Following a decade of successes in performance competitions, and now with her compositions increasingly in demand, Brenda Portman has established a well-respected dual career as both a concert organist and composer. She serves as the Resident Organist at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is also the Executive Director of the church’s renowned Organ Concert Series. She is the Organ Instructor at Xavier University in Cincinnati, and also teaches organ and piano privately.
Raised in Grafton, Wisconsin, Brenda’s earliest musical studies were at the piano with her mother, Cheryl Heck, and later with Clarice Wysocky of Grafton. Her organ studies began in high school, also with her mother, and with John Behnke at Concordia University. She furthered her study of the organ and church music with Edward Zimmerman at Wheaton College (B.Mus.Ed. 2002), Douglas Cleveland at Northwestern University (M.Mus. 2003), and with Roberta Gary and Michael Unger at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (D.M.A. 2016), 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.
Between the years 2006 and 2016, Brenda received numerous awards in organ competitions, including the Albert Schweitzer Organ Competition, Arthur Poister Organ Competition, Sursa American Organ Competition, Rodgers North American Classical Organ Competition, and the Bank District British/American Organ Competition which concluded with a winner’s recital at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. 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.
Some of Portman’s compositions have won awards as well, including the Twin Cities AGO Composition Competition in 2016 (Elegy for organ solo), the District of Columbia AGO Composition Competition in 2019 (Monument for organ solo), and the University of Notre Dame’s Liturgy Alive! Composition Competition in 2019 (Laudate Dominum for SSA/organ). She has received numerous commissions for solo organ, organ-plus-instrument, and choral works in recent years, including a solo organ piece for the 2020 AGO National Convention in Atlanta (which ended up being premiered virtually), and a choral anthem for adult & children’s choirs for the inaugural year of the new Dobson organ at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her compositions are primarily published by Sacred Music Press, though others are self-published or in print from Augsburg, Selah, and Wayne Leupold Editions.
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 adjudicating organ competitions, presenting workshops on contemporary organ repertoire, and teaching 4th graders about how pipe organs work. When not doing music, she enjoys gardening, taking walks with her husband, and trying to keep up with her three children’s activities.