On this page, we hear the experiences of some of the youth who attended Pipe Organ Encounter 2016 in Salt Lake City. We are inspired by their youthful enthusiasm and passionate musicianship.


Julianna Carlson
Provo, Utah
Age 15

Julianna Carlson

Julianna Carlson

I never really had a thing for the organ until one day when my piano teacher, Mike Carson, was practically dancing around the room, because he had found a flier for scholarship auditions on the organ. I had been working with him toward playing in sacrament meetings for about a year. Organ lessons were once a month, but I didn’t feel very much commitment.

The audition itself was quite a learning experience for me, but to hear that I had won a scholarship to a week-long organ camp in Salt Lake City, well, I was quite stunned. I thought it was a very strange thing to do, but it just hung in the back of my consciousness the whole summer. I really didn’t much look forward to it.

Well, the time came when it was no longer just some distant thing I would be doing, because my bags were packed, and I was in a car driving up to Salt Lake City. Soon my mom was waving goodbye to me as I walked to the U of U dorms by myself. I couldn’t believe I was actually there. It seemed so strange. Would I make friends here? What kinds of experiences would I have? Would I enjoy it? Would I be the only kid that hadn’t had Toccata and Fugue in D minor memorized since they were five? I felt very uncertain of myself.  It’s funny, though, how the greatest experiences you ever have can be very unexpected. They can be found in places you never suspect. And that’s what happened to me.

My time at the POE was phenomenal. Never before had I felt such an admiration for this instrument. It inspired my musicianship in a way I would never have predicted. Inside of me that week, there was a burning desire to become something greater with the talents I have. I felt like I was being introduced to a whole new, beautiful world, like the way you feel sometimes when you watch a sunset or when someone smiles at you on a gloomy day. I was being introduced not just to the organ, but to the beauty of music and worship and passion. There was much more out there than I ever thought.

I met so many amazing friends. When I would mess up on a piece, they would talk about how perfectly I’d done it. We all laughed very hard together and made a lot of memories. I even enjoyed immensely the teachers and chaperones that I met while I was there. I couldn’t believe how attached I felt to everyone when I had to leave. Funny how you can love someone so much, when really you’ve only known him or her for such a little time.

So, yes, I really did think going to an organ camp was a little weird in the beginning, and yet I’m so glad I did. I loved it more than I ever thought I would. Whatever may happen to me in my life or whatever I may accomplish, I’ll always remember the amazing experience I had that one week in July when I went to organ camp.


Ruth Perry
Phoenix, Arizona
Age 16

Organ camp was a great experience; I met a bunch of new friends and played on about seven organs.

On Tuesday, the second day of camp, we went to the Mormon Tabernacle and the Conference Center, and we got to play on the organs at each. They were five-manual organs with 5,000+ pipes. We also played on the three-manual organ at St. Ambrose Catholic Church. We met our teachers, who were all really cool, and we practiced every day in various locations around Salt Lake City.

On Wednesday we went to the Bigelow organ factory in American Fork, and got a tour of the facilities and learned how pipe organs are made. They make tracker organs. We went to BYU and got a tour of the music department and had a master class with Dr. Don Cook, who is the director of the organ program at BYU. He also performed a Carillon recital for us and let us play on the Carillon.

On Thursday, we went to the Joseph Smith Memorial building and had a master class with Dr. Clay Christiansen, one of the Mormon Tabernacle organists. We went to a concert at the Tabernacle to hear Richard Elliot, who is the principal organist for the Tabernacle Choir, and got to talk to him a bit afterwards. That evening we went to the Tabernacle Choir rehearsal and to the Cathedral of the Madeleine and played the organ there.

On Friday, we went to First United Methodist Church and played on the organ there. That evening we had our recital at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, and I played a piece out of The First Organ Book called Finale by Janet Corell. Both Dr. Cook and Dr. Christiansen were at the recital, and performing for them was really awesome!

This event was a wonderful and life-changing experience. Many of the organs and sites we saw were things that most people would never see and could end up being a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thank you to the Utah Valley chapter of the AGO for organizing this for all of us!


Michele Eggleston

When we got the list of POEs all around the country, I saw there was one in Salt Lake City this year. I didn’t even think twice and asked my parents if I could go to that one.

During a visit to Salt Lake City, when I was about seven, we went to Temple Square and the Conference Center, and I was in awe of the organs. Their sight stayed in my mind for a long time and I think that’s what made me decide to play this instrument a few years later.

One of my favorite things during the week was touring a lot of organs, especially at Temple Square. We not only got to play the Conference Center organ but also went behind the scenes. This is probably as exciting as playing, to see how it is made. We also got to play the Tabernacle organ after listening to a recital by Clay Christiansen. After that we visited the Assembly Hall organ and got to play it too. For me it was like a dream come true! We didn’t stop there, and during the week continued on with the organ in the chapel of the Joseph Smith building, Cathedral of the Madeleine, St. Ambrose Catholic Church and the First United Methodist Church. I like how they all have their own “personality” and how the same piece can have a different feel depending on the organ. We also had the chance to play a Carillon on the BYU campus, and we had so much fun with it that I’m pretty sure people within earshot of it were wondering what was happening up there!

I also enjoyed all the master classes, where we learned new techniques, how to improve, registration, and get the best out of an organ. Same with the visit to the organ builder, Bigelow, in American Fork. Seeing how an organ is made helps you understand how it works, how the sounds are formed, and it is fascinating.

To take a break from all these musical activities, we went to the BYU Creamery for some ice cream. Given the heat, it was a very welcome visit! During the week we also performed a variety show filled with fun performances, including my bad chemistry jokes.

Overall, it was an amazing experience. I learned many new things about the organ, such as different ways to learn hymns, articulation techniques, and more. I made new friends, too. The teachers, organizers, and chaperones/drivers, were all very nice and patient in dealing with our crazy bunch. Of all the organ camps I have attended so far, this has been the best! I also learned that I should bring Chapstick with me to Utah during the summer.

Thirteen teens from six states attended POE 2016 in Salt Lake City.

Thirteen teens from six states attended POE 2016 in Salt Lake City.

Pipe organ encounters are the most successful outreach programs sponsored by the American Guild of Organists (AGO). POEs offer teenagers a rewarding opportunity to learn more about the pipe organ and its construction, instruction with experienced teachers and performers, visits to hear and play outstanding instruments, and the chance to meet and interact with peers who share an interest in the King of Instruments.

The Utah Valley Chapter held its very first Pipe Organ Encounter on July 25-30, 2016, on the campus of the University of Utah, which was central to the location of many fine organs in the Salt Lake City area. There were thirteen students in attendance with a variety of playing levels; some had limited organ experience, while others had previous private lessons. The students were from Utah, Alaska, Colorado, South Carolina, Arizona, and California.

Our guest faculty included Leslie Robb from San Diego, California; Dr. Don Cook, organ area coordinator and university carillonneur at Brigham Young University; Dr. Brian Mathias, organ instructor at Brigham Young University; Dr. Clay Christiansen, Tabernacle Organist; Dr. Lynn Thomas, director of organ studies at Utah State University; Heidi Alley, organist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; Chris Huntzinger, organist at St. Ambrose Catholic Church; and Sheri Peterson, dean of the Utah Valley AGO.

Private Lessons

The students had a private lesson each day, Tuesday through Friday. They had the opportunity to receive these lessons on a variety of instruments. The chapter had volunteers drive the students to each of the lessons and monitor the lessons.

Daily Activities

On Tuesday the students enjoyed a tour of the organs on Temple Square, including the Conference Center, Assembly Hall, and Tabernacle, hosted by Bill Hesterman of Rocky Mountain Organ Company and Robert Poll, Temple Square Organ Technician. The students then attended a noon recital by Dr. Clay Christiansen at the Tabernacle. That evening the instructors and organists from the chapters performed a mini recital and hymn-sing for the students at St. Ambrose Catholic Church. The students also participated in a liturgy class later that evening, offered by Chris Huntzinger.

On Wednesday the students toured the Bigelow & Company Organ Builders facility in American Fork. In the afternoon, the students toured the organs at Brigham Young University. At BYU the students had the opportunity to play in a master class hosted by Dr. Don Cook. Afterward, a dinner was provided on the lawn while everyone listened to a recital performed on the BYU Centennial Carillon. One of the highlights of the week for the students was having open console time on the carillon after the recital. All of the students took turns climbing up the steps into the tower to play and “experiment” on this fantastic instrument. To end the evening, everyone walked to the BYU Creamery to enjoy some ice cream.

On Thursday the students participated in a master class with Dr. Clay Christiansen and heard a recital by Dr. Richard Elliot in the Tabernacle. Later, the kids attended a basic registration class on the organ in the Libby Gardner Hall at the University of Utah, followed by open console time. That evening the students were able to change gears with some free time and put on a variety show to showcase a talent (other than organ or piano) for their peers. They had a blast with the show! That night they received a special tour of the Cathedral of the Madeleine Eccles Memorial Organ, another highlight of the week.

Friday afternoon the students relished a recital by Tyler Boehmer, regional winner of the 2015 Quimby Scholarship Competition, at First Methodist Church. They loved hearing and seeing an organist perform who was closer to their own age. Later, at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark, the students played a game of organ Jeopardy, while they took turns setting up the organ for the student recital that night, where the students showcased their week’s hard work. They performed a fantastic recital for their peers, family, and friends.

To conclude the week, the instructors held an awards ceremony for the students on Saturday morning to recognize their accomplishments of the week’s hard work.

The students who attended POE 2016 thoroughly enjoyed interacting with each other, and everyone made fast friends and made the most out of every situation. Their enthusiasm and hard work made it a week to remember!

Our sincere appreciation is extended to the members of the Utah Valley and Salt Lake City chapters who volunteered their time and efforts to make the 2016 Utah POE a resounding success.

Anna Judkins

Welcome to the Utah Valley and Salt Lake Pipe Organ Encounter 2016! Pipe Organ Encounters are the most successful outreach program sponsored by the AGO.

Click here for the brochure.

The Utah POE will offer teenagers a rewarding opportunity to learn more about the pipe organ and its construction, receive instruction from experienced faculty, participate in visits to hear and play outstanding instruments on Temple Square and prominent organs in local churches, and the chance to meet and interact with peers who share a mutual interest in the “King of Instruments.”

The Utah Pipe Organ Encounter will take place July 25-30 in Salt Lake City. The POE is for teens, ages 13-18.  All registrations will take place exclusively online at the AGO national website:https://www.agohq.org/education/poe/.

Please Note: Registration for the POE is done exclusively on the national AGO website, but full payment is due at the time of registration by check only. Checks are made payable to Utah Valley American Guild of Organists, with Utah POE written in the subject line. Please send your check with a copy of the payment form from the brochure or a copy of your registration receipt to:

Dorothy Jensen
Utah Valley AGO POE Registrar
535 E 2200 N
Provo, UT 84604

POE Registration Fee: $525
POE Early Bird Registration Fee: $450
Early Bird Registration Deadline: April 1, 2016
Final Registration Deadline: July 1, 2016

The Traditional Pipe Organ Encounter…

  • Is a 4-5 day event organized by a local AGO chapter under the sponsorship of the national organization. It introduces participants to the world of the pipe organ.
  • Is a national program sponsored by the American Guild of Organists. Students are admitted to POEs on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of attendance at prior POEs, and regardless of state or country of residence, as long as they meet the following eligibility guidelines: Students should be aged 13-18, be interested in the pipe organ, and have piano or organ proficiency ranging from intermediate to advanced.
  • Provides an opportunity for students to have individual and group instruction in the basic rudiments of pipe organ technique and service playing.
  • Provides a general overview of organ literature, history, pipe organ construction and design, improvisation and other related topics.
  • Provides an opportunity for participation in ecumenical worship, so as to experience the role of the sacred musician.
  • Most of all, provides a unique opportunity for participants to meet and interact with peers who have similar interests.



Nick Banks is, as he puts it, “a young, single-adult college student” with a passion for playing organs, especially pipe organs.  He routinely searches for and locates pipe organs in churches, concert halls, event centers, and other venues in the vicinity of his home in Utah County and reports his findings on a blog.  Most of the organs and their locations are given to him by word of mouth from friends and family. His posts reflect his total joy and excitement in finding, playing, and photographing the instruments.

Nick created the blog in August 2014 to document his excursions, so that all who wish to find a pipe organ in close proximity may do so. The blog can be found at Pedals and Pipework. Nick has reviewed over 30 pipe organs, including a few digital organs, from Logan to Springville, with organs in Spanish Fork still on his wish list. He provides the location of each instrument with photos and a stop list.  A visit to his site is highly recommended; you may be pleasantly surprised by what is found there.  And, by the way, make his day; leave a comment, or use the contact form to tell him about other pipe organs in the area.

The Utah Valley Chapter is made up of organists and organ enthusiasts just like you! We extend a cordial invitation to join with us  in promoting the organ, encouraging excellence in the performance of organ and choral music, and participating in a forum for the mutual support, inspiration, and education of our members.

The AGO is dedicated to ensuring another generation of musicians and enthusiasts of organ and choral music. The Guild has programs, both on the local and national levels, that span every age group and level of proficiency.

AGO offers various certification levels to help facilitate and encourage learning and skill development. 


Our chapter is committed to helping all organists—beginners to advanced—by offering workshops, lectures, recitals, and other activities to help improve their organ skills. Anyone who is interested in the organ, even if you’re not an organist, is invited to come learn with us.