As your field of learning widens, you can expect to hear about The American Guild of Organists (AGO), which is the national professional association serving the organ, organists, and related choral music fields headquartered in the United States.
It will help you to know something about this Guild which has 298 chapters supporting approximately 15,000 organists and choral directors worldwide.
The vision statement of the AGO is to engage, support, and uplift every organist; it's mission is to foster a thriving community of musicians who share their knowledge and inspire passion for the organ.
It doesn't take long to reach the conclusion that a member of this organization is a value proposition for many reasons; as a member, one can:
1) connect with other organists,
2) enjoy commaraderie at chapter events and conventions,
3) receive encouragement from colleagues,
4) enhance one's skills as an organist and choral conductor,
5) learn at one's own pace through a members-only online resource (the Organ Tutor),
6) access career opportunities and job listings through the National Job Board,
7) discover news about the organ and choral worlds online through the AGO's national and chapter web sites, "The American Organist (TAO)" mag, and "Vox Humana" mag,
8) earn professional credentials through AGO certification,
9) seek advice regarding professional concerns from a new, members-only career hotline,
10) celebrate the organ in its historic and evolving contexts,
11) nurture new organists of all ages,
12) share one's knowledge and expertise,
13) find inspiration and challenge,
14) experience great organs and organists,
15) save money with discounts on AGO convention registration fees and publications, and
16) enroll in high quality, competitively priced insurance plans.
As for its major programs, some of them include:
1) a 5-tier certification program leading to the Service Playing, Colleague, Associateship, Choir Master, and Fellowship certificates,
2) national and regional conventions in cites across the country,
3) pedagogy conferences for organists in academia,
4) 6 competitions in organ performance, improvisation, and composition,
5) a student commissioning project for pairs of student composers and organists,
6) Pipe Organ Encounters (POE, POE Advanced, POE+, POE Technical) for teens,
7) Pedals, Pipes, & Pizza events introducing grade school students to the organ,
8) 30 online video lessons for the new organist,
9) scholarships for collegiate study and POE students,
10) "The American Organist," the leading monthly mag for the profession,
11) "Vox Humana," an online journal featuring ideas, trends, and research about the organ,
12) January Jubilees to nurture part-time musicians in religious institutions,
13) a Code of Ethics and Code of Professional Standards, and
14) career development and support including the world's most comprehensive job board for organists.
In a nutshell, the purpose of the AGO is to advance the cause of organ and choral music, to increase their contributions to esthetic and religious experiences, and to promote their understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment, 2) to improve the proficiency of organists and choral conductors, 3) to evaluate, by examination, attainments in organ playing, choral techniques, conducting, and the theory and general knowledge of music, and to grant certificates to those who pass such examinations at specified levels of attainment, and 4) to provide members with opportunities to meet for discussion of professional topics, and to pursue such other activities as contribute to the fulfillment of the purposes of the Guild.
The very helpful series of 30 short videos entitled "Lessons for the New Organist" which have been produced by the AGO Committee on Continuing Professional Education are now available on the AGO's YouTube channel.
Each of these 30 lessons which are designed to be an introduction to organ playing for beginning organists treats one topic, and the presentations are very clear and easy to understand.
National and regional conventions held in alternate years, present the finest performers.
Guild membership is open to the public and includes a diverse group of individuals among whom are full time church musicians, part time church musicians, professional concert organists, "ordinary" work-a-day organists, choral conductors, singers, music educators, organ builders, curators, clergy, and enthusiasts and supporters of the pipe organ at every entry level regardless of aptitude, experience, age, or gender.
You're encouraged to research its mission, purposes, and policies thoroughly and give serious consideration to joining the AGO.
In this author's experience, the local chapter is a friendly, warm-hearted group, a close association of friends who are very welcoming of new members, who make you feel like you, personally, are very much appreciated.
You'll be glad you joined.
(con't in Part II)