San Francisco AGO
The American Guild of Organists is the national professional association serving the organ and choral music fields.

Founded in 1896 in New York City, the AGO now serves 21,000 members in 352 chapters throughout the United States and Europe.

Membership is open to all and includes working professionals: organists, choir directors, teachers, organ builders, technicians, and suppliers to the field, as well as students, clergy, amateur musicians, and dedicated supporters.

Founded as both an educational and service organization, the Guild seeks to set and maintain high musical standards and to promote understanding and appreciation of all aspects of organ and choral music.

Membership is through local chapters, which hold regular meetings featuring performances, lectures, seminars, and discussions on a wide variety of topics.

AGO educational programs include a comprehensive series of examinations for professional certification and an extensive catalog of publications and audio cassette learning resources.

The Guild sponsors competitions in organ performance and improvisation and in organ and choral composition.

National and regional conventions, held in alternate years, present the finest performers and teachers.

National AGO Mission Statement
Adopted May, 2012

AGO Logo

The mission of the American Guild of Organists is to enrich lives through organ and choral music. To achieve this, we:

encourage excellence in the performance of organ and choral music;

inspire, educate, and offer certification for organists and choral conductors;

provide networking, fellowship, and mutual support;

nuture future generations of organists;

promote the organ in its historic and evolving roles; and

engage wider audiences with organ and choral music.

The SFAGO in Its Historical Context:
A Selected Timeline



Northern California Chapter is established on June 20, with 16 members. The first Dean, Wallace A. Sabin, is organist at Temple Emanu-El & First Church of Christ, Scientist, in San Francisco, and a faculty member at UC Berkeley.

The San Francisco Symphony is founded.
California special election grants suffrage to women; amendment is passed by 3,507 votes.
Sophie Tucker visits the Barbary Coast.


The Chapter inaugural service takes place at First Congregational Church of Oakland.
First dinner meeting of the chapter is held at Old Poodle Dog restaurant in San Francisco.
Chapter dues are $3 per year.
In the news: San Francisco Assessor survives the sinking of the Titanic.


Five recitals on Sundays in June and July bring in a total of $257.65 (nearly $5,900 in 2011 dollars).
"It was decided that regular monthly meetings of the entire chapter be instituted."
The last horse-drawn streetcar in San Francisco ends its journey down Market Street.


Chapter membership grows to 48.
The task of creating a Palace of Fine Arts for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition & World’s Fair is given to architect Bernard R. Maybeck,
who chooses as his theme a Roman ruin, mutilated and overgrown, in the mood of a Piranesi engraving.


Gasoline prices rise to 18 cents per gallon in San Francisco


"Because of lack of public interest (and the great demands of war work) it was decided that for the present it was inadvisable to give any more public recitals,
but that it would be well to continue the informal ‘Hours in the Organ Lofts’ of its members."

San Jose and Stockton members split from the Northern California Chapter to form their own AGO chapters.


The annual meeting is held at the Clift Hotel, marking the end of the chapter’s first decade (ten members attend).

Palace of the Legion of Honor and the Spreckels Organ is underwritten by the Spreckels family.


Market Street Railway news: "Now, not-withstanding the tremendous advance in all costs, 260,000,000 passengers, including those using transfers, rode on the Market Street Railway Company . . . for a five cent fare,
which also entitled them to transfers good all over the system, on cars equipped with modern conveniences."


The topic of the annual meeting is a discussion of organists’ salaries; the SF Board of Supervisors is to be interrogated regarding recitals by visiting organists.


The War Memorial complex opens in the San Francisco Civic Center with a performance of Puccini’s "Tosca," featuring Gaetano Merola, longtime General Director of the Opera on the podium,
and the Claudia Muzio in the title role.


A chapter controversy: "Since 1917, no Dean has been elected who resided on the San Francisco side of the Bay."
For the first time, women serve on the Musicians’ Union Board of Directors
San Francisco Ballet, America's oldest professional ballet company, is founded as the San Francisco Opera Ballet, appearing in lavish full-length opera productions and offering evenings of "all-dance" programs throughout the year.


"Through the courtesy of chapter founder Wallace Sabin, members enjoyed a delightful day among the redwoods of the Bohemian Grove on the Russian River. Altogether 31 members attended."
An organ festival at takes place at Grace Cathedral for the opening of the Skinner organ.
Al Capone is incarcerated on Alcatraz Island.


The Northern California Chapter Jubilee marks the Chapter’s 25th year (no details recorded).
Construction begins on the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges.


Pacific Coast Convention marking the chapter’s silver anniversary is held in San Francisco, with 63 people attending. Program included recitals (Harold Mueller, Clarence Mader), lectures ("Are Organists Necessary?"),
a choral concert, and "auto trips around the city."

The chapter Christmas dinner party is held at Mitzi’s Tea Room in SF, cost is 75 per person.
The new San Francisco Mint opens.
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opens on November 12. It remains one of the largest bridges in the world and carries more traffic than any other toll bridge--over 270,000 vehicles each day.
Kirsten Flagstad appears at the War Memorial Opera House.


Wallace Sabin, organizer and first Dean of the chapter, encourages the use of "better English and purer speaking tone," as Grace Cathedral organist Sidney Lewis makes a strong plea for organists to "hold a higher opinion of their art."
San Francisco baseball player Joe Di Maggio, the new "Bambino," tops sporting news.
The search continues for lost aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
The Golden Gate Bridge is completed and opened to pedestrian traffic on May 27; the following day it is opened to vehicular traffic.
The bridge was first proposed in 1869 by town eccentric "Emperor Norton."

The new San Francisco Airport is dedicated.


A memorial service is held for chapter founder Wallace Sabin at Grace Cathedral, with the mayor and San Francisco supervisors in attendance.
The American Federation of Musician’s national delegates' report noted: "Certain communistic influences within [San Francisco's] Local Six have been, for the past year,
sending out a communistic sheet known as 'The Score,' and certain communistic members of our Union have been carrying the program of the Communistic Party into the affairs of our Union."


"Richard Purvis, now in Philadelphia, will represent our chapter at the national convention and will be asked to report to the chapter in August."
Annual dinner is held at Girard’s Restaurant, 50 and 65 per plate. "A very active meeting . . . A good meeting."
World’s Fair is held on Treasure Island.


The chapter sponsors a recital by E. Power Biggs at Trinity Episcopal Church.
The Membership Committee produces mimeographed circular, "Why Join the Guild?"
The first European war refugees arrive in San Francisco.


Headline: "Buses to Replace Cable Cars in San Francisco; Tracks Removed"
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo visit San Francisco as part of the Golden Gate Exposition.
President Roosevelt declares of war in a speech to Congress
Japanese war planes rumored to be sighted over San Francisco


Gala annual dinner at Canterbury Hotel, $1.25.
Forced evacuation of Japanese from San Francisco.


United Nations charter signed in San Francisco.


"Mr. Gerhart Hadda, an outstanding English singer (personal friend of Benj. F. Britton [sic], of Peter Grimes fame), will give us a real treat. He will be accompanied by Richard Purvis . . ."


Ludwig Altman will begin a new course on "Chorale Preludes and Organ Sonatas" for the University of California Extension (at Temple Emanu-El).
The chapter hosts the Far-Western Regional Convention.


"Ten years ago we had about 100 members, all classifications included. Now our member number over 400. And though we are four times as large as in 1941,
our facilities for operating are no more extensive than they were then. Our officers are therefore greatly in need of additional help."


The Northern California Chapter hosts the National AGO Biennial Convention in San Francisco.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin open City Lights Bookstore.


Board unanimously resolves "That the Northern California Chapter retain its present organic unity, since there are more advantages in unity than in division . . .
[and] an effort be made to encourage as large an attendance at possible at the three chapter-wide events of the year: the Christmas party, the Guild Service, and the Annual Dinner."

Joe Di Maggio marries Marilyn Monroe at San Francisco City Hall.


5.3 magnitude earthquake shakes the SF Peninsula, the largest since 1906.


The chapter changes its name to the San Francisco Chapter and hosts the Regional AGO Convention: "An exciting program was held (both sides of the Bay), some new music . . .
and a "different" kind of affair as a "wind-up" or a "let-down" theater party with some theatre organ, which will be quite an antithesis of what we’ll have heard all week."
A new cantata by Leo Sowerby, "The Ark of the Covenant," is written especially for the Convention Guild Service.
The convention also features the premiere of Kevin Norris’ concerto for organ and strings, conducted by Sowerby, to whom the music is dedicated.


SFAGO sponsors weekly noontime organ recitals at Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco.
The Grateful Dead is formed and play at the Fillmore Auditorium the following year.


Annual dinner is held at First Methodist Church of Oakland. Cost is $2.25 per person.


Thirty-year-old Swiss organist Lionel Rogg is featured at the Far-Western Regional Convention in San Francisco, July 19-23.
The Summer of Love brings flower power to the Haight Ashbury.


Harold Mueller gives a 30-week (45-hour) course of instruction for Guild Examinations preparation, an annual class that is offered under his tutelage for several years.


An all-day midwinter "Chapter Conclave Day" is added to the chapter calendar, featuring recitalist Bedrich Janacek, and exploring the theme "New Dimensions in Church Music."
American Indians occupy Alcatraz to protest treatment of native peoples.


"The matter of having a chapter telephone number was discussed. The consensus was that it was not feasible."
Ted Alan Worth presents an organ recital and "light show."


A three-session workshop on "A Survey of German, French, English and American Schools of Organ Building and Their Organ Literature" is conducted by Richard Purvis.
The opening program of the season features Porter Heaps at Trinity Episcopal playing the Sowerby Symphony.


The SFAGO presents the first E. Power Biggs memorial concert, establishing an annual event that continues through 1985.


Assassinations at City Hall: Dianne Feinstein, President of the Board of Supervisors, announces,
"Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk have been shot . . . and killed. The suspect is Supervisor Dan White."


SFAGO hosts the National AGO Biennial Convention in San Francisco. 2,200 attended to hear recitalists including James David Christie, David Craighead, Pamela Decker, Fenner Douglass, Eileen Guenther,
Joyce Jones, Thomas Murray, Simon Preston, Richard Purvis, Rollin Smith, Frederick Swann, Harald Vogel, John Walker, John Weaver, and Gillian Weir. Music was commissioned from composers Fred Bock,
Thea Musgrave, Henry Brant, McNeil Robinson, David Raksin, George Crumb, Ron Nelson, John Cage, Heuwell Tircuit, and Miklos Rozsa.


The SFAGO Special Projects Fund is established with $100,000 generated from hosting the 1984 AGO Biennial Convention.


Our 75th anniversary is celebrated during the term of Dean Richard Webb


The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt is started in San Francisco to remember those lost to the disease.


The Loma Prieta Earthquake, 7.1 magnitude, hits the Bay Area – initial jolt broadcast live during the World Series.


The Palo Alto/Peninsula Chapter is formed from the SFAGO.


The Oakland firestorm engulfs East Bay hills.


Richard Purvis dies on December 25.


A summer Pipe Organ Encounter is held, the chapter’s first such endeavor.
The chapter sponsors a hymn writing competition "in celebration of the many diverse talents and varied gifts of our membership." Winning hymn tune is Alexandra by John Karl Hirten.


The Ethel Elizabeth Crummey education fund is established by a bequest from Mrs. Crummey in her will. Mrs. Crummey served as Dean of the chapter from 1968-1970.
SFAGO Board establishes Richard Purvis Memorial Fund to support organ competition scholarships.


Cable cars get first female grip operator, Fannie Mae Barnes.


The chapter sponsors its second Pipe Organ Encounter.


The San Francisco Giants win the World Series.


An unrestricted bequest of $125,000 is received in memory of Joanna Smullin from the First Congregational Church of Redwood City, where she was organist for forty years.
100th anniversary of the founding of the Chapter.
Region IX Convention in San Francisco on July 3-7, 2011, including a 100th anniversary commemoration at the opening service.

Deans of the San Francisco Chapter

Formerly known at the Northern California Chapter


Wallace A. Sabin

1913-Dec 1914

H.J. Stewart

Jan-June 1915

Otto Fleissner


John Haraden Pratt


Virginie de Fremery


Warren D. Allen

1923-Dec 1926

Wallace A. Sabin

Jan 1927-1929

William W. Carruth


Mable Hill Redfield


Walter B. Kennedy


Estelle D. Swift


Frances Murphy


Harold Mueller


J. Sidney Lewis


Frederick Freeman


Kathleen Sherris Luke


Frances Murphy


W. Allen Taylor


Harold Mueller


Frederick Freeman


Newton H. Pashley


Alfred C. Kaeppel


Leonard Fitzpatrick


E. Paul Fitzgerald


Robert Sproule


Elizabeth Woods


Esther L. Johnson


Robert Whitley


Lawrence Moe


Eileen Coggin


Alexander C. Post


J. Richard Coulter


Ethel Elizabeth Crummey 


Frank Taylor


Frances Shelby Beniams


John Burke


Lawrence Moe


Kenneth Mansfield


Burton Weaver


John Pagett


Philip Hahn


Richard Webb


David Farr


Rodney Gehrke


John Hirten


John Fenstermaker


George Anton Emblom


Robert J. Kerman


Jay Martin


Paul Alan Rosendall


Susan Jane Matthews


John Karl Hirten


George Anton Emblom
Simon Berry

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