Powerful Pipes and Rising Stars: Eastman Organists at AGO 2018


The Julia Irene Kauffman Casavant Organ at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, one of several venues for AGO 2018. Photograph courtesy of Tim Hursley

The annual convention of the American Guild of Organists was held from July 2 through 6 in Kansas City, Missouri. Eastman’s Organ Department always makes a sterling showing at this event, but this year was exceptional. David Higgs, the chair of Eastman’s Department of Organ, Sacred Music, and Historical Keyboards, offers some recollections of the breadth of Eastman’s involvement in AGO 2018, from longtime alumni to current undergraduates.

By David Higgs

There were more than 35 Eastman people involved in the Kansas City AGO convention, despite the fact that it was in Kansas City. Here’s a list of Eastman students, alumni, or faculty members who performed, lectured, presented, recorded, composed, turned pages, or did other various things at this Convention:

Daniel Aune ‘02E (BM), ’04E (MM),’11E (DMA)
Michael Bauer
Diane Meredith Belcher ‘83E (MM)
Edoardo Bellotti
Jamie Bobb ‘91E (MM)
Daniel Brondel ‘95E (MM)
Joseph Butler ‘85E (DMA)
Daniel Chang ’18E (MM)
Jason Charneski ‘96E
Doug Cleveland ’90E
Emma Lou Diemer ‘49E (MM), ‘60E (PhD) — Kansas City native, and composer of a new piece for the convention, Remembering, performed on July 4 by Chelsea Chen
John Ditto ’79E (DMA)
Isaac Drewes
Margaret Evans ’79E (DMA)
Gerald Frank
Katherine Handford ‘86E, ‘87E (both MM)
James Higdon ’77E (DMA)
Wilma Jensen ‘51E, ‘52E (MM)
Nicole Keller ‘99E (MM)
Andre Duane Lash ‘87E (DMA)
Cindy Lindeen-Martin ’88E (DMA)
Chris Marks ‘99E (DMA)
Lenora McCroskey ‘82E (DMA)
Jack Mitchener ‘89E (MM), ‘94E (MM), ‘95E (DMA)
Timothy Olsen ’01E (MM)
Jennifer Pascual ’01E (DMA)
Jay Peterson ‘65E, ‘66E (MM)
Stephen Rapp ‘75E
Caroline Robinson ’16E (MM)
Catherine Rodland ’89E (MM), ’92E (DMA)
Margaret Sandresky ‘44E (MM)
Jiaqi Shao
Damin Spritzer
‘99E (MM)
Mark Steinbach ‘87E (MM), ‘90E (DMA)
Tom Trenney ’02E (MM)
Michael Unger ’04E (MM),’07E (MM), ’13E (DMA)
Michael Velting ‘88E (MM), ‘91E (DMA)
Zachary Wadsworth ‘05E
Todd Wilson – former interim professor at Eastman

At the competition, there were nine semifinalists, three of whom were Eastman students. Two made the finals, and they got the second and third prizes, respectively: Caroline Robinson and Daniel Chang. (Daniel was a composition student of David Conte at San Francisco, and a pianist. Also accomplished in martial arts … he knows how to practice!) The other semifinalist was Isaac Drewes.

Current undergraduate student Jiaqi Shao played really well in the “Rising Stars” concert, which was also recorded as a Pipedreams Live event by Michael Barone for NPR. Six Eastman alumni were featured performers: Michael Unger (faculty member at Cincinnati), Nicole Keller (faculty member at Baldwin-Wallace), Jenny Pascual (Musical Director of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC), Jamie Bobb (faculty member at St. Olaf), Tom Trenney (Organist of First Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska) and Damin Spritzer (faculty member at University of Oklahoma).


David Higgs with Wm. A Little at the Eastman AGO 2018 reception

We had a wonderful Eastman Alumni Reception on July 3; thanks to Laura Souza, Cathy Hain, Felicity Democko, and Madeleine Woodworth for arranging it. Between 80 and 100 people attended (many who got their “second wind” showed up at midnight…), and we announced Eastman’s future “Wm. A. Little Fellowship in Organ” bequest, with Professor Little present. An inspiring moment.

The reception was a resounding success, and I heard such comments as “What a wonderful vibe in the room that night”, “what’s happening at Eastman gives me faith in the future”, “Eastman is so successful — what’s your secret?”, “I’m so proud to call myself an Eastman alum”, and most importantly, “Thank you for having this wonderful party — I look forward to it as the highlight of each convention.”