Houston Reaches for the Stars

By James Thomashower, AGO Executive Director

The largest gathering of organists on Earth will take place this year in Houston, Texas from June 19-23 at the AGO’s 2016 National Convention. It will be a glorious, week-long celebration of organ and choral music. The dedicated volunteers of the Houston Convention Steering Committee have invested countless hours of their personal time to create a compelling program of world-class performances, workshops, and exhibits, along with a few extraterrestrial surprises.

The 1,200 room Hilton Americas-Houston is our convention headquarters. It’s a superb facility which boasts the largest Starbucks in Texas. Housing Coordinator Scott Mouton declared: “It is a gorgeous hotel, and a perfect venue for our convention.”

Sixteen other spectacular venues including 13 churches and three universities—University of Houston, Houston Baptist, and Rice--will serve as our hosts. We will be treated to the ethereal music of extraordinary instruments by Aeolian Skinner, Fisk, Fisk-Rosales, Fritts, Létourneau, Noack, Pasi, Schantz, and Schoenstein.

I asked Robert Bates, the Performances Chair, to name one convention event that will prove to be an unexpected delight. “People who have heard and seen the Davidsson Organ and Dance Collaborative can't stop talking about how fabulous it is,” he replied. “A new art form.” You can see them on Tuesday afternoon, June 21.

If you are planning chronologically, the NYACOP finals will be held on Saturday, June 18 and the winner’s recital can be heard on Sunday the 19th prior to the grand Opening Convocation that evening. The seven Rising Stars will perform in succession on Monday morning, June 20, while the St. Cecilia Concert will be held at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Monday evening. Tuesday’s schedule includes the NCOI finals at Christ Church Cathedral, afternoon recitals by the 2014 NYACOP and NCOI winners, Jonathan Rudy and Patrick Scott, and evening recitals by Richard Elliott and the Houston Chamber Choir with Mary Preston.

Regional and Annual Business Meetings will be held on Wednesday morning with recitals by Edoardo Bellotti, Isabelle Demers, and Dorothy Papadakos in the afternoon. The Choir of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue performs that night.

Thursday’s afternoon recitals feature Ars Lyrica, Joby Bell, and Diane Belcher. The convention closes that night with a truly cosmic “Evening Extravaganza” featuring performances by John Schwandt, Aaron David Miller, the Houston Symphony, and Melissa Givens.

Chelsea Chen, David Dahl, Emma Lou Diemer, Hans Ola Ericsson, Naji Hakim, Aaron David Miller, and David Ashley White are just a few of the elite composers who have prepared new compositions that will have their world premieres in Houston. Worship opportunities include two Evensong services, one Compline, a Service of World Music, and a Hymn Festival.

The packed exhibit hall will give you a chance to visit with more than 75 exhibitors, including many choral music publishers. Six dozen workshops will be offered throughout three different mornings of the convention. Some presentations will be 30-minute papers that are academically focused. Others will be 45-minute workshops that are hands-on and interactive. New this year will be a workshop providing an open forum for members to ask questions of the National Council. The convention will also include an update on the status of the Federal Trade Commission’s review of the AGO’s Code of Ethics and Salary Guidelines.

Convention Coordinator Rhonda Furr sees the big picture: “Seventeen committees and more than 100 volunteers have worked for over four years to present a world-class convention in Houston. We have incredible organs in breath-taking, beautiful settings. There is something for all musicians: organ performances by world-class artists; workshop topics in many different categories; and 17 commissioned works. Our $1 million budget has been dedicated to sharing music with organ and choral enthusiasts from around the globe. The experience will become a benchmark for future conventions.”

The Steering Committee extends its gratitude to all those who have made gifts to support the convention, and a special thank-you to those who have joined the 2016 Club with gifts of $2,016 or more.

As your proud hosts in a creative partnership, the members of the Houston Chapter, the National Council, and the AGO Headquarters Staff look forward to greeting you at the AGO National Convention in Houston this summer.