Turning nineteen is a pretty awesome event—exploding horizons, new responsibilities, new friends, leaving home for an exciting new place to live, long-held goals coming within range, and dreaming ever bigger for the future.
The nineteen-year-old I want to talk about here left a home of eighteen years in the suburbs to take up residence in the city, and there found new friends, new status, and big new horizons.
But this teenager already has a job, and that job is helping flesh and blood teen-aged and twenty-something organists advance their careers, test their skills against peers, and collect cash prizes. Our teenager’s name is the Albert Schweitzer Organ Festival Hartford (ASOFH), which offers two competitions, for high school musicians and for “Young Professional” organists, every year with three finalists in each division all winning prizes. The competition is set in a context of two public concerts and other public events.
The nineteenth season in 2016 took place for the first time in Hartford and West Hartford, September 30 to October 2. The competition was held at Trinity College Chapel and other events at the Cathedral of St. Joseph (Catholic), both in Hartford, and at two Episcopal churches in West Hartford.
“What was so wonderful about ASOFH was that it truly was a ‘festival’ rather than ‘get in, play, get out,’ like some other competitions I’ve participated in,” said Joseph (Joey) Fala, a Young Professional finalist in 2016, a member of The Diapason’s 20 under 30 Class of 2016, and now a graduate student at Yale University by way of Honolulu.
“While centered around the contest, the weekend was about more,” he continued, “like celebrating music, the pipe organ, and the legacy of a great humanitarian. I so very much appreciated this emphasis and the effect it had on filling the weekend with an atmosphere of inspiration rather than creating an environment of competition. That was one of my biggest takeaways.”
Here are some of the advances made between season 18 and season 19, all thanks to the hard work of the ASOFH volunteer board of directors.
• A newly added program produced in cooperation with the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut made its debut, and each year will explore various aspects of the life and work of Schweitzer.
• All prizes were increased and a new one added—a Prize of the Audience.
• The competition took up residence at Trinity College as mentioned above, along with new homes for other events.
• For the first time ASOFH had a professionally designed and printed full color program booklet comprehensive of competition, concerts, symposium, and biographies of participants and competitors.
• Attendance at the two competition sessions gathered record large audiences.
• A recital by the previous year’s two winners was incorporated into the festival itself and brought a healthy audience turn out.
•Donors to the festival expanded from individuals to include several local foundations, including that of the Greater Hartford American Guild of Organists chapter.
“My hope is to evolve the festival into a destination event,” says ASOFH president Robert Bausmith, “centered around a world-class competition.”
Destination event? Well, let’s look at 2016. The two-plus day 19th season was attended by organ enthusiasts from at least ten states, just working from memory, plus others from Canada and Europe.
World-class competition? The first winner back in season number one was Paul Jacobs, a rather convincing start. Subsequent winners have included Nathan Laube, Christian Lane, Monica Czausz, Simon Thomas Jacobs, Christopher Houlihan, and Jonathan Ryan. Ring any bells?
The prize money may have room to grow, but it has steadily increased with every session for years. As an every-year double competition, the ASOFH prize money awarded in a three-year span actually compares favorably with many “bigger prize” triennial competitions—ASOFH just spreads it out and includes more winners.
Bausmith was enthusiastic in assessing growth achieved by the nineteenth season, saying “Support from the Hartford community was overwhelming.”
Competitor Fala agreed. “It was a full-blown extravaganza,” he said. “I really felt a part of something that was ‘a big deal’.”
His fellow Young Professional competitor Collin Boothby, a Texas Christian University graduate student, agreed. “The experience as a whole was a wonderful weekend of making friendships and sharing music together in a beautiful setting.”
Judges for the 2016 session were Isabelle Demers, Faythe Freese, and Christopher Houlihan, who won the ASOFH High School division top prize in 2003. They all agreed that the caliber of the 2016 competitors was very encouraging.
“The contestants were of a very high level—I wish I had been able to play that well when I was a high-schooler,” commented Isabelle Demers.
Faythe Freese summed it up this way, “We heard some remarkable performances from high school and college students alike. If these exciting performances were any indication of the vitality and health of our discipline, then the next decades are in great shape for the world of the pipe organ.”
Here are the 2016 winners:
• Colin MacKnight, New York City, Young Professional Division, First Place and Prize of the Audience
• Collin Boothby, Texas, Young Professional Division, Second Place and Hymn Playing award
• Joey Fala, Connecticut, Young Professional Division Third Place and Hymn Playing award
• Katherine Johnson, North Carolina, High School Division, First Place
• Elena Baquerizo, Florida, High School Division, Second Place
• Martin Jones, New Jersey, High School Division, Third Place and Prize of the Audience and Hymn Playing award
The festival was founded by David Spicer and the then head of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac, Harold Robles. The first season was held in 1998 at the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and continued there through 2015. Spicer continues as artistic director of ASOFH.
“I can’t say enough good about the weekend,” said Joey Fala. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see event attendance grow in the coming years because of the various changes made.”
To learn more and to keep up with the ASOFH, be sure to visit www.