History of Spartanburg AGO

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A History of the Spartanburg Chapter

American Guild of Organists



John M. Bullard, Ph.D. Albert C. Outler Professor of Religion, Emeritus Wofford College



Presented to the Chapter on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Its Founding at Central United Methodist Church




Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a town with a long tradition of music and music making. It is true that part of its musical tradition is bound up with Country-and-Western shows, Blue-Grass concerts, all-night Gospel sings, and original rock bands (Marshall Chapman, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker). The great banjo player Don Reno and country music legend Charlie Daniels trace their roots to Spartanburg. William (“Singin’ Billy’) Walker’s Southern Harmony (1835) popularized shape-note singing nation-wide and did much in the 19th Century to set rural America singing.

But appreciation for the great classical tradition in music was developing, and by 1890 serious recitals and concerts by recognized artists were being presented. The Music Club of Spartanburg, founded by a group of cultured ladies at the turn of the 20th Century, remains the oldest extant music club in the state. Like many other such groups it exists to promote the appreciation of good music of all types, by means of monthly informational meetings, and to provide scholarships to encourage local young people to pursue musical training as performers. It has since been joined by the Philharmonic Music Club, various auxiliary organizations, and other local groups promoting the love of good music in town. A great deal of good is done by all these musical organizations.

The South Atlantic States Music Festival, beginning in 1898, annually brought to Spartanburg such artists as Kreisler, Paderewski, Schumann-Heink (herself an organist, but here she sang), Stokowski, Richard Tucker, and Walter Damrosch with the New York Symphony. After 1938 the Spartanburg Music Foundation continued to bring here such international performers as Van Cliburn, Birgit Nilsson, Jan Peerce, Itzhak Perlman, Beverly Sills, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Kurt Masur with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch., in addition to native-born singers Gianna Rolandi and David Daniels.

Five accredited institutions of higher learning flourish here.

(1) Chartered in 1851, Wofford College opened its doors in 1854 and survives today on its original campus, now expanded to 175 acres with a fine physical plant which surrounds five original antebellum buildings. It is one of fewer than 200 survi American colleges and universities, founded before the Civil War, still using their original campuses. Despite wars, Reconstruction, and depressions, Wofford has never closed its doors. Thanks to its clear focus on liberal arts in the classical mode and to its high academic standards, it was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1940. Current enrollment (BA and BS degrees) stands at 1145.

(2) In 1889 Converse College for Women was opened, and the contribution of that venerable institution to musical culture in Spartanburg has been inestimable. From the outset it promoted education in music with a skilled faculty of performer-teachers. Today its Petrie School of Music is one of the nation’s leading conservatories. Total full-time enrollment at Converse is in excess of 600. Its graduate program, offering MEd and MM degrees, attracts to the City music students in professional training who greatly enrich local church choirs.

(3) In 1911 the Rev. David English Camak opened the Technical Industrial Institute here to provide education to persons in areas of the city where no academies had existed prior to the coming of the Public Schools after World War I. At that point it became the Spartanburg Junior College, now the Spartanburg Methodist College, offering the first two years of collegiate education to more than a thousand students annually.

(4) The University of South Carolina, Spartanburg, a branch of the State University in Columbia, is a growing institution (4500) founded in 1967 around a nucleus school of nursing. In addition to the baccalaureate, it awards Masters degrees in Education and Nursing.

(5) Spartanburg Technical College serves Upstate industries by training employable workers in specific trades, mostly commuting students, who become a valuable economic resource.

Spartanburg began as an 18th-Century community of Scots-Irish settlers and pioneers who came down the Appalachian Trail from Pennsylvania and Maryland, through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and settled in western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina before finally landing in Georgia. Those who stayed in South Carolina cleared the wilderness, fought the Cherokee Indians, and set up homesteads and farms. By 1770 a community was already established in Spartanburg. It attracted a few merchants and had both a courthouse and a jail, but no churches. In the Revolutionary War of 1775, the “Spartan Regiment” of fighting patriots played a significant role under General

Daniel Morgan in the famous Battle of Hannah’s Cow Pens (12 miles to the east), the turning point of the War in the Carolinas.

By 1831 “Spartanburgh” had become legally incorporated as a proper court-house town. Its 300 inhabitants were mostly farmers and merchants. There were a limited number of black slaves working the farms, but in no wise were they so numerous as those living on the plantations of the Low Country, between Columbia and Charleston. By the end of the decade a couple of churches had been erected to the glory of God, but none possessed any sort of organ until after the Civil War. The introduction of textile mills around 1816 and their rapid growth, especially after the Civil War, guaranteed an industrialized economy. It was dominated in the 19th Century by the Bomar, Cleveland, Converse, Montgomery, and Twichell families. In the mid-20” Century, Mr. Rog

Milliken brought here from New England the Deering-Milliken textile firm (as it was then known), with its renowned Milliken Research Corporation (1955). So important was Spartanburg in global textiles that even before World War I it had taken the grand title, “Textile Capital of the World.”

In the 1800s the little town took off with a spurt of growth culminating by 1900 in a population of 4300. Churches had proliferated, and many had pipe organs or at least melodeons. (A melodeon is a wheezy pump organ that generates sustained tones by powerfully sucking air through small metal reeds with vibrating tongues.) The population of Spartanburg today (2004) is only around 41,000—because SC practically forbids towns to annex their suburbs. Spartanburg County, however, numbers over 250,000 inhabitants, and the arrival in the 1990s of the German BMW automobile works, joining other support industries in Spartanburg County, provided a diversified economic base and better jobs. Several hospitals here have made Spartanburg a regional medical center and a major health services employer. Between the two great cities of Upstate Piedmont SC, Greenville and Spartanburg, there is a fine modern international airport with frequent flights connecting us with the major airports of the country and beyond.

The Organs of Spartanburg

It is nothing short of remarkable that a town so small as Spartanburg should be adorned with so many excellent organs in so many architecturally noteworthy churches. And not only Spartanburg but also the neighboring towns of Union, Gaffney, and Tryon (NC), boast good organs. Thirty miles away is the city of Greenville, which, slightly larger, has more churches and possibly more fine organs, including a brand-new III/54 mechanical-action Fisk at Furman University. But that belongs to a history of Greenville. What matters here is that Greenville is only a half-hour’s drive away. Organ, choral, and orchestral concerts in both towns are readily accessible. Furman and Bob Jones

Universities join Converse, Wofford, and USCS, offering a wide range of musical performances including opera and oratorio. The culture of the Upstate community is

greatly enriched by these institutions.


Here are Spartanburg’s major organs as of December, 2003:


AEolian-Skinner III/47, First Presbyterian Church, 1968 Austin III/33, Central United Methodist Church. 1980

Casavant IV/76, First Baptist Church, 1966 Casavant III/67 (tracker action), Twichell Auditorium, Converse College, 1990 Flentrop II/29 (tracker action), Episcopal Church of the Advent, 1988 Holtkamp II/19, Wofford College Chapel, Main Building, 1997

Moller III/37, Bethel United Methodist Church, 1973

Moller III/28, Trinity United Methodist Church, 1988 Pilcher II/27, Second Presbyterian Church, 1896, rebuilt with Austin console, 1990

Schantz III/36, Daniel Recital Hall, Converse College, 1969

Schantz II/27, Southside Baptist Church, 1983 Schoenstein II/15, Chapel, First Presbyterian Church, 1995


In nearby Union, SC, four very fine organs are in use:


Casavant 11/27, Grace United Methodist Church, 1968 Jardine ¼ (tracker action), Episcopal Church of the Nativity, 1850 (res’d.)

Schantz III/33, First Baptist Church, 1955 Schlicker II/32 (tracker action), First Presbyterian Church, 1975

In Woodruff, 15 miles distant:

E.M.Skinner II/12, First Baptist Church, 1927 (Op. 646), 1941

Wicks II/6, First Presbyterian Church, 1933

In Gaffney, 30 miles distant:

AEolian-Skinner III/36, Limestone College, 1956 (dedicatory recital played by E. Power Biggs, 1957)

Schantz III/37, First Baptist Church, 1973 Holloway II/20, Buford Street United Methodist Church, 1972

Zimmer II/25, Limestone Presbyterian Church, 1969; Moller II/9, Chapel, Limestone Presbyterian Church, 1960


In Tryon, NC, 25 miles away:


Felgemaker (tracker action, II/5, 1895), rebuilt by Schlicker, 1955; and

Casavant antiphonal 11/7, Tryon Congregational Church, 1987. Moller III/23, Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross, 1946, rev’d. by Ernest White, 1958, rebuilt as IV/54 with Skinner console by John Dower, 1997.

Moller III/25, Tryon Presbyterian Church, 1984


Not all our churches are in a position to install expensive pipe organs. As churches proliferated and multiplied—a concomitant of the independent, Protestant, Scots-Irish heritage—they splintered into too many too-small congregations to build imposing edifices to house pipe organs. One of the real treasures of the Spartanburg musical scene, and an invaluable resource for our church musicians, is a music dealer established here in 1904 as a purveyor of fine musical instruments and of sheet music and books. Case Brothers of Spartanburg is one of the outstanding music dealers of the country and our area’s largest and most successful dealer in Allen Electronic Organs. That particular instrument, manufactured in Macungie, PA enjoys a world-wide reputation for excellence. Its digital organ tone, achieved by reproducing recorded samplings of pipe-work from some of the world’s greatest and most beautiful pipe organs, has given their sound a verisimilitude convincing enough as a substitute for real pipes to lead to installations in cathedrals, churches, and chapels literally all over the world, not excluding Asia.


One often finds organists who sneer at any sort of alternative to genuine pipe organs as somehow inferior or cheap. And admittedly in the past many electronic organs were indeed inferior and cheap (as were, to be fair, very many pipe organs). But today, on the whole, electronic organs by a number of builders (Allen is not the only one; a Rodgers dealer has opened in Hendersonville) have evolved to the production of a quality of sound and of ease in handling that commend them to churches and schools, particularly those with limited space or means. Clearly their tone is often readily

le from real organ pipes, no trained organist is apt to be deceived. Also, congregations admit to tiring of the often thin (i.e. lacking depth) electronic sound over a period of time. But perhaps the majority of churches in Spartanburg and environs have proudly installed electronic organs and are satisfied with them. Their organists are content to play them “until,” say the cynical purists, “they get a crack at a good pipe organ, which gives a more profound personal satisfaction.” The efforts of the accommodating sales and service folks at Case Brothers to keep churches in upgraded instruments, well maintained by an ever ready, skilled, and experienced local staff, have been of highest benefit to the church music of Spartanburg.


Union Seminary’s Influence

It was into such a community that some graduates of the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York City came after the Second World War. Having studied under some of the great AGO members and church musicians in America’s largest city, these newcomers were already acquainted with the Guild and its important ideals. They sought to extend its benevolent influence down into the provinces. They knew how great a force for good the AGO always exerted in helping to elevate the quality of performance and usage in church music, and how the Guild’s presence tended to inspire, motivate, and encourage practising church organists and leaders in church music.


What Is the American Guild of Organists?


In the March 1, 1896 edition of the London Musical Times, England’s oldest and most important international periodical concerned with the general subject of music, the following prophetic notice appeared: Within a few days steps have been taken by some of the leading organists of New York City towards the formation of a guild of American organists. The objects of the proposed organisation are various, but the principal one is the raising of the standard of instrumental and theoretical efficiency, and the securing of a fuller recognition of the importance of the functions of the organist from church authorities. Some of the best men in the country are engaged in the movement, which bids fair to be one of considerable importance. (P. 190)


At the end of that year another relevant notice was published in the Musical Times for December 1, 1896: The first public service held under the auspices of the American Guild of Organists will be held at St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York, in a few weeks. Special soloists of note have been engaged, and the chorus will consist of the combined choirs of St. Bartholomew’s, All Souls’, and the South Reformed Church. All the choirs are made up of men and women. It is proposed to do away with the services of a conductor, but several of the better-known members of the Guild will officiate at the organ by turns, and each organist will rehearse the choir on the work he himself is to accompany. Mr. H. R. Shelley, Mr. R. Huntington Woodman, and Mr. Gerrit Smith will probably play different parts of the service. Bishop Potter is to make the address, and the Chaplain of the Guild, the Rev. Charles C. Hall, of Brooklyn, will conduct the service. An examination of candidates for associateship in the Guild was held a few weeks ago, and two candidates out of three satisfied the examiners. The successful candidates were Messrs. A. A. Sponder, of Stamford, Conn., and Mr. Frank N. Chase, of Jacksonville, Florida. (P. 828)


Barbara Owen, America’s leading authority on the history of the organ, informs us that in 1864 the people of Great Britain founded the very first organization in the world to address the advancement and training of a specific segment of music professionals: The Royal College of Organists in London. In America the Music Teachers’ National Association was founded in 1876 as the first truly professional music organization in the United States. But it dealt with the interests of all branches of music, with only an occasional section dealing with the concerns of organists. Gerrit Smith visited England in 1894, met British organists, returned to New York, and shared with friends Charles T. Ives, Henry Hanchett, John H. Brewer, an idea: Was it not perhaps time for American organists to form their own national organization one that could educate, give examinations, promote worthy church music, and advance the collective cause of its members? Owen comments, “Smith’s vision was national in scope, and encompassed a great deal more than occasional organ recitals and high teas” (The American Organist, January 1996, P. 35). The emphasis was on education more than socializing. At their planning meeting on February 3, 1896, to consider the advisability of forming an American Guild of Organists, their stated purpose was to advance the cause of church music, to elevate the status of church organists, to obtain acknowledgment of their position from the authorities of the church, and to increase the responsibilities and duties of organists.” From the beginning the emphasis was on education. Indeed, one of the first accomplishments of the new organization was the securing of a Charter from the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, authorizing the AGO to conduct examinations and grant certificates. These examinations are regarded as the life blood of the Guild.


The AGO still remains guided by the basic ideals of its founders. In Owen’s words, “It is still committed to professional recognition and education; it still does all in its power to advance the cause of quality church music and good working conditions for its members.”


The list of Founding Fathers of the American Guild of Organists includes the names of four women: Kate Sara Chittenden, Mary Chappell Fisher, Charlotte Wells Saenger, and Fannie Morris Spencer. Two founders were blind (unnamed). But the other Founders (there were 145 in all by the end of 1896) include some very prominent composers and musicians.


One name has an interesting Spartanburg connection. He was an Italian immigrant, Eduardo Marzo, born in 1852 in Naples (died NYC, 1929). A gifted child prodigy, he came to Chicago in 1859 as a piano recitalist and later settled in New York as teacher and composer. He achieved considerable popularity with his very melodic and practical vocal music for church use. He was the great-grandfather of Spartanburg resident Nancy Marzo, for whose wedding at Bethel United Methodist Church in 1987 the present writer had the privilege of playing the organ. She married a history professor at USC-Spartanburg, Dr. Dwight Lambert, and they are still here as active members/leaders of Bethel Church.


The founders list included such familiar composers and performers as Clarence Dickinson, Peter C. Lutkin, Sumner Salter, Harry Rowe Shelley, Samuel P. Warren, J. Frederick Wolle (founder of the famous Bethlehem Bach Choir in Pennsylvania), Horatio Parker (founder of the first department of music in an American college-Yale), R. Huntington Woodman, Gerrit Smith, Arthur Foote, Dudley Buck, and many more.

The New Grove Dictionary of American Music defines the AGO as an organization whose goals are “to foster an interest in organ and choral music and to set and maintain standards of artistic excellence among its members. In order to encourage consistently high standards, the Guild conducts examinations in organ playing, choir training, and the theory and general knowledge of music, awarding successful candidates certificates and designating them as Fellows, Associates, or Choirmasters. It has published The American Organist monthly since 1967.” Before 1967 its official journal was The Diapason, begun in 1909 to serve at first the interests of organ builders. In 1967 it published MUSIC: the AGO Magazine for a few years before changing the name in 1980 to TAO. Some 23,000 members are in nearly 400 chapters and 80 student groups in all 50 states and in Europe. The AGO is one of the world’s largest organizations of musicians specializing in a single instrument. It issues an extensive Catalogue of publications and learning resources for the use and assistance of organists at all levels of training and development. The official Guild colors are silver-gray and crimson. At special functions, such as a Guild Service at a National Convention, the academic procession of robed dignitaries is impressive.


The Spartanburg Chapter Is Conceived


In 1947, after service in the Great Lakes and in England in the US Navy, young John Edward Williams, Illinois native of Welsh descent, graduate of Illinois Wesleyan College and holder of an MSM degree from New York’s Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music, arrived in Spartanburg to become Director of Music and Organist at First Presbyterian Church. At the same time another Union graduate, Rachel Barron Pierce, FAGO, was teaching organ at nearby Limestone College in Gaffney. SC. some 30 miles distant. Over in Greenville, holding the same post at the old campus of Furman University, Dr. W. Lindsay Smith, FAGO, likewise a Union Seminary Sacred Music School alumnus, was thinking what was already on the minds of colleagues in Spartanburg and Gaffney. For the next few years they thought and ruminated on the need of a chapter of the AGO in Upstate SC. The status of church music in the smallish depression-era churches of the Carolina Piedmont might have left something to be

desired, especially in light of the lofty standards maintained in the larger churches of New York City.


In 1950 Rachel Pierce accepted an offer to move to Spartanburg to take over organ teaching duties at Converse College. A native New Englander, she graduated from Mount Holyoke College and earned an M.A. from Vassar. Rachel studied at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, France, and earned a Master of Sacred Music degree from Union Theological Seminary. At Converse she helped maintain the church music program, which regularly trained young women to go into the churches to assist with both choir training and service playing at the organ. When she retired in 1970, first Dr. William Partridge, then Dr. Larry H. Smith replaced her and enlarged the program. At one point Dr. Smith had more than thirty organ students. But when he left Converse in 1978, that valuable program was phased out to make room for a popular one in Electronic Music, “something the girls could make some money in!” explained Professor Emerita Virginia Gore. But Rachel’s influence is still felt.


By 1953 conversations among these Union graduates and other interested organists began to take firm shape and to focus on starting an AGO chapter in the Upstate. Who were these “other interested organists”? It is a pity so many of our local charter members have died off, so that reconstruction of the events leading to the inauguration of our chapter is tenuous at best. Written records are scant. [“When everybody already knows the story, why take the time to write it down? Everybody already knows it!”] So we have to resort to oral tradition and guarded conjecture. We know that these Union Seminary graduates felt almost duty-bound to their professors and mentors from Union days to promote the influence of the Guild wherever they found themselves. Here they recognized a great opportunity and a genuine need for the ideals of the AGO. Several local organists jumped at the chance to be a part of such a useful organization, for no organist could escape the positive national publicity the AGO has received in the press since its founding in 1896.


By the mid-1930s chapters of the AGO had been established in most of the states, usually a state-wide chapter organized in the capital city. The South Carolina Chapter

began in Columbia in 1937 it may have had a temporary short-lived start in 1933] as SC’s first, with Russell Broughton, FAGO, of Converse College as the first Dean. An Oberlin College graduate and holder of a scholarship from the Estey Organ Corporation of Brattleboro, VT to study at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, he came to Converse to teach organ in 1935, remaining till 1940. The first regular meeting of the South Carolina Chapter was held Tuesday, May 4, 1937, with Converse College as host. Walter Blodgett, organist at the Cleveland Museum of Art and a collaborator with organ builder Walter Holtkamp, was brought in to play an organ recital “complimenting the newly-established SC Chapter. Fred H. Parker, of Columbia’s First Presbyterian Church and Columbia College, succeeded Broughton as next Dean, and subsequent meetings were held in that city. It must be noted, however, that as early as 1914 a “Carolina Chapter” had been chartered, presumably as forerunner to the North Carolina chapter established in Raleigh in 1922. In 1947 a chapter had been organized in Charleston, and, somewhat later, one in Greenwood, so the South Carolina Chapter had to change its name to the Columbia Chapter. There appears to have been a flurry of activity all over the country to establish AGO chapters. Perhaps we should think of the starting of our own chapter as participating in a kind of national effort to spread AGO chapters as far as possible, and the movement was decidedly a worthy one. Today we are the beneficiaries of the very considerable efforts on the part of our founders, and to them we should feel a deep sense of gratitude.


The Spartanburg Chapter Is Born


Mrs. William Chapman Herbert, organist/choir-director at Central Methodist Church, made persuasive phone calls and offered her church as a venue for meetings. So did Mrs. Lester Hubert Colloms, formerly organist-director at Bethel Methodist Church. Certainly Miss Pierce and John Williams in Spartanburg, and Dr. Smith in Greenville, worked to sell the organists of their towns on the concept of starting a local chapter. Dr. Smith thought the original idea was to inaugurate an “Upstate SC Chapter,” embracing organists in Greenville, Spartanburg, and their neighboring towns. Despite the fact that a modern, four-lane, federal highway (US Hwy. 29) connected Spartanburg with Greenville, people in both towns felt it would be an imposition to have to travel those thirty miles each way to attend an AGO evening chapter meeting It soon became clear that, as a practical matter, a joint chapter between these two cities would never really work successfully. How often in subsequent years have discouraged organists in both places put forward a “Joint Greenville-Spartanburg Chapter” as the panacea for all our problems?! Some seem satisfied that they might attend only every other meeting when it takes place in their town-rather than have to work to make their own local chapter operate effectively every single month. “Let them do it!”

When on Sunday, December 27, 1953, some twenty organists gathered in the Carrie Duncan DuPré Parlor of Central Methodist Church, at the invitation of Mrs. Herbert, to inaugurate South Carolina’s latest AGO chapter, only one organist came over from Greenville, Furman’s Dr. Lindsay Smith, though all interested organists in the area had been invited. It was clear that each of these two cities was to have its own chapter, and Dr. Smith went back to Greenville all set to start their very successful chapter there. But the meeting at Central was auspicious. Dr. S. Lewis Elmer, national President of the AGO, had come down by train from New York to get the new chapter started, and he addressed the group on the role of the Guild in local church life. The obligations and duties of Guild members and their officers were clarified and stressed. He returned to New York that evening, after attending John Williams’s Vesper service at First Presbyterian Church (Dr. Lindsay Smith drove him to the train station). On his return he arranged for national headquarters to register the new chapter and mail a signed Charter, now framed in silver with a crimson matte and hanging in Central Church’s Choir Room. It officially designates the Spartanburg Chapter as formally coming into being January 4, 1954.


The Diapason magazine reported in its Chapter News section in the issue of April 1, 1954 (surely not an “April Fool” issue.the AGO has always been too serious for that!), the following notice:

Spartanburg, SC. A new chapter was organized recently in Spartanburg, SC. Miss Rachel Pierce, FAGO, was elected dean. Other officers are John Williams, sub-dean, and Mrs. Helen Bright, secretary treasurer. The chapter was instrumental in the formation of the Spartanburg Oratorio Society, a group of fifty singers from various church choirs in Spartanburg, On March 14 the society sang Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” before an appreciative audience at Twichell Auditorium, Converse College.• Helen Bright, Sec’y.”


To Mrs. Lester Colloms belongs the honor of hosting at Bethel Methodist Church the very first formal meeting of the new chapter. Apparently between the constituting meeting on December 27, 1953, and her dinner meeting May 11, 1954 at Bethel, the chapter’s activities had focused on collecting the dues ($5.00) and strengthening the loyalties of the charter members. As The Diapason reported, John Williams’s Spartanburg Oratorio Society comprised the main sponsorship undertaken by the chapter in its first five months. This was by no means the first such choral society in Spartanburg: Prof. Wilson Price, who had preceded John Williams as organist/choir director at First Presbyterian Church from 1922, directed the Wofford Glee Club, the Tryon Choral Society, and the Converse Choral Society. As director of the Spartanburg Music Festival in both 1928 and 1930, he combined these choral groups with local church choirs and a newly-organized Spartanburg Male Chorus of 75 voices which he continued to conduct after he ceased teaching at Converse in 1933.


The May 11 meeting was an organist-clergy dinner, first of a long tradition of such annual meetings, and the popular pastor of Bethel Church, Dr. Wallace Fridy, addressed the Guild on “The Value of Music in Worship.” The June 1 issue of The Diapason reported: “Dean Rachel Pierce outlined the programs for the rest of the year. Nineteen charter members were presented. Miss Pierce then introduced the guest speaker for the evening, the Rev. Wallace Fridy. ...C. Lamar Alexander, minister of music at the Southside Baptist Church, discussed the graded choir program as used in his church. The following officers were installed. Dean: Miss Pierce, prof. of organ at Converse College: sub-dean: John E. Williams, minister of music at the First Presbyterian Church; secretary treasurer: Mrs. Helen H. Bright, assistant organist, Episcopal Church of the Advent. Afterward, the members and guests were taken on a tour of Bethel’s new sanctuary and educational building.


Who were these Charter Members of the new Spartanburg Chapter of the American Guild of Organists? The chapter reported that nineteen charter members were presented at the organist-clergy dinner at Bethel, but the national headquarters can verify only sixteen who actually paid dues and signed the necessary forms:


Mrs. Gaston D. (Helen H.) Bright

Mrs. Florence Burch

Mrs. Gilbert Carp Mrs. Lester Colloms

Miss Louise Crawley Miss Mary Margaret Gaston Mrs. William Chapman Herbert

Miss Norma Howell Miss Frances Virginia Kirkwood

Mr. Otis Lambert, Jr. Mrs. M. John McClement (Ruth Ward)

Mrs. Mary S. McDaniel Miss Rachel B. Pierce. FAGO (1936)

Mr. Robert Simmons Mr. George E. Thompson, Jr.

Mr. John E. Williams


It is interesting that The Diapason also reported in September 1954 that a chapter had been started in Asheville, NC, “organized back in the spring.” The same issue reported that the Charleston chapter held their annual picnic at the home of Mrs. Jervey Dupré Royall in Bay View Acres, Mt. Pleasant, on July 24, 1954.” What was the Spartanburg chapter doing? The December 1 issue of the same magazine reported that the Spartanburg chapter and the Guild Student Group of Converse College (Rachel Pierce’s work] presented a “Vesper Musicale” on Sunday, October 21, in Twichell Auditorium at Converse. Carol Bizzell and Carolyn Byers, members of the student group, played compositions by Bach, Handel, and Widor. The Spartanburg Oratorio Society sang David McK. Williams’s cantata “A Hymn of the Immortals.” John Williams directed and Miss Rachel Pierce was at the organ.


• Mary Ellen McDaniel


The importance of Guild student groups cannot be exaggerated. Carol Bizzell, the Converse student mentioned above, went on to serve West Side Baptist church as

12 organist and remained a staunch and active member of our chapter until her death in the late 1980s.

So ended the inaugural first year of our chapter’s existence. The 1954 Christmas season was climactically and auspiciously marked by the Oratorio Society’s rendition of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at First Presbyterian. The Spartanburg chapter was thus properly launched into the world of church music and community life to do good.

onal President S. Lewis Elmer’s blessing was bestowed on us, and the unfolding story of our chapter’s career will show how much “good” has resulted. From the perspective of fifty years later, the record looks decidedly positive. We see that a number of new chapters were born at about the same time as the Spartanburg chapter in the early 1950s. All seem to have survived into the 21 Century with varying degrees of strength, but the Spartanburg and Greenville chapters appear to be in very good health.


II. FROM 1954 TO 1973


Space will permit only touching the highlights of the chapter’s activities in the years following its inauguration up to the time of its greatest and most glorious achievement: a joint sponsorship, with the Greenville chapter, of the Regional Convention of the AGO in 1973.


After 1954 the chapter settled down to routine monthly meetings and sought to sponsor other projects besides John Williams’s Oratorio Singers. Thus in 1956 a Hymn Festival was put on at John’s church involving a combined chorus of choir members, directed and accompanied on the church’s fine 1925 Hook Hastings organ (IV/43) by John Williams. The Festival Children’s Chorus was directed by Paul McKearin, of the Converse College music faculty.


In May of 1957 a Memorial Concert was mounted to honor the memory of Spartanburg’s famous Prof. and Mrs. Wilson Parker Price. Dr. Alia Ross Lawson, Professor of Music and founder of Converse’s Pre-College Music Department, directed the Converse College Chorus; Professor Samuel Moyer directed the Wofford College Glee Club; and John E. Williams directed the Spartanburg Oratorio Society. The Society performed three more concerts before disbanding in 1959: Maunder’s Olivet to Calvary (March 1958), a “Concert of Sacred Choral Selections” (October 1958), and Haydn’s Creation (February 1959).


In May of 1961 a new member of our chapter, Dr. Ruth E. Graham, FAGO, arrived to retire from a teaching and performing career at Hanover College in Indiana. Under the chapter’s sponsorship, she organized and directed a second hymn festival, Hymns for the Living,” at First Presbyterian Church. She served the Congregational

urch of Tryon as organist/director, personally possessed a fine Moller II/5 organ in her living room atop Hogback Mountain in Tryon, and often hosted the chapter to sing or listen to her perform Persichetti’s “Parable” and other works, or hear ourselves play the wonderfully exposed, clear-toned instrument. She was an active member of the Hymn

13 Society of America and enjoyed inviting friends to her mountaintop home for a hymn sing. She was a real authority on hymns. The vast south wall of her living/music room overlooked the valley leading straight down to Spartanburg, a breathtaking view especially in autumn when the leaves were a blaze of color. John Williams was at it again in December, 1962, calling together an ad hoc “Spartanburg Community Chorus” to present a rousing performance of Handel’s Messiah in Converse’s Twichell Auditorium. Participants in that performance spoke about it excitedly for the next several years.


In February 1965 a new organist, Mr. Stephen Farrow, Asheville native and Northwestern University graduate, played a recital on the 1947 Moller (III/36) organ at the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Spartanburg, sponsored by our chapter. Stephen had come to Greenville in 1960 to play and direct at Westminster Presbyterian Church where he inaugurated a concert series and designed and installed a new Holtkamp organ (III/35).


A special honor befell our chapter when Dr. Leo Sowerby, Director of the College of Church Musicians at Washington’s National Cathedral and considered the Dean of American church musicians, came to visit. Our chapter sponsored his public Lecture on “The Search for Perfection in Worship,” November 20, 1965. The climax of his visit was a Choral workshop and concert at Converse featuring his own famous choral and organ works, culminating in a performance of the Lenten cantata Forsaken of Man. His student, William S. (Pat) Partridge, organ teacher at Converse and chapter member, accompanied on the organ. Dr. Sowerby complimented the chorus extravagantly at the end of the performance: “I have never heard my own compositions more beautifully or correctly sung.” He was not a man given to cheap flattery.


Our Yearbooks rarely mention it, but every Christmas for years it was a much anticipated tradition to accept the invitation of member David Cromer, superintendent of public schools in Polk County NC (Tryon), to an AGO Christmas party at his home. His one-story house was perched on the side of a mountain, reached by a long, gently rising driveway. It had a big front verandah enclosed with windows, and inside David had a magnificent collection of antique and modern musical instruments, which he and his parents had gathered over the years. Two Steinway grand pianos, an electronic organ (not a Hammond), numerous harps, dulcimers, and viols, plus fine artwork on the walls, gave his home an irresistible ambiance.

But there’s more. He always prepared a beef roast or baked ham as the main dish, while Guild members brought covered dishes of gourmet quality: cranberry-orange salads, scalloped potatoes, casseroles of peas and beans, macaroni and cheese, hot rolls, Christmassy greens, cinnamon-spiced apples, cakes, ice creams, etc.—elegantly prepared dishes unbefitting a group of underpaid church musicians (“church mice”). We always sat around before and after dinner enjoying libations and singing Christmas carols. Alas, David died in 1990 and for a time the tradition was interrupted. Those Christmas parties did much to attract new members and solidify the bonds of fellowship among grateful old members.


A routine meeting in January 1966 always a difficult month for planners-was an evening session listening to good recordings of Bach in the Music Building at Wofford College. The Dean (present writer) reported on the Mid-Winter AGO Conclave which had just been held in Charlotte. He had won the door prize: the complete works of Bach performed by Marie-Claire Alain, on ARCHIV records.


The February meeting was held at Converse College in conjunction with their annual Baroque Music Festival. Our chapter sponsored Harold Gleason in an organ workshop on Friday morning, and Catherine Crozier (= Mrs. Gleason) in organ recital Friday evening. The Gleason name was known to practically all organists: h Organ Playing had already become the most widely-used organ instruction manual in existence, displacing both Clarence Dickinson’s Technique and Art of Organ Playing and Victorian John Stainer’s popular The Organ. Frederick Swann, organist at The Riverside Church, New York City, played the dedicatory recital to open the new Casavant at First Baptist Church, April 12, 1967. The old building of “fireproof” yellow brick had burned to the ground in 1962, the result of arson, and a fine new red brick sanctuary of Colonial design, seating about 1500, had been built. The old church boasted a 1927 E. M. Skinner organ (111/25), rebuilt 1947 when Grigg Fountain served as organist before moving on to Oberlin and Northwestern University. He was succeeded by Tom Lyles, an organ graduate of the University of Michigan and a Spartanburg native. So large was the crowded audience at Swann’s recital, that many of us had to sit in the huge choir loft area (150 seats). From there we could watch Mr. Swann’s every facial expression. All seats in the church were occupied.


At that same church later in April, we presented Spartanburg’s First Children’s Choir Festival, conducted by that genius of children’s work, 1928 Converse graduate Mabel Stewart (Mrs. Haskell) Boyter. One of the founders of Choristers’ Guild in Atlanta, she and her husband did more to encourage the training of American children’s voices and children’s choir work than probably anyone else in the country. Her overwhelming charm and skill were convincingly demonstrated to us, as she took monotones and little misbehaving trolls and transformed them into musical angels whose expressions displayed a loyalty and personal devotion to her that could have conquered the wiles of Satan. And all this in a few hours of carefully planned rehearsal. Mabel Boyter was an inspiration. Converse College awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1998.

In 1969 Mrs. Helen Kemp, another nationally known children’s choir authority, came and conducted our Second Children’s Choir Festival. Dr. Charles Krigbaum, Professor of Organ at Yale University, presented a recital in Twichell Auditorium at Converse on their 1927 III/42 Austin, recently renovated by alumnae and fitted with a new detached console. Dr. Robert Baker from New York had played the re-dedication of the enlarged instrument in 1961. He was to return in 1968 to play the dedicatory recital on the fine new AEolian-Skinner instrument (III/47) in First Presbyterian Church.


Professional Concerns is always a timely topic for programs, and in May 1970 Dr. Preston Rockholt presented a lecture at our organist-clergy dinner in Tryon, entitled “Creative Tensions in Church Music.” He was not referring to wind pressure, reed voicing, or tuning problems. In April 1971 Gerre Hancock, organist/choirmaster at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York, presented a lecture on techniques of improvisation, played a recital on First Presbyterian’s AEolian-Skinner, and improvised on original themes submitted by former Deans J. Samuel Woodruff and Anna MacGregor to illustrate his theories. The chapter also presented in recital Dr. David Lowry from Winthrop College, and Dr. Robert J. Powell from Greenville’s Christ Church, Episcopal. But the climax of the decade was the joint hosting by the Greenville and Spartanburg chapters of the 1973 Southeastern Regional Convention of the AGO. Stephen Farrow was General Chairman of the Convention, and he charmed members of both chapters into doing the work necessary to bring it off. It was a huge success. As officer in charge of selling brochure advertising, the writer takes pride in the $2000 profit that was hauled in and reported as surplus after the Convention. Anna N. MacGregor (Mrs. David A.), FAGO, a member since 1961, having moved with her husband from Philadelphia, oversaw the layout and printing of the brochure. Before her husband’s textile business transferred them here, Anna had been organist at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Frankford. She became a most valuable member of our chapter (later Dean), often chiding all of us for being too lazy to work for the AAGO and FAGO examinations to improve our skills and competence. (We protested that some of us were just “part-time” church musicians. Also, colleges and music schools were offering bona-fide academic degrees in organ and church music.) Severe, especially when cautioning us about financial extravagance, excessive chapter spending, and the need to keep a nest-egg in the bank in case of emergencies and cost overruns. But she was gentle and generous to a fault. Her death in 1995 was a blow. She never uttered an unkind word. She was an enabler, encouraging all of us in our endeavors, and she knew how to solve organist’s problems. Her experience in Philadelphia and her vast knowledge of the organ (she had graduated from Temple University) made her a respected Mother Superior to our chapter, and everyone loved her. [In case anybody is wondering, “AAGO” means Associate of the AGO, “FAGO” means Fellow of the AGO, and Fellow is the highest and most difficult attainment. Ever, irreverent student-wags at Union Seminary used to reverse the honors, reading AAGO as “Always a Good Organist” and FAGO as “Formerly a Good Organist.”


The 1973 Southeastern Regional AGO Convention involved the contiguous states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Mary Julia Royall of Charleston represented SC, David C. Partington, NC, Dr. John G. Schaeffer, Georgia, and Dr. RobertSetzer, Florida. Dr. Setzer had taught piano to our member—later Dean—Beverly Ann Barrs. The Convention ran from June 24-27. Several members of our chapter chaired committees: Frances Dobson, Marge Fay, Judith Klasen, Anna MacGregor, Joann Metz, Mary Lou Miller, John Bullard, and John Williams.

Organ recitalists brought in to perform included Robert Clark from the University of Michigan, Robert Wolfersteig from Indiana University, young Robert Brewer from Houston, Scottish-born and Glasgow-trained Alexander Anderson from Rollins College, Florida, Gerre and Judith Hancock from New York City, and George Markey from Princeton. Ralph Blakely played a recital on his reconditioned 1896 Jardine (1/9) in Pelzer. Stephen J. Ortlip brought his Chattanooga Boys Choir for a sacred music concert, Alice Parker conducted a choral workshop and lectured on “New Music for the Church,” and, as icing on the cake, Nan Neugebauer entertained at the final banquet at Furman with impromptu humor (“Nan about Town”) which was hilarious. Nan was Past Dean of the Pittsburgh chapter. Preceding the banquet, Hermannus H. van Bergen, Carilloneur, presented a recital on Furman’s 60-bell carillon, the Bourdon bell of which weighs 4,500 pounds.


A sour note was sounded, however, as the Convention was being planned: Case Brothers Co. had asked to sponsor an organist to display the excellencies of the technologically improved Allen Digital Computer organ II/36+ (system 600). Since so very many organists regularly play electronic organs, why not, at the Convention, show a fine example played upon by an expert in a serious recital of legitimate organ music?

The steering committee agreed, a Baptist church in Greenville (Taylors) was chosen for the venue, and organist Carlo James Curley was engaged to play. Case Brothers Co. and Allen Organs, Inc., picked up the tab, springing for all expenses involved with the recital. As it turned out Mr. Curley, North Carolina native and student of Virgil Fox, played a very respectable program: more than half made up of difficult masterpieces by J. S. Bach; then, after the intermission, French pieces by Déthier, Pierné, Vierne, and Saint-Saëns. The only “transcription” was Bach’s Concerto IV after Vivaldi (BWV 595). Curley played to an appreciative audience, and the reviews of both the performance and of the new instrument were decidedly favorable. But to the astonishment of the steering committee, a letter was received a few weeks before the Convention from a representative of the Atlanta Chapter, icily stating in no uncertain terms that chapter’s adamant opposition to lending any kind of support” to any Convention of the AGO where an electronic organ would be featured. That meant not only that Atlanta would not be involved financially with any aspect of the Convention, a grievous loss, but also they would discourage anyone from even attending. The Curley concert was played on the Wednesday afternoon after Alexander Anderson’s recital at Bob Jones on their III/57 Zimmer (1968), and before the banquet at Furman. No pressure was put on anyone to attend. It was an “extra” feature. Steve Farrow and Robert Powell replied to the letter, telephoned the Atlanta officers, and tried to unruffle the indignant feathers. But to no avail! Of course, not all Atlanta organists would have agreed with the letter, and nine Atlanta members actually attended the Convention. To us the protest seemed altogether irrational. The AGO chapters of Upstate SC had no intention of trying to promote or champion electronic organs. The idea was to be helpful and encouraging to the great majority of organists in the area who play electronic organs then and now.

That unpleasantness was never publicly mentioned. The Convention was altogether a great success. 173 organists came from as far away as New York, Panama, Virginia, and Ohio, plus the sponsoring states. Many new acquaintances grew into fast friendships that have lasted through these years since, even though tragically Stephen Farrow met an early death, and many more have retired from their active music posts.

Robert J. Powell composed a commissioned piece that received its world premier at the opening festival concert of the Convention: Apperception for double chorus, organ, two flutes, and percussion. Along with that commissioned piece, the South Carolina premier of a musical “Chancel Play,” entitled Yiphtah and His Daughter (Judges 11) by Jean Berger, was presented. That work called for soprano and baritone soloists, chorus, dancer, and orchestra. Powell is the Upstate’s “Composer in Residence,” having served Christ Church, Episcopal, in Greenville since the mid-1960s. He has composed and published prolifically for both solo organ and mixed voices for church use. On many occasions he has come over to Spartanburg and played recitals, demonstrated techniques, discussed composing, and led workshops. He is a valuable friend of the Spartanburg Chapter and a Mississippi native who gave indispensable advice to the Methodist commission which put out the 1989 United Methodist Hymn Book.


III. From the Regional Convention to 2004


After the Convention of 1973 the chapter settled back into its general routine of monthly meetings. This followed a pattern set by experience and is similar to patterns followed by perhaps most other chapters in the country.

Accordingly, the first meeting each year (September) was generally given over to an anthem reading session in which members brought special anthems to demonstrate and recommend, often accompanying themselves. The October meeting could be a recital by an invited artist, or a members’ recital. November would be the same, or a lecture demonstration by a visiting authority, or a meeting on professional concerns. In other words, an open topic. December was given to the annual Christmas party and caroling, or, if scheduling were difficult with so many conflicts at Christmas time, or if the weather were bad (Spartanburg is given to winter storms in which a “winter mix” of sleet and freezing rain sometimes a bit of snow—makes driving dangerous), the December meeting would be cancelled. January was reserved for a repertoire session, wherein a good organist would share ideas of appropriate music, sometimes recently released or of special relevance to the season or occasion. Members would often bring favorite organ music to share with the Guild. Or “organ plus” would be emphasized, that is, organ plus instruments or vocalists with new ideas and demonstrations. February could also be a members’ recital or a faculty recital at one of the local institutions, or a special church program. March would sometimes feature a choral workshop and/or festival, usually with an outside expert who could teach us something. April brought election of chapter officers, m recitals, and Lenten and Easter church services, special oratorio and cantata concerts, and similar church events. Occasionally an “organ crawl” in a new installation, or a joint meeting with a neighboring chapter, would be arranged. May was always installation of officers and the organist-clergy dinner.


Who were the Guest Organists brought in and sponsored by our chapter in its first fifty years? It is a good list. Most of their recitals were played on the 1968 AEolian Skinner organ at First Presbyterian Church, or on the 1973 Moller at Bethel United Methodist Church, or on the 1988 Flentrop at the Episcopal church of the Advent. Converse College’s two organs, the 1969 Schantz in Daniel Recital Hall and 1992 Casavant in Twichell Auditorium, were sometimes used.


Who were the performers? [Complete list from the beginning in 1954. First few years caught us without funds to sponsor outside artists. Some recitals were co-sponsored by the Guild with local churches and colleges):


1961 Robert Baker from New York City [dedicatory recital for the renovated Austin III/42 organ in Twichell Auditorium, Converse College]

1965 Stephen Farrow from Greenville (Oberlin and Northwestern)

1967 Frederick Swann from New York City [dedicatory recital for the new 1967 Casavant organ at First Baptist Church]

1967 Charles Krigbaum from Yale University

1968 Robert Baker from New York City [dedicatory recital of the new 1968 AEolian-Skinner organ at First Presbyterian Church)

1971 Gerre Hancock from New York City, improvisation on submitted themes 1971 David Lowry from Winthrop College, lecture-recital 1972 Robert J. Powell from Christ Church, Greenville 1974 James Moeser from the University of Kansas

1974 George Markey from Princeton dedicatory recital for new 1973 Moller organ at Bethel United Methodist Church

1975 Manfred Brandstetter from Hannover, Germany 1975 John Turnbull from Converse College 1975 Robert Stigall from Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte 1975 Michael Corzine from Florida State University 1975 John Cleaveland from Charlotte 1976 Charles Huddleston Heaton from Pittsburgh

1978 David Craighead from the Eastman School of Music [demonstrating contemporary organ music, including an electrifying performance of Ligeti’s Volumina]

1978 Rudolph Kremer from the University of North Carolina [including a lecture-slide demonstration on the “Classical Italian Organ”)

1978 Karel Paukert from Cleveland Museum of Art


1978 Paul Stephen Lee, national winner of the 1978 AGO Young Artist Competition

1979 Margaret Mueller from Winston-Salem, NC

[Both the above recitalists played as part of our chapter’s 25th anniversary

celebration in 1979) 1980 Hans Vigelund from Tryon, NC who also spoke on his professional life

1980 Marilyn Keiser from Biltmore, NC (dedicatory recital for new 1980 Austin organ at Central United Methodist Church

1980 Edmund Shay from Columbia College 1981 Wayne Ernest from Newberry College (Univ. Michigan and Cincinnati) 1982 Antone Godding from Oklahoma, playing Dupré’s Stations of the Cross 1983 Cheryl Hamilton from Westminster Presbyterian Church, Greenville 1983 Robert Glick from Erskine College 1983 J. Michael Grant from Gaffney and Roanoke 1984 John S. Mueller from Winston-Salem, NC 1986 Larry H. Smith from Indiana University 1986 Gaby Hardmeyer from Zurich, Switzerland (pupil of Marie-Claire Alain) 1986 Diane Bish from Coral Gables, FL 1986 David Liddle, blind organist from London

1986 W. Lindsay Smith from Furman (performing the Neumeister Chorales of Bach from the newly-discovered MSS in the Yale University Library in 1984)

1987 James W. Good from Gaffney 1989 David Perry Ouzts from Yale University 1990 Raymond and Elizabeth Chenault from Atlanta 1991 Thomas Strauss from Berlin, Germany 1993 James Johnson from the Adolphus Busch Hall, Harvard University 1994 Charles Boyd Tompkins from Furman University 1994 Marty Bennett from California

1996 Marcia Andrews (dedicatory recital for the new Schoenstein II/15 in the Chapel of First Presbyterian Church, designated the “John Williams Organ” honoring his 43 years’ service there]

1996 Thomas Sullivan from New York City celebrating the Centennial of the national AGO in “The World’s Largest Organ Recital”)

1998 David Arcus from Duke University [dedicatory recital for the 1969 Holtkamp 11/19 removed from Duke University, where E. Power Biggs had played its dedicatory recital in 1970, enlarged, revoiced, and relocated in Wofford College’s Leonard Auditorium/Chapel in 1997]

2001 James Hammann from New Orleans in the costumed role of “Old Bach”]


Choral workshops were conducted by Leo Sowerby from Washington, Marilyn Keiser from Biltmore, by Carolyn Darr from Charlotte, Donald Plott from Davidson College, Victor Bilanchone from Wofford, Charles T. Gaines from Greenwood, Holt Andrews from First Presbyterian, and Perry Daniels from Converse. Donald Allured conducted a Handbell Festival at Westminster Presbyterian.


An especially memorable occasion was the visit in January 1977 of Dr. Roberta Bitgood, national President of the AGO. She dropped in on Bethel United Methodist Church and performed some of her preludes. The Bethel Chancel Choir, anticipating her visit, sang two of her anthems, and soprano Toni Holder sang “The Greatest of These Is Love.” She visited several churches in Spartanburg and attended a concert in her honor by the Warren Wilson College Choir at Tryon’s Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross.


An important event every year (or almost) has been our Members Recital.” All members are encouraged to volunteer to present a piece or two they have worked hard on, or feel they are ready and anxious to perform, or wish their peers to know about. Below is a summary of these performances from the past fifty years. Following the player’s name is an alphabetized list of composers whose works she or he played in recital(s). Over the years, for example, a member may have played five different pieces by Bach, but Bach’s name will appear only once.


Addington, Justin, Beethoven Andrews, Marcia, Bridge, Fesperman, Handel, Manz, Powell, Tambling, Thompson, Vann Ayers, J. Scott, Ayers, Bach Barrs, Beverly A., Franck, Haan, Hustad, Roberts, Schroeder, Widor Bishop, Thomas, German, Kusher, McCabe, Wood Bradley, William T., Bach, Boehm, Clarke, Mendelssohn, Messiaen, Roberts Brannon, Michael, Gigout, Langlais Bullard, John M., Bach, Boyce, Bridge, Cook, Drischner, Dunhill, Elmore, Fiocco.

Franck, Ganne, Hancock, Hovhaness, Kodály, Locke, Pachelbel, Pados, Palmer, Parker,

Parry, Purvis, Reger, Scarlatti, Schroeder, Setzer, Sisler, Titcomb, Travers, Vivaldi, Wegner Cleaveland, John, Saint-Saëns, Walther Cribb, Richard, Bach, Behnke, Buxtehude, Eberlin, Young Daniel, Melissa, Busarow, Mendelssohn Deal, Frankie, Bach, Kirnberger, Leavitt, Pachelbel Dobson, Frances, Bach Fallaw, Billy, Colvin Graham, Ruth, Bach, Franck, Havey, Howells, Messiaen, Persichetti, Schroeder Grant, J. Michael, Bach, D’Aquin, Hibbard, Pat, Bach, Bruhns, Reger Jarrell, Mrs. W. W., Creston Jennings, Sylvia, Barn, Buxtehude, Dupré, Klein, Marcello, Praetorius, Uhlein Klasen, Judith, Bach, Bender, Howells, Manz, Mulet, Peeters, Walther, Widor Knox, Chris, Young Lyles, Thomas A., Bristol, Dethier MacGregor, Anna, Bach, Brahms, Dupré, Handel, Langlais, Pepping McMillan, Lucas, Bach Miller, Mary Lou Hutchison, Albinoni, Bach, Boellmann, Brahms, Brewer, Burkhardt,

Busarow, Handel, Lau, Manz, Mozart, Swann, Vaughan Williams, Wood Owings, Charles T., Bach, Couperin, Hamlin, Hopson, Widor, Willan Pados, Virginia Bogdan, Benoit, Dubois, Pados Phillips. David, Arnsdorf, Bender, Callahan, Dandrieu, Hartley, Vaughan Williams

Pickens, Diane, Bach, Mendelssohn Pierce, Rachel B., Bach, Franck, Frescobaldi Powers, Patsy, Bach Reid, Norma Jean, Bach Smith, Margaret, Bach, Couperin, Franck, Lübeck, Widor Smithey, Pamela, Near, Wood Sutter, Robert, Bach, Callahan, Ireland, Langlais

Tolbert, Thomas W., Manz, Matthias, Mattheson (harpsichord), Rippen Tolley, Sarah, Boëllmann Tudgay, Jeff, Sowerby Turnbull, John, Bach, Buxtehude, Darke, Honegger, Lemmens, Rorem, Louie White,

Widor Wade, Gayle, Bach, Sergisson, Stanford/Kerrick Wilbur, Kaylene, Bach, Peeters Williams, John E., Buxtehude, Mulet, Purcell, Sammartini, Stanley Woodruff, J. Samuel, Hindemith, Lemmens


An important contribution the Spartanburg chapter makes to the community and to church music at large is the ‘Pipe Organ Encounter” for young people. We call it a “Pipe Organ Exploration Event for Teenage Pianists” or, on one occasion, “Pedals, Pipes, and Pizza.” Deans Marcia Andrews, Bill Seifert, Mary Lou Miller, and Gayle Wade were active sponsors and organizers of these happenings, and, with the cooperation of the city’s piano teachers, they have all been well attended and successful.

They take place on a Saturday morning, usually between 10:00 and 12:00 at one of our cooperating churches. The program begins with the showing of short videotape about the organ (usually Pulling Out All the Stops: The Pipe Organ in America). That is followed by what is described as “a brief recital by some of Spartanburg’s most exciting performers to show the different sounds of an organ. Then the students are given the opportunity actually to play the three-manual instrument for themselves. At some churches, they are shown into the organ chambers and allowed to see the pipes, reservoirs, blowers, chests, different types of pipe resonators, the electrical works, swell shades, and all the sound-producing parts. Finally, pizza pie and soft drinks are served in the fellowship hall. Parents, teachers, friends, and family are all welcomed.

An interesting variant on this “Encounter” is the Great Halloween Recital, first instituted in 1994 by Dean Jan McCoy. Sometimes this is advertised “for Youth.” Commencing at 11:00 PM, members of the Guild perform frightening organ solos/duets (an example of “frightening” is Wagner’s transcribed “Ride of the Valkyries” from Die Walküre), dressed in Halloween costumes and wigs, and playing anonymously. A printed program announces the pieces and their composers, but the player’s name is omitted. Nearly always John Williams plays the concluding warhorse, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,” to terrify the audience and send them forth shaking in horror

As a whole, our members are not devoid of humor. The monthly Newsletter sometimes reprints poems bearing such titles as “The Organist” (satirical) or a funny prose piece, “If Organists Wrote the Wedding Announcement for the Newspapers.” For one of our Halloween Recitals Dean Gayle Wade shared a set of “Pumpkin Carols” sung to traditional carol-tunes, e.g., “Pumpkin Bells,” “I’m Dreaming of the Great Pumpkin,” or “Great Pumpkin Is Comin’ to Town.”


Speaking of members, perhaps this is the place to state how valuable our individual members are and have been since our humble beginning. Without our conscientious deans and officers, our hard-working volunteer “drones” like Sylvia Jennings, who carefully preserved our annual records in substantial scrap books, making this chronicle possible, our AGO chapter long ago would have floundered. Bill (Dr. William) and Katherine Burns have graciously renewed the Christmas party tradition in David Cromer’s lavish style, as did Marge Fay-our faithful treasurer and former secretary and Jan McCoy earlier. Charter Member John Williams has served us perennially as Guiding Spirit and excellent procurer, publicity agent, and coordinator of events. Converse College justly conferred on him the honorary degree Mus.Doc., in

n of his contribution to the community and to his church. In 1991 he retired from First Presbyterian Church after 43 years’ service. Holt and Marcia Andrews, who succeeded John there, have enhanced our chapter with their musical expertise and performing ability. Mary Lou Miller continues to work hard in every aspect of service to the Guild, from playing in recitals to providing floral arrangements and refreshments for more than 40 years. Miriam Turner and Therlon Joyner, our first Black members, have greatly enriched our chapter and have held office. Charles Owings has taken care of Yearbook printing, preparing Newsletters, and arranging programs. The coming of Canadian-born Brennan Szafron into Spartanburg and the Guild in August 2003 brought us a young person who promises to be an enthusiastic resource and supporter. A skilled professional organist-choirmaster for the Episcopal Church of the Advent, he holds advanced degrees from Yale and the University of Michigan.


We must expess our unqualified gratitude to the organ professors at Converse College who, beginning with Rachel Pierce, gave willingly of their time and expertise to conduct master-classes for our chapter of the AGO. Dr. Larry Smith, succeeding Rachel Pierce, and Dr. John Turnbull, succeeding him, have enormously helped improve the service playing in Spartanburg churches by cheerfully and patiently helping all of us play better. They demonstrated their superb teaching abilities and offered enlightening suggestions ranging from fingering, pedaling, registering, tempo and rhythm, interpretation, and choice of repertoire-always reaching down to the performer’s level and showing us the better way.

The following persons have served us as Dean since our founding in 1954:


Rachel Barron Pierce, 1954-1955

John E. Williams, 1955-1957

Samuel Woodruff, 1957-1959

Carol Bizzell, 1959-1961

William T. Bradley, 1961-1963

Alfred M. White, Jr., 1963-1965

Dr. John M. Bullard, 1965-1967

Dr. Ruth Graham, 1967-1969

Anna N. MacGregor, 1969-1971

Frances Dobson, 1971-1973

Dr. Larry H. Smith, 1973-1975

Mary Lou Hutchison Miller, 1975-1977

Margaret S. Fay, 1977-1979

Patricia G. Powers. 1979-1981

Dr. John R. Turnbull, 1981-1983

Mary Lou Hutchison Miller, 1983-1984

Michael S. Brannon, 1984-1986

Frankie W. Deal, 1986-1988

William E. Seifert, 1988-1989

David M. Abercrombie, 1989-1990

Beverly Ann Barrs, 1990-1992.

Richard B. Cribb, Jr., 1992-1994

D. Jan McCoy, 1994-1996

Marcia C. Andrews, 1996-1998

Thomas E. Bishop, 1998-2000

Gayle W. Wade, 2000-2004

In our first half-century we attracted a number of FAGOs, starting with Rachel Pierce in 1954. Then Ruth Graham, Anna MacGregor, and Virginia Pados graced our chapter and elevated our prestige. Virginia Pados took an MM degree at the University of Montreal, Canada and joined us from Upstate New York in 1987 as a “composer in residence.” A gifted musician, steeped in Greek Orthodox as well as Gregorian tradition, she writes organ compositions of originality and verve. Juilliard graduate William T. Bradley worked hard toward both AAGO and FAGO, but gave up the struggle as his duties in Tryon’s Episcopal church became stressful. He died in 1995 but was always an inspiration to our members. Our total membership has usually hovered between 30 and 40 each year, but we now can claim 47 dues-paid members.


In a newspaper interview in 1991, Dean Beverly Barrs wrapped up our raison d’etre: “The group meets monthly to swap musical ideas and share experiences and problems. We learn from each other and support each other, too. ...Local organists, choir directors, people who love organ music, and those who simply want to support this chapter have joined. Members attend workshops, listen to and participate in recitals, and enjoy each other’s company at meetings and covered-dish suppers.” May it ever continue to be.


Soli Deo Gloria




The writer wishes to thank Ms. Suzanne Eggleston Lovejoy, Reference Librarian in the Music Library of Yale University, for locating primary source materials; and her supervisor Dr. Kenneth Cremle, for courteous privileges in the Sterling Memorial Library. Ms. Lovejoy is a graduate of Salem College who “almost attended Converse.”

National President Fred Swann gave direction, encouragement, and advice; and Ms. Jennifer Morris of the AGO Headquarters in New York cheerfully verified the names of our charter members and other historical details of our founding. Dean Scott Carpenter of Winston-Salem, NC, shared his copy of that city’s interesting but too-short AGO chapter history, written by Paul S. Robinson in 1985. Also Dr. W. Lindsay Smith, FAGO, Organ Professor Emeritus at Furman University, for sharing his ready and reliable memory of our First Days. Many Spartanburghers also helped. The local Arts Center, of which we are constituent members, preserved our archival materials for the past half-century, and Mrs.Ava Jennings Hughes, who kindly resurrected those hidden materials, deserves the sincere thanks of our chapter. Without those heavy scrap books and miscellaneous papers, we would have been bereft of our Yearbooks, ledgers, minutes, programs, and records, so indispensable for telling our story.





American Guild of Organists, United States and Canada. Year Book and Directory, 1936. New York, AGOHQ, Rockefeller Center, 1270 Sixth Avenue, 1936.


Baldwin, Samuel Atkinson. The Story of the American Guild of Organists. New York: H. W. Gray, 1946.


Ellinwood, Leonard. The History of American Church Music, New York: Morehouse-Gorham, 1953 (rev’d. ed. Da Capo, 1970). Esp. pp. 150-152.


Owen, Barbara. “American Guild of Organists Centennial. One Hundred Years Ago: the Founding of the AGO.” The American Organist, Vol. 30, No. 1, January 1996. Pp. 134 et seq.