For organists who have already received the Service Playing Certificate or have service playing proficiency, Colleague certification is the next logical step. The CAGO examination consists entirely of your performances, and the examination is like a recital or the musical part of a service of worship, where the organist is expected to perform each item creditably. This examination is designed to test the candidate’s mastery of all aspects of the organist’s art, since this is the demand that is placed upon the professional church musician. Membership in the AGO is not required for Colleague certification; however, there is a $100 surcharge for nonmembers.
The colleague exam is entirely practical and has seven basic requirements that fall into two categories: repertoire and keyboard skills. For additional details, see the AGO Professional Certification Requirements for 2021. The CAGO exam is given twice a year: in May and November. The specific dates are published each year in the Professional Certification Requirements. Any chapter of the AGO can administer the exam for you (contact a particular chapter). Currently, the test is recorded, and the recordings are sent to AGO Headquarters for evaluation. Candidates usually receive the results two to three months after taking the test; if unsuccessful, they have five years to successfully compete the section they missed. The requirements are as follows:
- Perform organ literature of moderate difficulty.
- Accompany a choral anthem and a vocal solo.
- Lead and accompany a congregational hymn.
- Sight-read a brief passage of organ music on three staves.
- Harmonize a melody.
- Transpose a hymn-like passage.
- Improvise a simple interlude involving modulation.
2021 Examination Dates and Fees
The next exams are currently planned for May 7, 2021 and November 12, 2021. Examination fee: both sections, $175; single section, $150. Student rate: both sections, $150; single section, $125. Surcharge for non-AGO members: $100. Application deadlines are September 15, 2020, for the November 13th CAGO exam and March 1, 2021, for the May 7th CAGO exam.
Performing Colleague Repertoire
Performing repertoire and accompanying anthems, solos, and hymns require highly developed skills and are an essential part of the certification exams. Many Colleague candidates will be encountering the current year’s repertoire pieces for the first time. As a general-practice procedure, candidates should start by listening to a new piece while playing it slowly, analyzing what is heard, and familiarizing themselves with its background while gaining a firm grasp of the appropriate style elements. Each year, articles by Certification Committee members appear in The American Organist. The articles focus on the specific study and practice aspects of the current year’s exam repertoire.
Grading Criteria for AGO Certification
Repertoire: Awareness of stylistic period; imagination and musical excitement; phrasing and articulation; rhythm; tempo; note accuracy; registration.
Sight-reading: accuracy of notes and rhythm; keeping a steady beat without hesitations; tempo is moderate, not rushed or halting.
Hymn playing: Accuracy; rhythm; sensitivity to text via registration and articulation; leaving space for breathing; consistent spaces between stanzas; harmonizations that enhance singing but do not get in the way of singing or message of hymn text.
Transposition: Accuracy of notes and rhythm; keeping a steady beat and maintaining voice lines and voice leading.
Accompanying: Accuracy of notes and rhythm; attention to text and breathing places for singers; care in registrations so that support is provided without being aggressive; awareness of dynamics, tessitura, voice leading, and interpreting accordingly.
Harmonization/Modulation: Good voice leading, ease with keyboard harmony, and a sense of rules of counterpoint; form: use of motive, sequence, four- and eight-measure balanced phrases, having a “plan” without meandering.
Following directions is a key factor.
Contact the AGO Certification Administrator and request an application, or call 212-870-2311, ext. 4303.
Past Colleague Exams and AGO Educational Resources
Past TAO Articles for Exam Preparation
AGO Colleague Examination 2013/Improvisation Question/The Modulating Bridge by Philip Gehring, FAGO, Oct. 2013 (revised)
AGO Service Playing Anthem Accompaniment/Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace: Approaches to Wesley’s Most Popular Anthem by Jonathan B. Hall, FAGO, ChM, August 2012
“It Don’t Mean a Thing if You Can’t Make ‘Em Sing”/Leading Hymn Singing from the Organ: A Practical Checklist by Kenneth Grinnell, FAGO, ChM, April 2006
Regular Countersubjects in Fugue by Walter Hilse, FAGO, March 2008
Ten Tips on Sight-Reading by Jonathan B. Hall, FAGO, ChM, March 2009
The Fugal Answer by Walter Hilse, FAGO, April 2006
Transposition: Not a Four-Letter Word by Kenneth Grinnell, FAGO, ChM, May 2008
On Modulation by Dean Billmeyer, FAGO Handout from a 2008 Convention Workshop
Two Additional Service Playing Test Pieces by Kathleen Thomerson, FAGO, ChM, October 2009