Newsletter

Dear Friends of The Academy,

Welcome to our site.  We hope you enjoy exploring and that you will pay us a return visit.  We have many exciting new projects in the works, including new volumes in our "Aeolian-Skinner Legacy" series.

Volume IV features the great organ at First Presbyterian Church, Kilgore, Texas - the 1949 Aeolian-Skinner, Opus 1173.  We have assembled recordings from 1951-1980 on 4 CDs.  Hang on to your seats - it is fantastic!  We have Dora Poteet Barclay playing the Reubke Fugue, William Teague playing the Bach "St. Anne" Prelude and Fugue, Wiiliam Watkins playing Sowerby's "Sonatina," and Roy Perry improvising for church and playing his own masterpiece, "Christos Patterakis" on the organ for which it was written - and much, much, much more, including the all the material from the legendary 1956 album, “Music Of the Church,” with the choirs of First Presbyterian Church and Austin College.  This one will knock your socks off! 

 

 

"The Aeolian-Skinner Legacy, Vol. 3: Charles Callahan, George Markey, and William Watkins Play Three Great Organs in Washington, D.C." These three artists perform live, in recital, on the organs at Church of The Epiphany, Georgetown Presbyterian Church, and National Presbyterian Church in private recordings from 1960 to 1985. This two-disk set features over 2 hours of that glorious Aeolian-Skinner sound played by three of the great American organists of the 20th Century, with the following program: Callahan plays Jongen - Toccata, Vierne - Choral from Symphony 2, Sowerby - Prelude on "Deus tuorum militum," Roger-Ducasse - Pastorale, Callahan - first commercial recordings of "Elegy for Bassoon and Organ" (with Danny Phipps, bassoon) and "Fugue in e minor," Lefebure-Wely - Hymn of the Nuns, and Pastorale (with thunderstorm); Watkins plays Willan - Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, Handel - slow movement from G Minor Oboe Concerto (with Edmund Williams, oboe), Bach - two chorale preludes from the Orgelbuchlein, Sowerby - Fantasy for Flute Stops, Langlais - Fugue, Roberts - Homage to Perotin, and Kodaly - Praeludium; Markey plays Crandell - Carnival Suite, Simonds - Dorian Prelude on "Dies Irae," and Sowerby - Pageant. A 16-page booklet accompanies the CD, and includes complete stoplists, photos, artists' bios, and program notes by Charles Callahan, one of the leading authorities on Aeolian-Skinner organs. This CD is a real knockout, and is a must for all interested in great organ playing and Aeolian-Skinner organs!  Order your copy today.

 

The Aeolian-Skinner Legacy, Volume II: 

Albert Russell Plays Three Great Organs

If you haven't ordered our volume 2, do it today!  In what has quickly become our best selling album, Albert Russell plays the magnificent Aeolian-Skinner organs at The Riverside Church, New York City, Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City, and National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C., in previously unreleased private recordings dating from 1957 to 1973.  The CD contains over 70 minutes of music by Bach, Dupre (Preludio and Toccata from the Second Symphony), Elmore (Rhythmic Suite), Langlais, Mozart, Near, and Roger-Ducasse.  A 16-page booklet accompanies the disk, complete with stoplists, photos, and program notes written by the VTOA's own artist-in-residence, noted Aeolian-Skinner authority, Charles Callahan.  Albert Russell is one of the country's finest organists, and his dazzling live performances from Riverside and National Presbyterian will leave you trembling!  His Mozart, recorded at Philharmonic Hall, is full of drama, and uses Aeolian-Skinner's unique reverberation system.

Here are a few excerpts from Dr. Callahan's program notes for A-S Legacy, Vol.II:

In two of the greatest American cities, here are three great organs, crown jewels in Aeolian-Skinner's crown, presented in their youthful vigor by a prince of American organ playing, Albert Russell.

        New York's Riverside Church was originally home to a large, late Hook and Hastings organ, opus 2540 of that distinguished Boston firm.  Some of this pipework was incorporated into the Aeolian-Skinner organ, work on which began with a new five-manual console in the late 1940's and extended through several stages as that firm's opus 1118 A-B-C-D. Beginning in the mid-1960's this instrument was significantly altered, hence the significance of having this live 1957 performance of the Aeolian-Skinner organ.

            Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts was a major architectural landmark of the early 1960's.  Philharmonic Hall, designed to be the home of the New York Philharmonic, was also home to Aeolian-Skinner opus 1388, a landmark instrument, -magnificent both visually and tonally - for which the company had its high hopes dashed by daunting installation problems and disastrous acoustics.  Much of this organ found a new home, years later, in Garden Grove, CA, after it was removed from NYC in an unsuccessful attempt to improve the hall's acoustics by ostracizing the organ.  The present writer can testify to the beautiful voicing and characteristically clear yet colorful ensembles of this major Whiteford work. 

            The organ of the National Presbyterian Church, an excellent example of a large, late AEolian-Skinner, was designed and tonally finished by Donald Gillett, the
last President and Tonal Director of the firm. The building also houses an
Aeolian-Skinner organ in the chapel.

            One of the concerns of Joseph S. Whiteford (1921-1978), President and Tonal Director of the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Co., was the unfortunate acoustical environment present in many of our churches and concert halls. Always interested in technology, he and his colleagues Robert Breed and John Kellner at Aeolian-Skinner developed an electronic reverberation system which was ahead of its time for the period 1950 - 1970. It was used in prominent churches in America, and in a most unusual experiment for the festival dei due mondi in Spoleto, Italy in 1960. This installation is described in detail in the present writer's volume, AEOLIAN-SKINNER REMEMBERED. 

Meet Albert Russell:

Albert Russell attended Baylor University (where he was also chapel organist), University of Texas, and the Washington Musical Institute.  He holds a Master of Sacred Music degree from Union Theological Seminary, New York.  While at Union, Mr. Russell was chapel organist, organist and choirmaster at the West End Collegiate Church, and substitute organist at The Riverside Church.  He has spent summers in England studying at the Royal School of Church Music, and in Holland at the Summer Academy for Organists, Haarlem.

Mr. Russell has served as organist and choirmaster at the Asylum Hill Church, Hartford, Connecticut, chairman of organ and church music at Hartt College, University of Hartford, university organist and instructor of organ at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, instructor of organ at Peabody Conservatory, Baltimore, and instructor in organ at the College of Church Musicians, Washington Cathedral.  He has also taught organ at the American University and the Catholic University of America.

He has recorded for the Aeolian-Skinner "King of Instruments" series, including a recording of the Durufl Requiem and the first recording on the new organ at Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City, in 1962.  He has played recitals throughout the country, and was formerly under the concert management of Roberta Bailey.

Mr. Russell served as program chairman for the National Convention of The American Guild of Organists in Washington in 1982, chairman for the Southern New England A.G.O. Regional in Hartford in 1963, and has served as judge for the Ft. Wayne Competition.  He is retired organist-choirmaster of St. John's Church, Lafayette Square (Church of The Presidents) after having served there for twenty years. 

Don't miss our other Aeolian-Skinner recording  for sale in our bookstore!  The William Watkins CD is our other best seller, and has received rave reviews from far and wide.  Don't miss it, or Jimmy Culp's "In a Monastery Garden," also a favorite of our customers.

Thank you again for visiting the academy.  Please tell your friends about us, and be sure to visit again soon. 

Read on for Dr. Callahan's advice column, "Ask Dr. Callahan - The Doctor is IN!"

Sincerely,
Lorenz Maycher
Founding Director
The Vermont Organ Academy 

Ask Charles Callahan - The Dr. Is IN!

Dear Dr. Callahan - Can you give me some ideas to make hymn playing more interesting? We have a small tracker organ and there is not much variety in the choice of stops.

Mary, TN

Dear Colleague, YES ! You can certainly "spice up" the hymns, even on a small instrument. As a matter of fact, we will be discussing this topic in the workshops planned for the summer of 2005. For now, here are some simple suggestions which will WORK on organs large and small...

INTRODUCING THE HYMN

1. This is your opportunity for TEACHING the congregation how this music should be sung! Keep a steady but NOT inflexibly unmusical pulse. Notice I do not say "beat" - that is for eggs! It is important that you play the introduction in the same tempo as you intend to play the rest of the hymn. Make sure the tempo is just right - not too ponderously slow, neither too diabolically fast. How do you tell? Listening to the words. Listening to the spirit. Listening to your playing. Experience and most of all, good taste! And what is good taste? As in cooking - Just enough! In order to familiarize the congregation with the TUNE - try playing some or all of the introduction in single notes or, even better, in octaves (lower), which helps to put the melody in the male singers' range.

2. Give the feet a rest once in a while! Sometimes omit pedals for the introduction; this automatically adds a new dimension to the sonority when you play verse one WITH the pedals.

3. Another variation: try playing ONLY the melody line (in octaves), for the first and third phrases. Use four part harmony for the second and fourth phrases.

FIRST VERSE

1. As part of your preparation, know the texts (actually, these are the HYMNS; the melodies are the HYMNTUNES). Read the poetry before practising the notes!

2. Play on the Great, with supportive registrations such as principals 8'-4'-2' if appropriate to the spirit of the text. Don't be afraid to leave off the Mixture! And don't be afraid to use a "lush" combination of strings and flutes if the text warrants it.

3. Use as much organ as you need to support the congregation, but do not drown it! If you think that you need more sound, add stops as you go along - practise this!  If you find the congregation is singing poorly, sometimes (BUT NOT ALWAYS) it is a good idea to add more foundation tone such as 8' Diapasons and reducing the upperwork such as 2', high mixtures, etc.

- NOTA BENE -

Do vary your hymn registrations - it doesn't have to be a different combination on each verse, necessarily. But we have all heard fine organists play ALL the verses of a hymn on pretty much the same sound - this is NOT inspiring - this is BORING for the listeners, singers and the player! Also, always try to listen for balance between the singers and the accompaniment. (I admit, it is sometimes very difficult to do this from the organ bench!)

SECOND, THIRD and FOURTH VERSES

1. One of these verses might be the time to reduce the organ, if the congregational singing calls for it. Also, here's a good time to vary the registration - experiment with different possibilities! Sometimes I like to solo out the melody AN OCTAVE LOWER, either playing the tune in the tenor register, or as written but on a registration with a prominent 16' stop. If your organ is "tubby", try playing the melody AN OCTAVE HIGHER by using a super coupler, or by playing in octaves.

2. Especially on a smaller instrument, a welcome change in texture may be achieved by simply omitting the pedals for a verse. There is no reason to keep the pedals going throughout all the verses. Another variation - for OCCASIONAL USE! - is to omit the organ ENTIRELY for one verse..only if the singing is strong enough!

3. In your hymn practicing, try varying the pedal notes, by using pedal points, or passing tones, for example. Of course you can do this to other voices besides the bass too. Varying the harmonic structure is another option, BUT don't do this in the service unless you are thoroughly comfortable with this sort of variation.

4. Be humbly aware of your own gifts - and limitations. EVERYONE needs to practise. And if you have a talent for improvisation, don't "wing it" - practise and study the art! The melody should always be discernible in any free treatment of a hymn. If you do not have an improvisatory flair, not to worry - there are many good books of free organ accompaniments available! A good and reliable source for all of your sheet music needs is Cliff Hill Music, toll-free 1-800-819-8772 and on the web at www.cliffhillmusic.com (On much music Cliff offers a 20% discount).

IN GENERAL.how's your touch? 

Do you vary the touch in playing hymns? This is very important part of musical organ playing.. there are infinite varieties of touches and phrasings possible on the organ ! Three basic ones to get you thinking - legato - leggiero - staccato.

1. Please play legato if the spirit of the hymn calls for it -as many do. To my way of thinking, this would include hymntunes such as the ones below - this list being simply made up of some random examples drawn from various eras of composition:  Hymntune name Opening line of text (alternative texts abound)  AURELIA (The Church's One Foundation), ST. AGNES (Shepherd of Souls), LIEBSTER JESU (Blessed Jesus, We Are Here), PICARDY (Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence), ADORO TE DEVOTE (Humbly I Adore Thee), NEW BRITAIN (Amazing Grace), BICENTENNIAL (You Satisfy the Hungry Heart), LOVE UNKNOWN (My Song Is Love Unknown), DOWN AMPNEY (Come Down, O Love Divine), ROSEDALE (Come, Risen Lord)

2. Leggiero means lightly - not legato, but not staccato either. Perhaps a good way to describe this touch is "lightly detached". This would work to advantage (for at least some verses/phrases) of hymns such as ST. GEORGE (Come, Ye Thankful People, Come), REGENT SQUARE (Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation), HANOVER (O Worship the King), ERHALT' UNS, HERR (The Glory of these Forty Days), IN BABILONE (Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus), ORIENTES PARTIBUS (Christ the Lord Is Risen Again!), YORKSHIRE (Christians, awake, salute the happy morn), OLIVET (My Faith Looks Up to Thee)  MONKS GATE (He Who Would Valiant Be), KINGSFOLD (I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say)

3. Staccato on the organ is a touch that is unusually effective when used sparingly and appropriately. (I like garlic, but not on Cheerios.) The exact amount of leggiero or staccato depends on many variables . always remember to temper the touch to the acoustic and the instrument. In a resonant acoustic, one can get away with a shorter staccato than one might employ in a dry room. Too, you might use this special touch only for a phrase, or a single verse, but it can be useful in developing rhythmic hymn singing. Here are some hymntune possibilities for staccato and/or a combination of touches:LLANFAIR (Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise), LOBE DEN HERRN (Praise to the Lord), SIMPLE GIFTS (Tis the Gift to be Simple), NEANDER (He Is Risen, He Is Risen!), DEO GRATIAS /THE AGINCOURT HYMN (Creator of the Earth and Skies), WIR PFLUEGEN (We Plow the Fields and Scatter), HERZLICH THUT MICH ERFREUEN (The Day of Resurrection), TRURO (Lift Up Your Heads, You Mighty Gates), AUSTRIAN HYMN (Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken)

Remember that many tunes are sung to more than one choice of text - therefore, you should always base your choice of touch and any changes in the registration as much as possible on the text as well as the music!  Sometimes the use of different touches within a single verse of a hymn can enliven both the playing and the singing - try for example, legato on the melody and leggiero for the other voices. This requires practise but is worth it!  Always play with confidence and with a relaxed body yet attentive mind. There's a lot to think about here. Don't try to pack it all into one hymn!   Charles Callahan, Vermont Organ Academy