Wednesday, Jan 23 2013 02:54 PM

Local organists land big honor

BY SUSAN SCAFFIDI Contributing writer

Phil Dodson has had many roles in his long musical career -- director of music for First Baptist Church, director of Bakersfield Masterworks Chorale and organist, among many others -- but it's his latest position, as coordinator of this summer's regional convention for the American Guild of Organists, that has him the most busy and excited.

"After this, I just might throw away my computer," Dodson said.

From June 22 through 27, the Kern County chapter of the AGO will host organists and guests from Utah to South Korea and Australia for a week of workshops and performances. Members of the local chapter have been working on the convention since their application to host the event was accepted over two years ago, lining up presenters and performers, plus hotels and local transportation, restaurants and sponsors. Now the chapter is ready for attendees to register.

"We're online now and the Christmas season is over, so we're just seeing registration coming in," Dodson said.

The official convention occurs June 24 to 26, and includes professional workshops on performance, teaching, managing local chapters and other professional development topics, with registration required. There is a young artists' competition in which student performers throughout the region can compete for prize money and a command performance. Professional performances before, during and immediately following the convention are open to the public. Among those performing and presenting are such internationally-recognized artists as Hector Oliveira, Christoph Bull, Robert Tall, Fred Swann, Eileen Guenther, Allan Petker, Angela Craft-Cross and many others.

"We have some extraordinary, gifted, world-class artists coming to our convention, from all over," Dodson said.

The Kern County chapter of AGO belongs to their Region 9, which stretches from Utah to South Korea and Australia, and is part of the 25,000-member international guild. Dodson said the interest in the organ has spread so far in part because of the recent investment in the instrument in major concert venues around the world.

"There are extraordinarily beautiful new instruments in the symphony halls all over the world," Dodson said.

Dodson pointed to Disney Hall in Los Angeles as an example, which was designed to include a pipe organ.

"Literature for the organ and orchestra is limited but it is beautiful," Dodson said. "Those halls are also used for choral concerts and organ recitals."

So how did Bakersfield become the center of gravity for performers from over half the world?

Dodson said one of the selling points for Bakersfield was the availability of a variety of exceptional instruments from the very traditional to what he called the "bleeding edge" of technology -- including an American classic organ at Olive Drive Church, a Baroque organ at St. John's Lutheran Church, an English organ at St. Paul's Anglican Church and the latest digital hybrid instruments at First Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church.

Regional coordinator Leslie Wolf Robb, who will be one of the presenters at the convention, said that like the usual host cities such as San Francisco and San Diego, and the much smaller Kern County chapter had to prove it had the resources -- instruments, active members and finances -- to host a conference. Robb said the local group has proven they may be small, but they're mighty.

"They're hard-working, extremely enthusiastic and very proud to show off the organs in their area," Robb said.

Robb said guild members are becoming increasingly excited about the convention and are getting a very different impression of Bakersfield than they may have had.

"I think most people didn't have a clue that Bakersfield had an organ that was once at Harvard," Robb said. "I don't think our members thought of Bakersfield as a destination place."

"(The committee) has got some wonderful things planned, and I think it's going to be great," Robb said.

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