The Founding of the Columbus Chapter

(Excerpts from an article written May 13, 1935 by Mrs. Wilbur Thoburn Mills, for many years organist of the Broad Street Methodist Church.)

During the month of June, 1916, Mr. Rowland W. Dunham, then organist and choirmaster of the First Congregational Church, called upon me and asked me to assist him in organizing an association of the organists in the Columbus area, to which I gladly assented. We held our first meeting during the following October, and we continued meeting monthly through May, 1917. We called ourselves the Organists’ Association.

Several members of the Association felt that they would like to become part of the American Guild of Organists and to take the examinations. After many discussions and at the request of our members, Mr. Dunham wrote to the Guild in the fall of 1917 asking that we be permitted to form a Central Ohio Chapter. In December he reported that the request had been granted. Mr. Rowland W. Dunham, F.A.G.O., was the first Dean, continuing to serve in this position until June 1921. In June of 1918 two members passed the Associate examination, one of whom later passed the Fellowship.


Some Recollections of Activities of the Columbus Chapter
1935 – 1996

By Elizabeth W. Lange, F. A.G. O.

When a member of the Executive Committee asked me to write a history of the chapter, I realized that undoubtedly I am the oldest member still active, and also the one who has been an A.G.O. member the longest, having joined the Southern Ohio Chapter in May of 1931 when I was a freshman at Miami University. I transferred to the Central Ohio Chapter in 1935. If Mrs. Mills, who wrote the above account of the founding of the chapter, was still active when I came, I do not recall ever meeting her. I did, however, hear her play a recital in the First Methodist Church in Lancaster when I was in high school.

Miles Gottshall, a member of our chapter when we celebrated our 50th anniversary, wrote an interesting account of our first 50 years, from which I will take some information. He listed all who have served as deans, something I will not do because they all are listed in the front of our year books.

I counted twelve who have passed away and whom we remember fondly. Others have moved away from central Ohio. I was surprised to read that choir directors were not considered eligible for membership until 1945! (Unless they also were organists, of course.) We have had some fine deans who were not organists, but fine choir directors. Apparently the most important activity during the forties and fifties was presenting guest organists in recitals, and a great deal of time at meetings was given to discussing who the recitalists should be. The majority of these recitals were given at either the First Congregational or Broad St. Presbyterian Church. The customary fee was $400, or less, even for Dupré! Members sold tickets for the recitals, and Mrs. Walter B. Reeves, long our efficient treasurer, took care of the money. I have heard her say that Dupre was the best money maker. Older members will recognize that those days were “before T.V.”

A partial list of organists presented follows:

  • 1925 Clarence Dickinson
  • 1928 Rollo Maitland
  • 1929 Charles Heinroth
  • 1930 Palmer Christian
  • 1945 Walter Baker
  • 1946 Alexander and Mrs. McCurdy, Marcel Dupré
  • 1947 Seth Bingham, André Marchal
  • 1948 Clarence Dickinson, Virgil Fox, Marcel Dupré
  • 1949 Richard Ross, Marilyn Mason, E. Power Biggs
  • 1950 Claire Coci, Robert Rayfield, Rolanda Falcinelli, Flor Peeters
  • 1951 Virgil Fox, Mabel Zehner, Fernando Germani
  • 1952 Jean Langlais
  • 1953 Carl Weinrich, Claire Coci, Arden Whittaker
  • 1956 E. Power Biggs, David Craighead, Farley Hutchins
  • 1957 William Watkins, Robert Baker
  • 1958 Dorothy Deininger Riley, Leo Sowerby, Carl Weinrich, Virgil Fox
  • 1959 Richard Gore
  • 1960 Donald McDonald, Heinrich Fleischer
  • 1961 Pièrre Cochereau, Catherine Crozier
  • 1962 Robert Baker, Wilma Jensen, Frederick Swann
  • 1963 David Craighead, Arno Schoenstadt, Fernando Germani
  • 1964 Marie Claire Alain
  • 1965 Robert Noehren, Paul Manz
  • 1966 Michael Schneider, Robert Stofer, Andrea Toth Haines
  • 1967 Jean Langlais, Robert Baker, Marieille and Bernard Legacé

A major undertaking for our chapter was hosting a Regional Convention in 1963 when Francis Johnson was Dean. Lowell Riley made a tremendous contribution by selling advertisements for the program. Without them, the chapter would have been heavily in debt because the convention was not well attended. Marilyn Mason was the star recitalist, playing in Mershon Auditorium. Dr. Vernon deTar was the lecturer and master teacher. Melvin Dickinson played a fine recital, as did Marjorie Jackson. I have forgotten the rest of the program and did not find anything about the convention in the history file.

During the year 1967-68, when Msgr. F. Thomas Gallen was dean, our chapter observed its golden anniversary. Much planning went into the main events, the first being a festival service at the First Congregational Church on the evening of January 28. Seven choirs, with their organists, participated, as did three ministers. The sermon was preached by Dr. Eugene Brand, a member of our chapter and Professor of Church Music and Theology at the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary at Capital University. His topic was “The Art of the Fugue”. David Britton played Reubke’s “Ninety-Fourth Psalm” as the prelude, Ken Axelson played the service, and Stewart Waller directed the festival choir. The chapter commissioned John Ness Beck to write an anthem for the service, “Song of Moses,” which he directed.

The second anniversary event was a Golden Jubilee banquet held at the Church of the Annunciation (Greek Orthodox) May 14, 1968, with 150 members and guests attending. I now quote from the secretary’s minutes: “The meal of Greek food, prepared and served by members of the congregation, went beyond all expectations. Not only was the food delicious, but the serving and hospitality were excellent in all respects. As master of ceremonies, Wilbur Held introduced first the speakers’ table, including the current officers, guest speaker, and host pastor. Several letters had been received from persons affiliated with the Guild, expressing best wishes on the occasion of our 50th anniversary. Letters were read from Evan Whallon, conductor, Columbus Symphony, Mr. J. H. Landrum, dean of the Cleveland chapter, and Mr. Robert C. Crone. Dean Msgr. Gallen recognized Miss Gertrude Schneider, a charter member, and others who had been members for a considerable number of years. The distinguished guest speaker for the evening was Mr. Alec Wyton, national A.G.O. president. After congratulating the chapter for being a vital and alive organization, he remarked: ‘There are no new beginnings, only refinements of the past’. Regarding the music of today and tomorrow, great challenge and responsibility are placed on church leaders, teachers and instructors to intelligently and purposefully assess the worth of church music as a worthy and proper vehicle for the praise and worship of God. Our precious legacy with the past should not be dropped but instead be updated since music must speak to our times. As an illustration Mr. Wyton referred to the great contributions of J.S. Bach to his time when he used the outline of the Mass, made it truly vernacular and thereby introduced a most powerful tool – the congregational song. Mr. Wyton concluded by stressing the importance of an educated approach and open-mindedness in the search for that kind of music which will serve as the most beautiful and perfect expression possible.”

Although I find no record of it in the chapter’s historical material, another event that stands out in my mind is a concert at the First Congregational Church, probably when John Schaefer was organist there, in which several choirs joined to sing the Durufle “Requiem,” with the composer conducting and Mme. Durufle accompanying on the Kimball organ.

With many Columbus churches either buying new organs or rebuilding older ones and having their own recital series, it became impractical for the Guiid to continue presenting guest recitalists. Programs for our monthly meetings have been varied, interesting, educational and enjoyable. Surely the recent “Wilbur Held Festival” will go down in history as one of the most memorable.

Under the leadership of Dean Jean Blosser (1987-89), the Central Ohio Chapter became the Columbus Chapter, there being chapters also in Dayton and Mansfield. May the chapter long continue to help its members grow musically and spiritually, especially those working in churches.

Current History 1996-2010

By Pauline Fritz

In 1996 the American Guild of Organists celebrated 100 years. As part of the festivities, members of the Columbus Chapter joined with 500 other organists throughout the United States and Scotland in “The World’s Largest Organ Recital.” All programs opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.


  • Art and Organ Music of the Ages
  • Children’s Choir Festival and Workshop
  • Barbara Conable: How to Learn the Alexander Technique
  • Ken Cowan: Accompanying at the Organ
  • Roberta Gary: Mendelssohn’s Organ Music
  • William Haller: The Organ in Changing Times
  • Robert Hobby: Working with Limited Resources
  • Marilyn Keiser: Repertoire for Small Organs
  • Marilyn Mason performing Dupre’s Stations of the Cross
  • Frederick Swann: Service Playing
  • Paul Thornock: Organ Music of Buxtehude
  • David Triano: Spanish Music
  • James Yeager: Music for one Keyboard Plus
  • A complete performance of Bach’s Orgelbuchlein (in two parts)
  • Organ crawls of local instruments
  • Workshops on Choral Conducting, Organ Registration and Practice Techniques
  • Recitals by Michael Murray, Judith Hancock, C.J. Sambach, Cameron Carpenter, and Felix Hell
  • Two live Pipedreams broadcasts


In 2007, the Region V Convention was again held in Columbus. This convention was, by all accounts, a landmark event for the Columbus Chapter. Among the recitalists and presenters were James David Christie, Craig Cramer, Steven Egler & Frances Shelly, Robert Hobby, Marilyn Keiser, Jane Parker-Smith, Mary Preston, Carole Terry, and Richard Webster. The chapter commissioned three new works for this occasion – “We Open Our Hearts” by Sheena Phillips, “Psalm 121: I Will Lift Up My Eyes” by Robert Hobby, and “The Lonesome Valley” by Wilbur Held.

The success of the 2007 convention enabled the chapter to establish a small endowment, the interest from which annually funds small grants to organ students. It also allowed the chapter to expand its usual offerings over a four-year period by programming such events as the stunning performance by Hector Olivera in the fall of 2010 and by financially supporting those who planned the weekend of recitals by Oliver Latry, Jane Parker-Smith, and Thomas Trotter to kick off the 2008-09 International Year of the Organ.

The Columbus Chapter continues to especially appreciate the participation of those who simply listen and support organ and choral concerts and our programs. We look forward to the next decade of exciting concerts and wonderful programs, making our Chapter alive and challenging for our members as they become better musicians in every aspect of our profession.

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