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: 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).
Unexpectedly, Portman’s compositions began to win awards as well, beginning with the Twin Cities AGO Composition Competition in 2016 (Elegy for organ solo). She also won third place in the District of Columbia AGO Composition Competition in 2019 (Monument for organ solo), and second place in both the women’s choir and children’s choir divisions of the University of Notre Dame’s 2019 Liturgy Alive! Composition Competition (Laudate Dominum for SSA/organ, and a hymn: O Mystery of Night’s Horizon Setting). She has received a number of commissions for organ and choral works in recent years, including a commission for a solo organ piece for the 2020 AGO National Convention in Atlanta, 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 some are in print with Augsburg, Paraclete Press, Selah, and Wayne Leupold Editions. Her concert settings of hymns for solo voice and piano, highly acclaimed by many professional singers, are available at Sheet Music Plus.
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 in 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.