Each year, many AGO members receive certification of their service playing skills with the Service Playing Test. The Service Playing Certificate is recognized by many churches and employers as a demonstration of proficiency at the organ, and it brings organists many professional benefits. The test is entirely practical, and the required skills come into play at the worship service(s) you play each week.
The content of the Service Playing Test follows the order of a Sunday worship service and has six basic parts. For additional details, see the AGO Professional Certification Requirements for 2022. The requirements are as follows:
- Play three organ pieces chosen from a list of works from different historical periods. For example, your pieces might be a fugue from one of Bach’s Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, a movement by Mendelssohn, and a short contemporary work.
- Choose two hymns from the 2013 Revised AGO Examination Hymn Booklet, and play two stanzas of each as though accompanying a congregation.
- Transpose a hymn, again from the AGO Hymn Booklet, no more than a whole step up or down (you can choose the hymn and work it out in advance).
- Play the accompaniment to a psalm chant, taken from the AGO Hymn Booklet.
- Play two anthems chosen from those listed in the certification requirements.
- Sight-read a short passage of music.
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.
2021-2022 Examination Dates and Fees
The test is offered from October 1, 2021, through March 31, 2022. Examination fee: $150; student rate: $125. Surcharge for non-AGO members: $100. February 1, 2022, is the final application deadline. Applications for SPC tests between October and early February should be be received at least three weeks prior to the scheduled test date.
Manual of Procedure for the Service Playing Test
Download the Manual of Procedure for the Service Playing Test. Any chapter of the AGO can administer the test for you at a mutually agreeable date between October 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. Contact a particular chapter. More information: email, or call 212-870-2311, ext. 4303.
AGO Educational Resources
To assist candidates preparing for the Service Playing Test, the AGO Certification Committee has developed the educational resources below:
Service Playing Test Study Guide
Service Playing Test Sight-Reading Examples
100 Strategies for Successful AGO Certification
AGO Bibliography for Examination Preparation
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