New Ears for Mountaineers

Article excerpt


When it comes to pipe organs, anyone can say they have "heard it all," but to make that claim, one must experience the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival. Last November, eight of us from the organ studio at Appalachian State University journeyed from Boone, North Carolina, to northeast Texas to celebrate and learn about the Aeolian-Skinner instruments that are the results of the "perfect storm": Roy Perry and G. Donald Harrison. Levels of training within our group ranged from two semesters of secondary study all the way to professor, yet all of us came away from the festival with our eyes opened, our ears changed, and our inspirations rekindled by the instruments at First Baptist Church, Longview, First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches, and First Presbyterian and St. Luke's United Methodist churches in Kilgore.

Our teacher, Joby Bell, had instilled in us from day one of the semester a growing anticipation for the festival. We knew from his enthusiasm that these organs were worth hearing and worth missing a week of class for. We also had the perspective of previous visits to hear and play the magnificent Aeolian in Duke Chapel and the E.M. Skinner at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem. Although we had not yet "heard it all," we knew we were about to make great strides in that direction.

We discovered early on that the organ at First Presbyterian, Kilgore, can play anything, and indeed it did. From a Sunday service to The Phantom of the Opera silent film to traditional recitals to a theater-organ concert, this organ proved itself over and over without disappointing. We particularly enjoyed Walt Strony's Carmen Fantasy and an improvised salute to the armed forces, Ann Frohbieter's performance of Michael Horvit's The Red Sea and Liszt's Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H, and Christopher Jennings's performance of Clarence Dickinson's infrequently heard Storm King Symphony.

First Baptist, Longview, was the site of the larger programs. The church and organ are a thrilling combination, and we reveled in Ken Cowan's transcription of Saint-Saëns's Danse macabre and a solid recital by Richard Elliott with bass-baritone David Ford.

Scott Davis, who performed a splendid improvisation at First Baptist, Nacogdoches, summed up that organ perfectly when he called it "a masterpiece in miniature." The same thing may be said about the organ at St. Luke's Methodist, Kilgore, where we heard Charles Callahan play an impressive improvisation that showed off the organ's extensive tonal capabilities. …