Seminar since 1986

The Experience of a Lifetime! Reviews and letters


“I have been to two of these tours to Paris, and I can assure you that they are a fantastic way to discover major organs and organists in Europe. I assume that many of you know some (or all of these instruments/organists), but for all the others, FOMS is a great opportunity!

If you have not yet made other plans for the summer, I would like to encourage you to strongly consider these wonderful tours...”

…Jens Korndoerfer, Concert Organist

“It has been a few years since I participated but it's an excellent program, one of the very best of it's kind and I recommend it highly. The faculty is first rate and the organs are just magnificent. London and the UK, Paris and then the Alps and Burgundy this year, wow! Unforgettable, Go!”

…Carl Schwartz, Organist, Baltimore, Maryland

“I want to thank you again for your making such an educational and inspiring trip possible. You opened many doors for all of us that we could not have opened ourselves. It was a special privilege to be with Bernadette, Yves, Daniel Roth, Philippe Lefebvre, Marie Langlais, and Naji Hakim. They are all such wonderful musicians and people. What an education to get a glimpse of them first hand!”

…Wilma Jensen, Concert Organist

“The seminar admirably fulfilled its purpose as an introduction to the organ culture of France, particularly of the 19th and 20th centuries, under the guidance of outstanding performers and teachers. Particularly rewarding was the opportunity to associate place, instrument, composer and repertoire. The generosity and enthusiasm of the lecturers and host organists who shared their instruments and their expertise contributed significantly to the success of the seminar.”

…Dale Peters, Professor of Organ, University of North Texas

“My own playing of Guilmant on French organs was one which all would relish who had ever learnt French organ music without having been able to play it on an authentic instrument. I was invited to join American organ enthusiasts from Washington to Texas for the seminar involving most of the leading Parisian organs and organists. One can imagine the unique thrill it is to be able to feel the music on the real thing, under the guidance of the successors to the tradition.”

…Malcolm Rudland, Organ Critic, The Musical Times

“In addition to the obvious benefits of hearing and playing Parisian organs, the members of this tour had other less frequently encountered benefits: the chance to meet the organists, hear them play their own instruments, often with music written for those organs, and meet them socially – there were no less than eight meals with French organists…No matter the technical level or background of participants, there was value for all in this well-organized tour.”

…Arthur Lawrence, The American Organist

“There was really something special about this trip. I don’t know if it was the pace of the European life style, the camaraderie among our group, the incredible hospitality of our hosts and hostesses, the fact that we all shared a similar interest, or perhaps all of the above – but it was a significant lifetime experience for me. I made many new friends and I now have a renewed enthusiasm for making music on the organ.”

…Don Auberger, Finance Director for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

“I wish to express my most sincere gratitude for making the French Organ Music Seminar a reality. You made my first trip to Paris a cherished memory. The considerable activities you planned were all insightful and enjoyable. Thank you for making such a rich experience possible.”

…Wayne Peterson, Organist, Fort Wayne, Indiana

“Thank you for a wonderful nine days in Paris. Hearing and playing the Parisian organs is something I have wanted to do since college. The experience was everything I had hoped it would be and more. I appreciate your fairness with time on the various organs.”

…John Deaver, Organist, Cincinnati, Ohio

“I want to thank you for your efforts in organizing the tour. For me it was the musical event of a lifetime and I hope to go again in the future. After the restoration of the interior of Saint-Sulpice, I could listen to that Cavaillé-Coll forever.”

…Michael Hughes, Recording Engineer, Trenton, Ohio

“I just want to tell you firsthand what an incredible experience this trip is for students. I had the opportunity to go to FOMS after my freshman year. While there I couldn’t believe that we had access to nearly all of the famous organists in the city of Paris, let alone those famous churches. The coaching sessions were extremely beneficial for me, and I learned so much from them. Now when I practice I don’t have to wonder as much ow a piece was meant to sound, how to register it, or what the acoustics of the room it was written for. This trip really was an experience of a lifetime. Thank you so much to everyone who helped make the trip possible for me, and I strongly encourage everyone to let this experience be available to other students in the future.”

…Josh Melson, Organ Student, Centenary Colllege, Shreveport, Louisiana

“My mind boggles at trying to figure out how you put all of that seminar together and caused it to work as well as it did. So I just want to say thanks for a memorable time and for your kindness and consideration. After 42 years it was more of a pilgrimage for me and in the process I had an extra bonus meeting so many wonderful people.”

…Gerald Phillips, Organist, Fitchburg, Massachusetts

“The French Organ Seminar was a marvelous experience for me, and far exceeded my expectations. I am already looking forward to going another year. I know it is difficult to coordinate all of those French organists, and I really appreciate all the work you did to put everything together.”

…David Erwin, Organist, St. Louis, Missouri

“As I have thought about the many unique opportunities you made possible for the French Organ Music Seminar I have concluded that the whole experience proved to be a blessing in my life. I have heard the French organ sounds, performed on some significant organs, and enjoyed the artistic architectural beauty of Paris.”

…Diane Monson, Organist, New York, N. Y.

“I enjoyed meeting everyone and thought the trip was marvelous. I would really like to go again.”

…Roger Vine, Organist, San Francisco, California

“Thanks for the French Organ Music Seminar. I really had an enjoyable time. Getting to hear and play so many of the Paris organs was a thrill.”

… Darrell Fluehr, Organist, Linicoln, Nebraska

A Review of the 2013 FOMS in Paris

Eric Johnson, Organist, Director of Music, and National Dance Educator, Seattle, Washington

Masako and Christina,

I have wanted to write a very much heartfelt "thank you" to you both for the wonderful, wonderful experience of Paris FOMS this last summer. I know you both work really hard to make it happen, and I want you to realize what a special and important experience it is to me. Thank you both for making everything so incredible.

Among the memories of this trip that I will always treasure:

  • sitting in the fading darkness of all-locked-up St. Sulpice listening to M. Roth speak and then improvise
  • playing the instrument at La Madeleine
  • experiencing Messiaen's works at his own instrument using his own registration
  • hearing Franck during the master class (truly experiencing it as is it meant to sound) at St. Laurent as well as playing that instrument
  • standing in the organ loft at Notre Dame, hearing/feeling the ringing of the new bells, experiencing the worship from the loft
  • hearing from each of the teachers the direct references and comments made by Tournemire, Langlais, etc. (Now we have all the corrections for the Vierne Clair de Lune) as though they were made yesterday.)
  • standing all by myself in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles while everyone was in the King's Bedroom. Also, the wonder of that private tour!
  • spending time playing the Notre Dame d'Auteuil organ that afternoon to really get to know it
  • having the opportunity to play in so many master classes. What a treasure of an opportunity to grow and learn; my playing is so much enriched from having each of those experiences. People at church always comment on my return on how renewed, exciting and invigorating my playing is.
  • the incomparable evening (with delicious, delicious food and lots of it) and a perfect sunset at the Durufle apartment
  • the lesson with Jean-Baptiste at the Versallles Royal Chapel: he was wonderful and taught so much. Then, as we were leaving at almost 9 we watched the glowing sunset shining from across the garden and illuminating the golden background above the altar. He said, "This is great! No one ever really sees this except me when I finish practicing" Then we left by a back staircase and door where he handed the key to the caretaker and said, "You can see from the smallness of the steps that this was the staircase Marie Antoinette" used; the steps are wood, not marble, so she wouldn't slip."

Really, this last little anecdote typifies what makes FOMS so amazing. Many years of cultivating these rich relationships with such important organists have made it possible for each of us to have these amazing, precious, unduplicable experiences of the organs, the churches, the organists, the history, and the organ culture. FOMS has made it possible for us to participate in French organ culture in a way that, really, only the French are able to.

I can't thank you enough for making the experience of FOMS available to me and to all of us. The times I have spent in Paris experiencing all the marvels you put together are among the most special I have had in my life.

Eric Johnson,

Organist, Director of Music, and National Dance Educator, Seattle, Washington


Review: 2013 FOMS in Paris - Eric Johnson

British Organ Music Seminar

July 25-29, 2013

The ninth British Organ Music Seminar was held for four days in London, beginning on July 25th. The seminar began with a train ride to Cambridge to visit the chapel of Emmanuel College, with its three manual 1988 Kenneth Jones tracker instrument, which used the case and some of the pipework of the original Father Smith instrument of 1688. Colin Walsh, the Organist Laureate of Lincoln Cathedral and a visiting organ teacher at the University of Cambridge was our host. He conducted a workshop on liturgical improvisation with several reluctant volunteers followed by a session of various British organ works, performed by members of the group.

The second day of the seminar we visited the French Church of Notre Dame de France, where we attended classes all day. The church, which serves a large French population in London, is located near Leicester Square and dates back to 1861. The organ was originally built by August Gem, who had worked with Cavaillé-Coll. It has undergone several rebuilds, most recently by B. C. Shepherd & Son in 1986. Duncan Middleton, the Organiste Titulaire at the church since 1989, has studied liturgical and concert improvisation in Bordeaux and Lourdes and led us in the opening session on improvisation. In the next class, participants played British Organ works in a master class with John Hosking, the Assistant Organist of St. Asaph Cathedral in Wales. In the afternoon session, Dame Gillian Weir conducted an exciting master class on French and German works, played by members of our group. Later in the day we attended Evensong at Westminster Abbey, which was sung by a visiting choir from Breda Cathedral in the Netherlands. Following the service, Peter Holder, organ scholar of the Abbey, talked to the group about the history of the organ and gave a demonstration of the stops. The organ was originally built in 1727 by Schrider & Jordan, with several rebuilds by William Hill in the 19th century and most recently by Harrison & Harrison. Afterwards, participants were given the chance to play the instrument. Leaving the Abbey, we went across the street to Central Methodist Hall. The organ, with its imposing 32 foot facade, was built by Hill & Son in 1912 and was later rebuilt by Rushworth & Dreaper in 1970. A major rebuild by Harrison & Harrison in 2011 was based on the original Hill scheme. Gerard Brooks, the Director of Music, is associated with French repertoire and has recorded the complete works of Gigout. His class for the evening was on the organ works of Gigout, outlining other works other than the well known Dix Pieces along with works on Saint Saëns.

On the third day of the seminar we traveled to Peterborough Cathedral to play one of the finest William Hill organs in the country. Built in 1894, Hill, one of the two most celebrated organ builders of the nineteenth century, incorporated earlier pipework in his four-manual organ masterpiece of 86 stops.

Its last restoration took place after a fire in 2001. Like other Hill instruments of this period, the organ is set considerably sharper than modern concert pitch. David Humphreys, the Assistant Director of Music of the cathedral, gave a brilliant demonstration, after which participants had ample playing time on the instrument. In the afternoon, we traveled to Cambridge for some free time, shopping in the local music store and having afternoon tea. In the evening we attended Evensong at Ely Cathedral, followed by a demonstration of the organ by Assistant Organist, Jonathan Lilley. The organ was first built in 1685 by Renatus Harris. Elliot and Hill installed a new organ with existing pipework in 1831, with William Hill doing restoration work in 1850. In 1908, Harrison & Harrison built a mostly new organ, using pipework from the previous instruments, with a restoration in 1974-1975 which included tonal changes and the addition of a Positiv division, under the supervision of Arthur Wills, the Cathedral Organist at the time.Cliff Varnon with Kiyo & Chiemi Watanabe

The final day of the seminar was Sunday, so participants attended services at various churches, including St. Paul's Cathedral. In the afternoon we visited All Soul's Langham Place, which is a familiar landmark at the end of Regent Street. In 1913, Alfred Hunter installed a new instrument in this church, replacing the original organ built by Bishop in 1824. This Hunter instrument was rebuilt and enlarged by Henry Willis III in 1951, with the most recent restoration by Harrison & Harrison in 1976. Gerard Brooks conducted a master class of various works, played by the members of our group. Later in the afternoon, participants had a choice of recitals to attend at St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey or Westminster Cathedral. The seminar ended with a visit to Westminster Roman Cathedral, just down the street from the Abbey. It contains the Apse Organ built by T. C. Lewis prior to World War I and the Grand Organ, which is one of the two heroic instruments built by Henry Willis III, the other being the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. Peter Stevens, the Assistant Master of Music, talked about the history of the instrument and gave a fine demonstration of the organ and assisted participants as they played this magnificent instrument, which made a spectacular end to an eventful seminar.

Cliff Varnon

Church of the Holy Comforter

Cleburne, Texas

French Organ Music Seminar

July 29–August 7, 2013

“If you listen you will learn.”

—Thomas LaCôte, La Trinité, Paris

Organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll listened to the sounds in his head before he started building the romantic organ. Louis Robillard of Lyon told us that if there had been no Cavaillé-Coll, there would be no romantic organ music.

When Widor sat at the Cavaillé-Coll he listened, and came up with ideas for his symphonies. Vierne and Guilmant listened and did the same. A stunning reminder to the organist: the dream organ came before the compositions. Here’s a dream: to travel back in time, attend a concert at the Palais du Trocadéro, and listen to the now-extinct Cavaillé-Coll as Widor conducts his Third Symphony with Vierne at the organ!

Thanks and appreciation are due to the well-connected Christina Harmon, Dallas organist, teacher, and composer who led this group of American organists. Through her well-established FOMS program we are privileged to experience the French tradition. Additional indispensable co-directors this year were Cliff Varnon and Masako Gaskin. All three worked hard to keep this group of organists, organ students, and organ lovers happy and informed. For more information and notice of future events, see

Participants varied from virtuosos with ever-expanding organ literature repertoire to lifelong students who treasure their favorite pieces and still look for interpretation ideas from close connections to the source. In addition to masterclasses, there were classes in improvisation and ample opportunities for private lessons. Our youngest organist was 15 and the oldest 83!

How fortunate for this group that there are still essentially unaltered romantic organs in existence that we are able to touch and play. The first on this trip was the Cavaillé-Coll in Lyon at St. Francois de Sales, the Widor family parish, where Charles-Marie was baptized and later first performed Symphony V.

July 29–30: Lyon and Chambéry

The perfect warm-up act to the frenzied pace of Paris was the time spent in Lyon and the Alps, organized by the organist of Chambéry Cathedral, Thibaut Duret, with the help of François Espinasse, professor of organ at the National Conservatory of Lyon. Françoise Webb, the charming French native who spent her youth in Reims, assisted with the preparations and organization. Our first day was spent with Louis Robilliard at the great Cavaillé-Coll organ of Saint-François-de-Sales. Built in 1880, it was restored in 1964 and is still in its original and unaltered state.

Time spent with François Espinasse and Thibaut Duret and two concerts on the marvelous 1847 Augustin Zeiger organ at Chambéry Cathedral allowed each of us a performance turn, followed by a third inspiring performance by our regional host Thibaut Duret. Duret is a brilliant young organist and improviser who studied with François Henry Houbart at Rueil Malmaison and with Francois Espinasse and Loïc Mallié at the Lyon Conservatoire, where he received a master’s degree in organ. With the Alps as backdrop, we spent Wednesday and Thursday playing the organs in St. Pierre d’Albigny, Manigod, Grand Bornand, Thônes, and Annecy. Each organ had a particular charm, and more information is available about each of them on the FOMS website (

August 2: Dole and Dijon

On Thursday, after a 2½-hour bus ride, we arrived in Dijon. While there we played the much-restored Daublaine-Callinet organ at the Cathèdrale St. Bénigne in Dole and the particular highlight: the untouched, undusted, very much in tune 1754 Karl Riepp organ at the Collégiale Notre Dame de Dole. With a Louis XV oak case, this was the largest organ in provincial France, with 45 stops over four manuals and pedal AND a 32′ Montre in the Grand-Orgue. In 1860 the 32′ Montre was moved to the pedal and in a 20th-century renovation it made its way back to the Grand-Orgue, the organ now being five manuals with 73 stops. One room on the way to the organ gallery housed a museum that traced its fascinating history.

August 3: Reims

By Saturday, August 3, we were in Reims, where we played the Cathédral Notre-Dame de Reims organ. Unfortunately, on our way that morning we received a call from Benjamin Steens, our excellent host in Reims, who told us a fire had broken out in the organ of St-Remi (Cattiaux, 2000), where we were to spend the afternoon. A visit to the famous champagne caves helped us to cope with our disappointment at not being able to play at the basilica.

August 4–7: Paris

In Paris we visited the always-amazing organ at St. Sulpice ( suffering from the unusual heat of Paris in August), as well as the Cavaillé-Coll of Notre-Dame des Champs, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’s own parish, built in 1877. Unfortunately this organ was extensively altered by Schwenkedel, although fortunately the Barker action was retained. Thanks to Cavaillé-Coll, who was on the building committee for the church, also built in 1877, the acoustics for the organ are some of the best in Paris.

At Notre-Dame des Champs we had stimulating masterclasses with Sophie-Véronique Cauchefer-Choplin, Beatrice Piertot, and Yannick Merlin. In the masterclass with Dupré expert Choplin, three participants enabled us to delve into segments of the Symphonie-Passion, the composer’s Wanamaker improvisation that he later wrote down after returning to France. Stimulating duo-organ performances and masterclasses by upcoming organists Beatrice Piertot and Yannick Merlin also took place at this church during the week in Paris. These two brilliant young organists also helped in this year’s planning and gave classes at the beautiful, unaltered Merklin organ at the church of St. Laurent.

Daniel Roth entertained and enlightened us at St-Sulpice with historical anecdotes about the organ and stories of Franck, Widor, and Dupré that organists never tire of hearing. Cavaillé-Coll kept more than 40% of the 1781 Clicquot organ pipework, never intending to make an exclusive change to a romantic organ. In fact, Widor’s colleague Albert Schweitzer said the organ was great for baroque music. Roth clarified that the transition from Baroque to Romantic was abrupt in Germany, whereas in France it was gradual and never eclipsing. To see more of Roth’s mesmerizing history of French organ music and organs, you can find numerous DVDs of Roth’s St-Sulpice lectures and performances on YouTube, all produced by Christina Harmon. Better still, break down and buy the DVDs from the Organ Historical Society!

It still takes my breath away to sit in the loft with Olivier Latry at Notre Dame during Mass. His playing for four Sunday services allowed all 29 organists and students a chance to be at the organ, complete with a console containing the latest organ technology and design.

Classes and playing time were offered by Thomas LaCôte at La Trinité (the organ of Messiaen), Ste-Clotilde with Nicolas Pichon, La Madeleine, Andy Dewar at the American Cathedral, and Notre Dame d’Auteil with Frédéric Blanc (living conduit to the music of Duruflé). Blanc told us that Duruflé was not a man for big chords, but rather the musical line. He favored flutes and celestes. He also told us that the famous story of Duruflé not liking his Toccata was not necessarily true, but that at the time he was very tired and had composed this piece during a very stressful period in his life.

Our last day was spent with Jean-Baptiste Robin in Versailles and included a concert by him on the Clicquot organ (modified by Cavaillé-Coll) at the Versailles Cathedral, a masterclass at the church of Notre Dame des Armées of Versailles, and playing at the Royal Chapel organ of Versailles Palace. The castle organ was originally built by Robert Clicquot in 1710. After severe damage by the revolution it was rebuilt as a two manual organ by Cavaillé-Coll in 1873. In 1936 it was sold to the seminary in Châteaugiron and later to the St-Martin church in Rennes, where a reconstruction was attempted by Victor Gonzalez. In 1995 a completely new instrument was made by the firms of Boisseau and Cattiaux, which not only reconstructed Robert Clicquot's creation but reconstructed the additions of Louis-Alexander and Francois-Henry Clicquot as well. This result was amazingly successful and stands today in the Royal Versailles Chapel as a proud example of Clicquot’s original genius.

As a protégé of Marie-Claire Alain, Jean-Baptiste Robin gave an intense class on Jehan Alain. Robin told us that after the trauma of WWI, artists turned to the past, and Alain was the first to go to early music, layering it with orientalism and with jazz that had been brought by Americans during the war. Alain was fascinated by the cornet, a sonority he explored extensively. Tutti, or massive sound, is seldom found in Alain’s music. Our day ended with Palace Organist Robin demonstrating French Classical music on the beautiful chapel organ of the palace. Participants were actually able to play the Chapel organ! Robin is one of four titular organists. The others are Michel Bouvard, François Espinasse, and Frédéric Desenclos, with Michel Chapuis serving as honorary titulaire.

LaCôte told us Messiaen liked the sound of ice and crystal, 16′ & 2′ (Messe de la Pentecôte).

Choplin said Dupré loved the sound of the gambe alone because it was mysterious.

To be in France and therefore in the center of the vital and enduring influence of the world's greatest organ tradition is as fascinating and transforming as ever. The spirits of Widor, Vierne, Messiaen, et. al. continue to permeate the sensibilities and ethos of this beautiful part of the world through the brilliant French artists of the present. There is no more amazing experience, or better pilgrimage, for an organist.

Teach us to listen, and learn…..

Helen VanAbbema Rodgers

Director of Music

St. James Episcopal Church

Fairhope, Alabama

Review: 2013 FOMS in Paris - Eric Johnson

Report: 2013 BOMS - Cliff Varnon

Review: 2013 FOMS tour - Helen Rodgers

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