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Photo courtesy of American Guild of Organists

Internationally acclaimed organist Hector Olivera will perform at First Presbyterian Church.

A three-year gamble is about to pay off for the Kern County chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

The 25-member chapter, one of the smallest in the international organization, is hosting a Guild of Organists regional conference, inviting members from the southwestern United States, Hawaii, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Sydney.

The convention runs from Monday to Wednesday, though there have been several pre-conference events already and a post-conference event on Thursday.

"We have oversubscribed," said coordinator Phil Dodson.

"Oversubscribed" is Dodson's classy way of saying the event is a sellout, and financial commitments made by the chapter are more than covered. Those commitments include hotel guarantees for 180 rooms, plus all the expenses associated with organizing a week's worth of events: advertising, programs, artists' fees, food, security, sound technicians, ground transportation and many other costs.

"Whatever (hotel rooms are) not used, we have to pay for that," Dodson said. "Around the country, that can put the host region in serious difficulty and then they have to borrow from the international organization to pay."

When interviewed early last week, Dodson said more 200 guild members from throughout the region had already registered to attend, and more were expected. Dodson said in addition to the fees generated by such high attendance, local fundraising has made it possible for the chapter to host an attractive convention that includes workshops throughout the day for the attendees, and also several free concerts that are open to the public.

"It's beautiful how very generous people have been," Dodson said. "Most of these people are not organists, but when I tell them that one of our purposes is to provide concerts free to the public, everyone's eyes light up."

Dodson said participating churches are donating their spaces and providing scores of volunteers.

The convention is based at the DoubleTree Hotel, which will host the exhibit hall and several events throughout the day. The main attractions, and what made Bakersfield a desirable convention location for the Guild of Organists, are the organs the conventioneers have come to see and hear played: new acoustic-digital combination organs at First Presbyterian Church on 17th Street and at First United Methodist Church on Stockdale Highway; the Aeolian-Skinner organ at Olive Drive Church and the Werner-Bosch Baroque-style organ at St. John's Lutheran Church on Buena Vista Road.

"The international accepted our application because we have some exceptional organs in our city and it seemed we wanted to do this," Dodson said.

During the convention, members will attend workshops on teaching, performing, accompanying, working in churches, new music and many other topics. In the evening, in addition to attending concerts, attendees will have the opportunity to get to know Bakersfield. Dodson noted that most regional conventions are held in larger, better-known cities.

"I think we probably worked harder than most chapters in (our region) because we live in Bakersfield and we knew we had to sell this community as well as this convention," Dodson said. "And it worked because (attendees) are already booking trips for after the convention."

Even before the convention has officially begun, Dodson said he is already receiving praise from the international organization, and described the local chapter members as "happily exhausted."

Dodson said it is unlikely the chapter will host another regional event, but he did say the convention will result in new events, especially to support young artists.

"There are some absolutely wonderfully gifted young people learning the organ," Dodson said.

Dodson said his plans include starting an annual "youth day" type of event for young organists.

"That's the thing I want to do for the remaining part of my tenure," Dodson said. "To promote gifted young people." "I think we probably worked harder than most chapters in (our region) because we live in Bakersfield and we knew we had to sell this community as well as this convention."

-- Phil Dodson, coordinator of the American Guild of Organists convention