AGO OrganFest 2020: Beauty in the midst of chaos

July 27, 2020
Happy Monday to you all! Over the next month or so, I’ll take some time “off camera” during these Dog Days of Summer. By the way, did you know the definition of dog days of summer? The phrase popped in my head when I started to write this column and thought “Where did that phrase come from?” So, our friend, the Farmer’s Almanac says:

“The Dog Days of Summer describes the most oppressive period of summer, between July 3rd and August 11th each year.The phrase is actually a reference to the fact that, during this time, the Sun occupies the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from any part of Earth and part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog.
This is why Sirius is sometimes called the Dog Star.”

One of the organizations that I’ve been a member of since 1976 is the American Guild of Organists.(The other primary organization for the “other half of me” is the American Choral Directors Association – and you’ll hear more about that next week!)

Founded in 1896 in New York City, the AGO has become the primary group an organist would join, whether they’re in the academic or church world. There are 7 regions in the guild, with numerous chapters to serve its membership. While a high school student at Interlochen, we were all encouraged to join as student members, and I’ve kept my membership since that time. In the late 1990’s, I was nominated to the board of the Detroit chapter, where I served as member-at-large, newsletter editor, sub-dean, and finally dean for my final 2-year term, for a total of 9 years on the executive board. Detroit is one of the oldest chapters in the AGO, chartered in 1910.

During the even-numbered years, there are national conventions, and the odd-numbered years are regional conventions. This summer, the national convention was to take place in Atlanta. Normally held around the first week in June, the pandemic caused many organizations to quickly turn their in-person events to online offerings. The AGO was no different and after 6-8 years worth of planning meetings and site visits, in less than 2 months, they went to an online format for some of the long-planned concerts and presentations. A typical day in the life of an AGO convention attender would find themselves on buses from early in the morning, to late at night, being shuttled from church to church or concert hall or educational institutions. Quite frankly, the bus rides are some of the most fun bits of these gatherings. You’re seated next to or across the aisle from someone close to home, or from across the world. After the usual “Hi I’m Craig and I’m from the NYC area” you get into the “where do you work” conversations. It’s fascinating to learn about other members and what “flavors” of churches/organs they work with.

Another component of these conventions is the commissioning of pieces written for organ and possibly other instruments. This is another reason why the planning takes years for these conventions. (Side note, the AGO has already canceled the regional conventions for 2021. Timing is crucial because if planners/leaders wait too long, deposits or fees are forfeited and hundreds of thousands of dollars could be lost.) As we all have scrambled to figure out live streaming or recording of our content for worship, so did the AGO. In an effort to reach the membership and offer them something to edify their souls, they produced AGO OrganFest 2020: Beauty in the midst of chaos.

Each night last week, many of the headliners that were scheduled to appear in concert in Atlanta, shifted to performing from their homes or from their churches or their concert halls. For one hour (sometimes less) each evening, the AGO provided a program full of music and also some of the business side of the guild. This week, I encourage you to carve out an hour to enjoy these programs. Presented without cost to the membership, I’m sharing with you these outstanding performers and performances of many different types of music. Click on the red link below and bookmark it for the week. Each program/video is located at the top of the page for each day of the week.


One of the best things about the online version of this digital convention is that you can go back and watch these programs again and again, when you can’t do that in-person. Once it’s heard, it’s in your mind (or out of it!) and you’d have to track down a recording to experience it again.

Enjoy these programs and take a virtual trip around the organ world with these fascinating performances.

Craig Symons
Minister of Music