Organ Historical Society Symposium: The Symphonic Organ at Stoneleigh an Aeolian-Skinner Celebration

By Spotts, Richard | The Tracker, January 2020 | Go to article overview

Organ Historical Society Symposium: The Symphonic Organ at Stoneleigh an Aeolian-Skinner Celebration


Spotts, Richard, The Tracker


SUNDAY, OCTOBER I3 THROUGH TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2OI9

THE PAST FEW YEARS have been critical ones for the Organ Historical Society. We cele brated the achievements of our former CEO, James Weaver, and welcomed our new CEO, Edward McCall. Then, of course, the archives and headquarters moved from Princeton and Richmond to Villanova outside Philadelphia. Through the generosity of the Wyncote Foundation, and in conjunction with the Natural Lands Trust, Stoneleigh has become the new home of the Organ Historical Society, and with this move, a promising new chapter has begun. A symbol of this new chapter is the Organ Historical Society's "new" Aeolian-Skinner instrument. Designed in 1931 as a residence organ, No. 878 has been given new life.

So much change called for a celebration and a reaffirmation of mission as the OHS looks to the future. Like all historical organizations, the Organ Historical Society gives voice to the silent past to bring its wisdom forward into the present and bless the future. To that end, the Organ Historical Society hosted a symposium on one of the leading luminaries in organbuilding- Ernest Skinner. Taking place at Stoneleigh, the event centered on the newly installed Aeolian-Skinner and celebrated the living legacy of Skinner through his instruments and how he shaped organ repertoire.

The gathering included many of the nation's leading figures in organbuilding and restoration, noteworthy performers, and numerous Skinner enthusiasts. Entitled The Symphonic Organ at Stoneleigh: An AeolianSkinner Celebration, the symposium had a broader goal: to study and experience the sound of Skinner, to delve into the symphonic-orchestral nature of his instruments and the musical implications of those characteristics, and to explore how best to responsibly preserve these instruments. The event was sponsored by grants from the Joseph G. Bradley Charitable Foundation, the Mozingo Endowment of the Indianapolis Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, and Special Projects of the San Francisco AGO Chapter, as well as the generosity of the Bryn Mawr Trust and the Schantz Organ Company.

Three performers demonstrated music of the residence-organ tradition-Anne Laver, assistant professor of organ and university organist at Syracuse University; Thomas Murray, professor emeritus at the Yale School of Music; and John Schwandt, professor of organ and director of the American Organ Institute at the University of Oklahoma. Stoneleigh's AeolianSkinner No. 878 is a rare surviving example of the organs that graced the mansions of America's wealthy families during the Gilded Age, and these performers took advantage of the opportunity. Their focus was on repertoire that ranged from transcriptions to songs from popular culture, and even to some idiomatic pieces that featured the instrument's distinctive orchestral colors. The music is steeped in romantic sounds, variation, rubato and rhythmic flexibility, and wide-ranging yet smooth dynamic expression as opposed to classical paradigms that tend to be more self-conscious about expressing stoic dignity and rarefied clarity of musical form.

Rollin Smith, OHS director of publications, gave the opening lecture on Monday, "The Organ in the Home." His books The Aeolian Pipe Organ and Its Music (1998/2018), Pipe Organs of the Rich and Famous (2014), and Organ Historical Society at Stoneleigh: Aeolian-Skinner No. 878 (2019), which was published for this symposium to celebrate the dedication of the instrument, have become crucial works in understanding this genre of instrument and the culture and characters that created it. He examined the instruments and their lavish (and often unique) installation and visual designs and how they were used to entertain their owners. He also discussed the wealthy culture and the surprising insouciance with which they treated these costly treasures.

Jack Bethards, president and tonal director of Schoenstein & Co., presented "E. …

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