McNeil Robinson


Concert organist McNeil Robinson has been praised by the international press as one of America’s leading virtuosos especially as an improviser. One of the most prominent musicians in New York City, McNeil Robinson has been organist and choirmaster at Park Avenue Synagogue since 1966 and served as music director and organist for Park Avenue Christian Church (1984–2007). Prior to his appointment at Park Avenue Christian, Robinson led a legendary music program for the Church of St. Mary the Virgin for two decades. Concurrently, he was director of music for the Church of the Holy Family, the parish church of the United Nations (1967–1978), and as director of music at the Trinity Institute, Trinity Church Wall Street (1970–1976). He served as Director of Music and Organist at Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church until his deteriorating health forced him to retire. He passed away on May 9, 2015.

A graduate of the Juilliard School, Robinson is now chairman of the organ department of the Manhattan School of Music. His students (such as Justin Bischof and Jason Roberts) have won top awards in national and international organ competitions. He is also active as a conductor and has recorded for a number of commercial record labels including Decca and Musical Heritage Society.

McNeil Robinson – Concert improvisation (Part 1) – Chester Cathedral
McNeil Robinson – Concert improvisation (Part 2) – Chester Cathedral
McNeil Robinson – Improvisation – Grace Church, New York City

Jason Roberts

JasonRobertsJason Roberts was recently appointed as Associate Director of Music and Organist as well as the Director of the Boy and Girl Choristers at St. Bart’s in New York City. For the past seven years Jason has served St. James’s Church in West Hartford, CT, where he built one of the largest choral programs in the Hartford area which including 35 children and over 30 adults. He holds degrees from Rice University, Yale University and the Manhattan School of Music. Dr. Robert’s teachers have included Clyde Holloway, Martin Jean, and McNeil Robinson. His teachers have included Clyde Holloway, Martin Jean, and McNeil Robinson. An avid improvisor, he won first prize at the AGO National Competition in Organ Improvisation in 2008 and was a finalist at the St. Alban’s International Organ Competition in 2011 (Improvisation).

Stephen Tharp

Stephen_Tharpx_May_2007Official Website:

Having played more than 1400 concerts across 43 tours worldwide, Stephen Tharp has built one of the most well-respected international careers in the world, earning him the reputation as the most traveled concert organist of his generation. He is an important champion of new organ music, and continues to commission and premiere numerous compositions for the instrument. The first such piece was Jean Guillou’s symphonic poem Instants, Op. 57, which Tharp premiered at King’s College, Cambridge, England in February 1998. Works dedicated to him include George Baker’s Variations on “Rouen” (2009) and David Briggs’ Toccata Labyrinth (2006).

Stephen Tharp earned his BA degree, magna cum laude, from Illinois College, Jacksonville, IL and his MM from Northwestern University, Chicago, where he studied with Rudolf Zuiderveld and Wolfgang Rübsam, respectively. He has also worked privately with Jean Guillou in Paris.

Improvisation – St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York

AGO Boston 2014

The 2014 National Convention of the American Guild of Organists will be held June 23-27 in Boston. The convention website with complete information may be found here.

Listed below is information about the events at the convention that will include or focus on improvisation:

National Competition in Improvisation:

  • Semi-final competition round
  • Monday, June 23, 9am to 1pm
    First Lutheran Church of Boston
    299 Berkeley Street, Boston

  • Final competition round
  • Thursday, June 26 at 9am


  • 2012 winner concert
  • Robert Nicholls
    Arlington Street Church
    351 Boylston St, Boston
    Wednesday, June 25 & Thursday, June 26, 3:30 pm

  • Concert
  • Thierry Escaich
    Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
    1545 Tremont St, Boston
    Friday, June 27, 9:15 AM

  • Hymn Sing
  • Bruce Neswick and Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra
    Old South Church in Boston
    645 Boylston St, Boston
    Friday, June 27, 2:30 PM

  • Worship: Jazz Service and Concert: Silent Movie
  • Peter Edwin Krasinski
    Old South Church in Boston
    645 Boylston St, Boston
    Wednesday and Thursday, June 25 and June 26, 7:30 PM

Masterclass on Organ Improvisation

Thierry Escaich
Friday, June 27, 1:00 pm

Other workshops:
Tournemire’s Improvisation on “Victimae paschali”: Audio vs. Transcription
Kirsten Rutschman
Tuesday, June 24, 3:00 pm

Practical Aspects of Teaching Tournemire’s Improvisatory Style
Ann Labounsky
Tuesday, June 24, 3:30 pm

Improvisation Pedagogy: Sustainable Musicianship
Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra
Tuesday, June 24, 4:15 pm

Inspired Service Playing: How to Move From Here to There
Joyce Shupe Kull
Tuesday, June 24, 4:15 pm

Accompanying the Divine: Dramatic Improvisation in Liturgy and Silent Film
Peter Edwin Krasinski
Wednesday, June 25, 8:30 am

Extemporaneous Sublime: Indeterminacy and Transience of the Improvised Moment
Zvonimir Nagy

Thursday, June 26, 9:45 am

Harmony by the Numbers – Principles of Thoroughbass Fluency
Dean Billmeyer

Thursday, June 26, 11:00 am

Bruce Neswick

NeswickBruce Neswick is an associate professor of organ at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and previously was director of music at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. He was formerly the organist and choirmaster of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta for many years.


Bruce Neswick: Organist
Includes an improvised suite on ‘Urbs Beata Jerusalem’

Improvisation – Fisk organ in Auer Hall, Indiana University

Tom Trenney

TTrenneyTom Trenney serves as Minister of Music to First-Plymouth Congregational
Church (United Church of Christ) in Lincoln, Nebraska. He became the first organist to be awarded First Prize and Audience Prize in the American Guild of Organists’ (AGO) National Competition in Organ Improvisation in 2006.


Organ Ovations & Improvisations
Includes an improvised suite on the tune Hyfrydol.

Excerpts from a masterclass by Tom Trenney given at the AGO National Convention in Nashville, TN, July 2012:
Tom Trenney – Improvisation Masterclass, Part I – Nashville, TN
Tom Trenney – Improvisation Masterclass, Part II – Nashville, TN
Tom Trenney – Improvisation Masterclass, Part III – Nashville, TN

“Duke Street”, April 28, 2013 at First-Plymouth Church
“Come Down, O Love Divine” – First-Plymouth Church
Tom Trenney – Improvisation on ‘ENGLEBERG’ – First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska

Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra

Pamela Ruiter-FeenstraOfficial website:

From 1996–2002, Ruiter-Feenstra served as Senior Researcher at the Göteborg Organ Art Center, learning much about historic instrument construction, sound, and music from colleagues and instruments, teaching improvisation courses at Göteborg University, and launching research on Bach and improvisation. As Professor of Music at Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kansas (1989–1996) and Eastern Michigan University (1996–2008), Ruiter-Feenstra taught organ, harpsichord, theory, improvisation, sacred music, and directed the Collegium Musicum. In 2008, Ruiter-Feenstra chose to leave institutional work in favor of freelancing as performer, pedagogue, author, composer, and recording artist.


Bach and the Art of Improvisation
Ann Arbor, MI: CHI Press, 2011.


Bach’s Teacher Böhm & Improvisation

Bach, Improvisations and the Liturgical Year

Jeffrey Brillhart

JeffreyBrillhartJeffrey Brillhart is Director of Music and Fine Arts at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, PA and on the music faculty at Yale University, where he teaches organ improvisation. Winner of the 1994 National Competition in Organ Improvisation, sponsored by the American Guild of Organists.

Official website:

BreakingFreeBrillhartBreaking Free: Finding a Personal Voice for Improvisation through 20th Century French Improvisation Techniques. Published by Wayne Leupold Editions.