university organist, plays Wesleyan's concert organ,
which he designed for the Memorial Chapel. Below, the organ pipes are
installed in the chapel. (Photos by Bill Burkhart)
University Organist Pulls Out All the Stops
Q: When did you
become the Wesleyan organist and visiting instructor in music?
A: I came to Wesleyan in 1988.
Q: How did you begin playing the organ and where?
A: I started as a young child, maybe around the age of 10. I loved the organ
like kids love fire trucks.
Q: Did you have an interest in piano that led to the organ?
A: I didn’t want anything to do with the piano. It wasn’t loud enough.
Q: You studied at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, Yale University, and
Southern Methodist University, Dallas. Were you always studying the organ?
What types of music in specific?
A: In addition to organ, I also studied harpsichord at all three
institutions. This does not mean that I was only interested in Baroque
music. In organ concerts, I play a wide range of repertoire. My research,
writing and editions are of late 19th and early 20th century French music.
Q: In 1990, you founded the Young Organ Virtuosi Weekend, a biennial
festival that celebrates the talents of emerging concert organists. What is
the purpose of this event?
A: The festival’s purpose is to be a non-contest. That is, there are too
many organ-playing contests and too few concert opportunities for the
laureates. It is much more pleasant to direct than a contest would be
because the visitors get to enjoy the company of each other and to interact
collegially with our students. The audience is a mix of students and local
Q: What is the Midnight Organ Romp?
A: The not-to-be-missed event of the first week of May is themed, but
different each year. It is about costumes and craziness. I share this
concert with any students who are interested, which makes them more exciting
Q: Are you still the dean of the American Guild of Organists Waterbury
Chapter? How many organists are in the chapter and in the state of
A: We have 84 in the Waterbury Chapter. There are five other Connecticut
chapters and about 3,000 members in the country. We think about 10 percent
of organists belong to the guild.
Q: Why should students interested in music study the organ? What types of
careers can they go into with this type of skill and background?
A: Playing the organ is the world’s best-paying part-time employment.
Students with keyboard ability who study organ have every conceivable major.
They often use the organ to support graduate study and supplement their
income later in life. There are relatively fewer opportunities for full-time
Q: During the 2002-03 renovations of the Memorial Chapel, you designed the
new concert organ, a Holtkamp opus 2085. This is Wesleyan’s fourth organ.
What makes the Holtkamp unique?
A: I designed the organ to be adaptable to current and future compositional
needs. It has a very broad tonal palette both in terms of color and volume.
Whatever the mathematical result is for 60 combinations, which must be
several thousand, is the limit of possible sounds.
Q: Do the music students get to use this organ, or what do they practice on?
A: The beginners are intimidated to practice upstairs in public, so they
often use my studio organ for the first semester’s practice and then use the
big organ when they feel more confident.
Q: As a visiting instructor in music, you’ve taught Choral Singing, Pipe
Organ: Theory and Practice and Individual and Group Tutorials for
Undergraduates. What are some of the courses you currently teach
A: I am trying to finish my new book, and only teaching organ and one
harpsichordist these days. Usually, I direct some senior projects but not
Q: What is your new book about?
A: Aristide Cavaille-Coll. He’s the greatest organ-builder of all time. I am
writing my new book about his project to build the largest organ in the
world at Saint Peter’s in Rome. I’ve also written about American music,
Black organ music, Messiaen and other composers.
Q: You’re editor of Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) The Last Impressionist,
which features seven articles on Duruflé's life and work. What is your
personal interest in this French organist?
A: I knew the composer and his wife and her sister, also a musician, quite
well. I met them at age 18 and learned French to be able to speak with them.
I studied with them and play his complete organ works. I have also conducted
his complete choral works, and most of the orchestral and chamber music. I
know all the other scholars who had written about them, so invited everyone
to join together for the book for his centennial in 2002. I never imagined
it would be acquired by libraries on every continent as the first biography
of this important composer.
Q: In addition to music, what are your interests?
A: I am an avid flower gardener. I live to cook and entertain, and generally
enjoy life. I also would like to make a fad of wearing dress shirts with
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection