AGO National Competition in Organ Improvisation

The National Competition in Organ Improvisation seeks to further the art of improvisation by recognizing and rewarding superior performance in the field. A flourishing tradition of improvisation is fundamental to a truly vital musical culture.

The competition is open to all organists regardless of age or citizenship; it is also open to non-AGO members. Applicants who do not reside in the U.S. are responsible for understanding and complying with U.S. visa requirements as well as travel costs where applicable. First-place winners of a previous NCOI are not eligible. The NCOI occurs biennially and commences with a recorded Application Round followed by a semifinal and final round. Prizes: First Place – $3,000, funded by the estate of McNeil Robinson, a CD recording on the Pro Organo label; Second Place – $2,000, funded by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders; Third Place – $1,500, funded by Pamela and Steven Ruiter-Feenstra; Audience prize – $1,500, funded by David and Robin Arcus.

The 2018 competition is now in progress

The 2018 NCOI rules were published in the October-16 issue of THE AMERICAN ORGANIST. The semifinal round took place in Montreal, Quebec Wednesday, July 5, 2017, at the Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. This round was held in conjunction with the 2017 Northeast Regional Convention. The performance requirements included a 1) repertoire piece by either Vierne, Widor, or Guilmant, 2) a hymn to be improvised with a creative introduction and at least two contrasting harmonizations, 3)an Adagio improvised on a given theme, and 4) a prelude, toccata, or fantasia improvised on a given theme.

Three finalists were selected in Montreal. Robert Horton, Douglas Murray, and Kalle Toivio will compete at the Final Round to be held in conjunction with the 2018 AGO National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

Robert Horton

Douglas Murray

Kalle Toivio




2016 NCOI First Place and Audience Prize

Thomas Dahl

Thomas Dahl studied church music, composition, music pedagogy, musicology and organ performance in Hamburg, Stuttgart and Paris. He studied organ improvisation with Heinz Wunderlich, Willibald Bezler and Daniel Roth. He also received private instructions from Wolfgang Rubsam and Jean Guillou. In six international organ-playing and improvisation competitions he has been a prize winner or finalist. Thomas is Director of Music at Hauptkirche St. Petri in Hamburg and conductor of the Hamburg Bach Choir. He has given recitals, lectures and masterclasses in Europe, the United States and Japan.

A special note to chapters—hosting an AGO competition winner is the perfect chapter event! For more information, contact Thomas Dahl or  AGO Headquarters.

Upcoming Events

May 23, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
Hauptkirche St Petri, Hamburg

July 3, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
2018 AGO National Convention, Kansas City

July 8, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
St Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City

August 17, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
Hauptkirche, St Petri, Hamburg

August 26, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
Stiftskirche, Herrenberg

September 16, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
Westminster Cathedral, London

September 17, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
Cathedral, Conventry

October 4, 2018
Solo Organ Recital
French Cathedral, Berlin


 In October 2014, Thomas Dahl was given several suggested themes from the audience for a possible improvisation. This is an improvisation on a theme offered by Philadelphia composer Chuck Holdeman.

Past NCOI Winners

2014 Patrick Scott First Place and Audience Prize
Douglas Murray Second Place
No Third Prize was awarded

2012 Robert Nicholls First Place
Patrick Scott Second Place and Audience Prize
Douglas Murray Third Place

2010 David Baskeyfield First Place and Audience Prize
Herbert Buffington Second Place
Robert Nicholls Third Place

2008 Jason Roberts First Place
Steven Ball Second Place
Herbert Buffington Third Place and Audience Prize

2006 Tom Trenney First Place and Audience Prize
Vincent Carr Second Place
No Third Place awarded

NCOI Past Prizewinners

NCOI Committee
Cindy Lindeen-Martin, DMA, Director Email
Jason Roberts Email
Mary Newton, CAGO, DMA Email