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KC American Guild of Organist members' recital, all generations covered

Recital participants:
Front, L-R: Barbara Eichenberger, Mary Davis, Stephen Kucera; 
Rear:  Ray Smith, Kathy Hellwege, Reggie Watkins
Recital participants: Front, L-R: Barbara Eichenberger, Mary Davis, Stephen Kucera; Rear: Ray Smith, Kathy Hellwege, Reggie Watkins
Floyd E. Gingrich

Monday evening, after the KCAGO dinner and business meeting at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Meyer Blvd. and Wornall Rd, Kansas City, Missouri, it was time for the guild members to entertain and educate each other. Some of the music was standard repertoire, some unknown to most, some arranged by the performers, some novel, and some surprising.

Victor Labenske's "Reflections on 'Were You There'" required hand held hammers, rulers thrown on the strings, and a lot of concentration
Floyd E. Gingrich

Outgoing chapter dean, Mary Bronaugh Davis, was the first to take the bench with Michael McCabe's "Trumpet Tune." A bright, celebratory tune, suitable for Eastertide, it has a quieter, more playful bridge and finishes with a da capo (return to the beginning). Adagio Molto, from Alexander Guillmant's (1837-1911) Sonata 3, Op 56, a not terribly familiar piece, with lots of thick chords, a minor, almost sinister sound, played with a lot of principal. Gordon Balch Nevin (1892 - 1943) was represented by "Toccata in d minor." A work of much tonal variety with rapidly moving underlay to a slower melody, Mrs. Davis owned this music. Mary, an M.A. graduate from the KC Conservatory of Music, has retired from fifty years as organist at Barry Christian Church.

Reggie Watkins, known for recordings and world-wide performances, played his own arrangement of the classical gospel anthem, "Let ev'rything that hath breath." In the best tradition of the concept of variations, the verses utilized improvisatory styles from blues & jazz, standard rock gospel, and some fuguing around in the style of J.S. Bach. Reggie endeavors, usually successfully, to keep his audiences awake.

The score of "Two Children's Pieces for Piano," were handed to Kathy Hellwege in 1967 by the 16 years old composer, Michael Bierbichler, while he was attending Ettalier Cloister in Ettal, Germany. Chauson Triste, marked allegro, but a rather allegro, ma non troppo (fast, but not too much) had some light play between parts, but mediated by somber key and a muffled bass part. Marcia Funebre depicted a small town funeral procession going by, first in the distance, the present, and trailing off to the cemetery, evocative of a Chopin dirge. On the organ, Ms Hellwege played Domenico Scarlatti's "Organ Sonata in G Major," (K-328). Ms Hellwege has taught music and English, and is currently helping to plan the American Guild of Organists convention in Kansas city in 2018.

Barbara Eichenberger and Ray Smith played two organ-piano duets, and an intriguing piano duet. "Lord of the Dance," by Joel Raney, for organ & piano duet, is also available in anthem form, SATB with organ and piano. When the piano plays the melody, it has a dance-like sound. The organ is featured in the verses that describe the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, and all of the lilt goes away. "Amazing Grace" arranged for Piano and Organ by Charles Callahan, created on a Kurzweil K2500XS synthesizer, used the piano in the foreground, with an organ serving as an orchestra, sometimes as accompaniment, and, at time doubling the piano for a torrent of sound. A beautiful organ solo on the flutes announced that all was well.

Victor Labenske, professor of music at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California, where he teaches piano and music history, arranged a setting of "Were you there," for piano that calls for one person playing the keyboard, and one playing on the strings with fingers, mallets, thrown one foot rulers, to rather grotesquely depict the various scenes of Christ's Passion and Death. Rather challenging for the performers, but effective story-telling.

Mr. Smith currently is an organist at Colonial Presbyterian and the UMC Church of the Resurrection. Ms. Eichenberger, a graduate of UMKC, is head organist at the UMC Church of the Resurrection.

Thomas Zachacz played numbers 11 and 12 from Max Reger's ''Twelve Pieces'' Op. 59, Melodia, and Te deum. Reger never sounds like he has had a good day, but Mr. Zachacz successfully negotiated the constantly moving undulating sounds that accompany the grand melodies. The end of the Te deum does have a grand optimistic sound, for Reger. Mr. Zachacz is Parish Musician to Redeemer Lutheran Church in Olathe. He earned degrees at Purchase College and New York University, with additional study in France. He was organist at the Union Church of Pocantico Hills on the Rockefeller Estate for 14 years.

The last performer, Stephen Kucera, is student at K.S.U., majoring in both organ performance and accounting (perhaps to answer the question, "Yes, but how will you support yourself"). His organ arrangement of Hans Zimmer's "Tennessee," from the movie, "Pearl Harbor," was a good orchestral use of the pipe organ, and well played. Mr. Kucera's performance of Czech composer Petr Eben's Moto ostinato, from Musica Dominicalis (Sunday Music) was skillfully done, the emphatic pedal melodies were well placed, keeping the overall momentum in tact. It is nice to know that pipe organ music will not follow the current blue hairs. Stephen Kucera will be the featured organist June 29th, at 2:00 PM on the massive theater at the Kansas City Music Hall for a full program, free admission. Come and hear all of the xylophones, bells, whistles and drums connected to the console.