial Wind,” and the future of contemporary American organ music. A fascinating topic indeed!

Harold Rosenbaum, conductor   David Enlow FAGO

  Colin MacKnight, organist
  Colin MacKnight,
First Prize Winner

Chapter Competition Winners

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 competition coordinator.

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.

In Memoriam McNeil Robinson

Obituary: McNeil Robinson

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 training!

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.

Neal Campbell

Members From the Past

  Gaston Detheir (1875-1958)
  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.

Can You Identify This Member From the Past?

. .

. . . who is still very much with us?

Northeast Regional Convention in New Haven

Click here for information about our regional convention June 28-July 1, 2015.

Don't 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 at registrar@nycago.org.

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The next chapter newsletter is the July / August issue. The deadline for submissions is the June 30, 2015. Material may be submitted to John Bishop, 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 Long, Registrar.