Two veteran local organists were recently elected to officer positions in the Worcester Chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) for 2022-2024.
Ronna Davis, longtime Sterling resident and Sterling First Church music minister, was elected dean and Marjorie Ness, Lancaster resident, deputy dean. Their terms begin July 1.
Davis said Ness called her and asked, “If you had a good, solid sub-dean to work with, would you consider being the dean?”
“I suspected that maybe I had just been questioned by the ‘good solid sub-dean’ and said yes, I would consider,” Davis recalled. “I wouldn’t do this job without Marjorie. She’s in charge of my race for this office, we’re a team. And in addition to Marjorie and myself, we have an impressive list of officers who will work to help our organization emerge from the pandemic.
The AGO is headquartered in New York and is a worldwide organization made up of chapters.
“The purpose of the guild is to mentor and provide continuing education for organists of all levels of pipe organ and electronic organ expertise,” Davis said. “Mentoring and teaching young organists is also essential for the guild.”
The Worcester chapter is run by a 10-person board that includes Davis and Ness.
“It’s a great honor to take on this position,” Davis said. “At the time, because I didn’t have an advanced degree in music, I always thought the Organists’ Guild was out of my league. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
She said she was “mentored in the guild” by Lois Toeppner, Ness and Ness’ husband, who is also an organist, and that as dean she wanted to “build on the efforts of the officers who brought us helped through the pandemic.” She said she had two goals to move them forward:
“To give the Guild greater visibility among the clergy we support and visibility in the arts community in Worcester County, and my second goal is to improve the bond between us members,” Davis said. “In many ways, email and electronic communication through Zoom can separate us and yet, at the same time, allow us to connect in ways that we have not been able to do in the past, especially in pandemic period.
“The Guild has a number of important duties in our artistic community, for example, liaison with the College of the Holy Cross Music Library and liaison with Mechanics Hall regarding many facets of the magnificent Hook Organ, aka the organ of Worcester, to name a few,” Davis said.
Davis’ love for music began at a young age, and she began taking piano lessons at age 5 “instead of going to kindergarten”.
Davis began playing the organ the following year and had “the good fortune to study under the auspices of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Canada, with board examinations and graded music for learning the keyboard, all incorporated with etudes and reviews in harmony, figured base and counterpoint. It was my joy to play for choirs and singing lessons in high school and college.
She served as organist at St. Patrick’s Parish, Rutland, from December 1976, the year she moved to New England, until September 1983, when she took on the position of the First Church. When asked what she enjoys most about playing the organ and being involved in music, besides “accompanying a congregation in the singing of hymns and leading a choir from the console,” Davis said, “supporting clergy and being with people in times of greatest emotional need” such as at weddings and funerals “where words are difficult.”
“It’s an honor to share moments of grief and joy,” Davis said before quoting Georgia Cates: “Music is what feelings are like.”
Ness also developed a love of music as a young woman and began playing the organ during her second year of high school at Wakefield.
“For me, I enjoy the variety of sounds controlled by one person the most, and I enjoy accompanying the singing of hymns in various congregations,” she said of what draws her to music. organ and music in general. “This is what motivated my first lessons and where I find my greatest satisfaction in retirement.”
Ness was full-time music and arts director at Wesley United Methodist Church, Worcester, music director for The Memorial Church of Sudbury, USS, on a part-time basis, while serving as a full-time faculty member at Fitchburg State University. Since 2012, she has held acting positions at First Congregational Church in West Boylston, St. Leo’s in Leominster, and St. John Lutheran in Sudbury.
The former Clinton native said she served on the AGO nominating committee and “learned how difficult it was to find leadership while navigating this pandemic.”
“Being mostly retired, I offered Ronna Davis to take him as a team,” Ness said. “The election results were announced after June 1 and I felt it was a privilege and an obligation to give back that was imminent. Ronna and I have served as deans before and I feel honoured. The members are a great group of people.
She also mentioned wanting to “reconnect with people” as one of their goals and “help them find the support they seek from a professional organization and provide hybrid programming that doesn’t cut anyone out.”
“Hands-on and inspirational educational concerts will be a big part of it,” Ness said. “In addition, we want to connect the resources to each other.”
Davis said, “It’s an honor to work to support the many great musicians and incredible organs we have right here in Worcester County,” including his deputy dean.
“It’s a pleasure to work with Marjorie,” she said. “She is an educator, a mentor and a great knowledge of musicians, not only in our Worcester and Boston area, but across the country. Working with Marjorie, I find we have complementary synergy and abilities and her role as an educator and programmer for the guild is crucial. In fact, it’s at the heart of why we have the American Guild of Organists.”
She said she and Ness were delighted to be back in the chapter alongside “several key board members who have remained since the last officer list” – namely Robert Potterton III, webmaster/minister music and the arts at Christ Church in Fitchburg; Juan Mesa, treasurer/music director and organist at St Leonard’s in Boston; and Leonardo Ciampa, Registrar/Director of Music at Emanuel Lutheran Church in Worcester and Composer-in-Residence at Mechanics Hall.
“Having these officers in place and experienced is critical to moving forward, quickly, with our goals of ongoing training, visibility and connection,” Davis said, and Ness added “I’m sure we can find younger leaders ready behind the scenes, who will present the Guild with post-pandemic ideas and talent for the future.
Davis said that in the fall they will “be in full outreach mode” and are working to ensure that the Worcester Chapter becomes “more visible in the artistic, academic and faith-based circles of greater Worcester. “.