Raised in Grafton, Wisconsin, Brenda Portman’s earliest musical studies were at the piano with her mother, Cheryl Heck, and later with Clarice Wysocky of Grafton. She now serves as the Resident Organist at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she plays the 88-rank Casavant organ for worship services, weddings, and funerals, accompanies the Wesley Choir, Cathedral Choir, and children’s choirs, and serves as Executive Director of the church’s renowned Organ Concert Series. She teaches organ privately and at Xavier University in Cincinnati. She holds degrees from Wheaton College (bachelor’s in music education), Northwestern University (master’s in organ/church music), and the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (Doctor of Musical Arts in organ performance), where she received a full scholarship as first prize winner of the Strader Organ Competition and served as a teaching assistant for the organ department.
Dr. Portman has received numerous awards in organ competitions, spanning a decade: from First Place in the Albert Schweitzer Organ Competition in Connecticut (2006) to Finalist and Audience Prize winner in the Sursa American Organ Competition at Ball State University (2016). In October 2014 she was the only female American organist to compete in the prestigious Canadian International Organ Competition in Montréal. Her performance there led to a collaboration with acclaimed Canadian composer Rachel Laurin and a recording entitled "Pilgrimages: Organ Music of Rachel Laurin Inspired by Sacred Themes," which was released in 2016 on the Raven label. Other prizes include First Place in the Arthur Poister Organ Competition (2007), First Place in the Bank District British/American Organ Competition (2009) - performing a winner's recital at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, and Third Place in the Rodgers North American Classical Organ Competition (2012). She has also been a finalist in the Fort Wayne National Organ-Playing Competition (2010) and a semifinalist in the American Guild of Organists National Young Artists Competition in Organ Performance (2010).
In 2017 Dr. Portman was awarded the AAGO certificate (Associate of the American Guild of Organists), and received the AAGO Prize for the highest exam score, as well as the S. Lewis Elmer Award for the highest score on both the AAGO and FAGO exams combined.
Generated from her doctoral research on minimalism and twentieth-century Dutch organ music, Dr. Portman’s article “The Eclectic Landscape of Ride in a High-Speed Train,” about the above-named composition by Ad Wammes was published in December 2015 in The Diapason. Another article, “Minimalism or Not? A Closer Look at Ad Wammes’s Miroir,” was published in August 2017 by The American Organist. Other recent activities include serving as a coordinator and instructor at the 2016 Pipe Organ Encounter Advanced (POEA) in Cincinnati, adjudicating AGO scholarship auditions and CCM’s Strader Organ Competition, and presenting workshops on contemporary organ repertoire. She has served on the executive board of the Cincinnati AGO since 2011.
In addition to "Pilgrimages," Dr. Portman recorded a CD of organ works of Edwin T. Childs entitled “All Might and Majesty” (2009) on the Schantz organ at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois.
In recent years, Dr. Portman has also been active as a composer. She writes sacred choral, vocal, and organ works, primarily published with Sacred Music Press (The Lorenz Corporation). Her concert settings of hymns for solo voice and piano have been highly acclaimed by many professional singers. She was commissioned to compose a new solo work for organ for the 2020 AGO convention in Atlanta, and she has won several recent composition awards: her Elegy for organ solo won first place in the Twin Cities AGO Composition Competition (2016), and her Monument for organ solo won third place in the District of Columbia Composition Competition (2019). Choral/hymn awards include second place in two divisions of the University of Notre Dame's Liturgy Alive! Composition Competition (2019) for a hymn, O Mystery of Night's Horizon Setting, and a women's choir piece, Laudate Dominum. In 2014, her musical setting of a new hymn text, Christ, Who Was Before the World Began, was selected for the 300th anniversary of Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Dr. Portman held previous positions as Organist at First Presbyterian Church in Flint, Michigan and Director of Music Ministries at Trinity Lutheran Church and School and Jackson, Michigan. She has studied with John Behnke, Edward Zimmerman, Douglas Cleveland, Marilyn Mason, Roberta Gary, and Michael Unger. She is represented by Concert Artist Cooperative.
Brenda Portman concert organist - composer - arranger