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May 29, 2013 | Paula Haenchen

Angleton Organist Wins Spot in International Competition


[Diolog MagazineYuri McCoy hasn’t had much time to develop a long, successful career, but he certainly enjoys an illustrious one in Angleton. His journey has taken him from West Virginia to Italy, Hawaii and finally to South Texas. McCoy’s growing expertise playing the organ and piano has received the kind of acclaim that generates great expectations and the 28-year-old is about to take on the biggest challenge of his career so far.


He will be among 10 of the world’s top young organists at the Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition in Pennsylvania this coming June, to compete for the largest cash prize of any organ competition in the world. The unprecedented event will feature Longwood’s Aeolian organ—among the world’s largest concert organs, with 146 stops and 10,010 pipes. One of the 100 international applicants, McCoy is Holy Comforter’s choir director/organist. Five finalists will move to a final round in a quest for the Pierre S. du Pont first prize of $40,000.


McCoy was raised in a Baptist home in Huntington, West Virginia, and began to take piano lessons at age six, adding organ studies in high school. He received a bachelor’s degree in piano performance at nearby Marshall University and experienced the Episcopal Church for the first time when he became organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Huntington.


In 2006, McCoy was nominated by the National Society of Collegiate Scholars to attend a delegation on music in Central and Eastern Europe, offering him many opportunities to go behind the scenes of the world’s most prestigious classical music venues. He also premiered a work for solo piano at the Contemporary Music Festival in Cortona, Italy, and performed in master classes for Leon Fleisher, Todd Wilson and Stephan Moller during the 2007 Wiener Meisterkurse (Vienna Master Course). McCoy’s graduate studies took him to Hawaii. 

“While I was in Honolulu auditioning for the program, I attended a noontime recital at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Andrew,” he said. There he played for the Cathedral’s music director who offered him an organ scholar position. This was to prove providential since the organ in the Cathedral was an Aeolian concert organ similar to the one at Longwood.


“Ever since my first Episcopal job at St. John’s, I felt right at home spiritually. The deep Anglican musical traditions were new to me, but soon I was hooked,” McCoy said. 


Recently confirmed and newly married, McCoy is studying at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music with Associate Professor of Organ, Kenneth Cowan. McCoy applied to the Longwood Competition at Cowan’s urging.


“Not all organists these days are trained to utilize the various mechanisms that control such a large, complex instrument like Longwood’s organ,” Cowan explained. “It takes a person like Yuri, with very advanced skills and experience to make the music of large organs come to life.”  Cowan proudly describes his student as having the broad musical interests, keen artistic instincts and the flare for the dramatic side of music that make for a very exciting performance. He believes that McCoy is particularly suited to the demands of the Longwood competition because he possesses the ability to immerse himself in the music, concentrating in rehearsal for extended periods. This is important because competitions, like the Longwood, require their participants to learn a large volume of demanding repertoire at the highest possible level in a very narrow time frame.


“We are very fortunate that Yuri came to Rice University when our organist position became vacant,” says Holy Comforter’s rector, the Rev. Carol Petty. “He enriches our worship with the most beautiful music. We are blessed by his musical gift. We thank God for him every day.”


McCoy is thankful for Holy Comforter as well. “I knew that the Shepherd School would try to match me with a job where I could work while going to school, so I was hoping there would be an Episcopal church that would need me,” he said. “Everything seemed to fall into place. It definitely feels as if God’s hand is guiding both my spiritual and musical journey. I‘m so glad I found Holy Comforter and appreciate their support and encouragement. I try to give back to them and God by creating music that excites, inspires and prepares the congregation for a more meaningful worship experience at every service.


“What really appealed to me [about the Episcopal Church] at first was the extraneous stuff, the way worship was elevated and the way everyone brings his or her best to the glory of God,” McCoy added, “but the longer I’m involved, I think it’s that the tent is big enough for everyone.”


Haenchen is the Newcomer Ministry Coordinator at Holy Comforter, Angleton.