Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472 Dedication in Charlotte

Alan Morrison Plays Parkey’s Transplanted Aeolian-Skinner

Last Friday, Providence Methodist Church was filled to capacity, approximately 1200, to hear Alan Morrison perform the Dedication Recital of their newly installed organ, the venerable Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472 as the core of Parkey Opus 14. Phil Parkey wrote, “The organ received new main windchests, complete winding systems, and new cases and facades to complement its new home in the Sanctuary of Providence United Methodist Church.” It is noteworthy to point out that Irv Lawless, who originally installed the organ in the Kennedy Center in 1971 was involved in this project and was present at this dedication.

After opening remarks lasting eighteen minutes, Alan came to the console, positioned at an angle in the center chancel, and began the “Saint Anne.” It and everything save the Stover and the Weaver were from memory. Here is the complete program.

  • Prelude and Fugue in E-flat Major, BWV 552
    Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  • Ciaconna in B-flat Major
    Johann Bernhard Bach (1676-1749)
  • Scherzo, Opus 2
    Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)
  • Fantasy in A Major from Trois Pièces
    César Franck (1822-1890)
  • Final from Symphony IV
    Louis Vierne (1870-1937)
  • Intermission
  • Toccata
    Anne Wilson (b 1954)
  • At Evening and Quick Dance from Mountain Music
    Harold Stover (b 1946)
  • Aria
    Charles Callahan (b 1951)
  • Pageant
    Leo Sowerby (1895-1968)
  • Variations on Sine Nomine (encore)
    John Weaver (b 1937)

The registration for the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat was a good solid foundation for Bach, and Alan was secure in his Baroque technique to keep it interesting throughout with many changes of registration. The sound of the last Aeolian-Skinner is noticeably thinner than most of its earlier siblings, but it’s a great fit for Baroque music, which was I believe the original intent of their organs from that time. There were a few tiny slips and memory spots but nothing of note. Alan can recover from anything with style and grace, as you will learn later. Also, just before the fugue, the ceiling lights were turned off, probably not on purpose. How dramatic!

His comments between the pieces were comfortable and informative, just the right length and tone to communicate what he wanted to this audience. Most of the audience was made of members of the church and others interested in organ music. There were a few AGO members in attendance, but not as many as one might expect. I saw several people who used to listen to Dan Miller play on the V/205 Calvary Grand Möller and they attend organ concerts in the area wherever and whenever one is held. We have many fine organs in Charlotte and we all want more organ concerts!

Johann Bernhard was Sebastian’s cousin and his music couldn’t be more different from the great Bach. The texture was light and melodic and the registration showed the lighter flutes, sometimes with tremulant, and a short dose of the Zimbelstern.

The sound of the organ is to my ear thinner than is best suited for the next three French pieces. In the Franck, I heard an unevenness in a pedal reed as it was played stepwise. The Swell flutes retain all of the chiffiness heard in the original installation; it drew undue attention to itself. The Vox Humana, an additional rank by Parkey, was just great, and Alan explained it to the audience. I did not like the use of the new horizontal trumpet here. The Vierne was, in my opinion, the most successful of the French music, due largely to its texture which was mostly not sustained.

The second half of the concert was superb, and I saw absolutely no one leave after intermission. Providence’s new organ is outstanding for recent music (we don’t use the “contemporary” word), and Alan Morrison was the perfect organist for this. These next pieces demonstrated the best of both living composers and this new organ.

Anne Wilson’s personable toccata proved to be a great way to catch and retain the attention of a general audience. Here the horizontal “Fanfare” trumpet was just perfect! The audience could tell that Alan enjoyed playing it.

I was looking forward to hearing Harold Stover’s Mountain Music, and the two pieces from the three piece suite did not disappoint. The Shaker melody in “At Evening” was beautiful, and again the solo voices of the organ demonstrated their color and flexible use. If you are a strong proponent of American music as I am, you would appreciate the “Quick Dance,” a 100% American hoe-down. The registration offered many of the orchestral voices in a lively and energetic dance, and the audience loved it. According to Alan, this was the second version of the piece, first called “Barn Dance.”

In the commentary following, the artist told a story of his telling an organist about Charles Callahan’s “Aria,” probably his most famous piece, and how it was written in a “very difficult” key with too many flats. The piece was transposed from Eb-minor to E-minor with only one sharp so it would be easier. Of course, Alan played it in Eb-minor.

I have seen disastrous performances of Sowerby’s Pageant. This one started out masterfully with pedal technique to burn and a great registration. Sadly, the organ chose the last listed piece to misbehave; it produced a pedal cipher on what I think was the 16′ Principal. I immediately forgot about the cipher and the piece and began to think of Phil Parkey and his crew who had earlier been introduced to the audience. They quickly rose to action to remedy this problem. I believe that it was not ultimately their problem, though, because turning the organ off and on fixed it. Isn’t that the electronic relay? (It happened again at the next day’s masterclass.) Anyway, I really felt bad for them. After this, Alan mounted the bench and began playing near the spot he had stopped. He finished what was the most difficult music of the evening with great excitement and flourish. The audience immediately rose with cheers and loud applause.

The encore, as I expected, was John Weaver’s little jazzy number combining “Sine Nomine” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” It was a fun way to end the evening’s program … a student playing the teacher’s music. What a student, indeed! Alan is now teaching more at my alma mater, Westminster Choir College, since Ken Cowan moved to Rice University.

For more information on Alan Morrison, visit alanmorrison.us.
See the specification of Parkey Opus 14.
View full-resolution images of the organ: Facade, Console, Chancel
Watch videos of Alan Morrison on Youtube

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5 Responses to Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1472 Dedication in Charlotte

  1. Bud Clark says:

    Sadly, it sounds like at least one of the problems which plagued the organ in its original home has persisted in its new home, despite the new main windchests and the rebuilt offset chests.

    As to the “thinness” of the sound, I note that there is only ONE open flute in the manuals: the 8′ Harmonic Flute on the floating Solo division.

    Anytime I see the words “spitz,” “geigen,” or “violin” applied to a Diapason rank, I start to get nervous when French romantic music is programmed. I would much prefer to see honest Diapason stops, with “Open” as the only adjective applied, and scaling / voicing as implied / appropriate to such a stop, and legitimate differences in COLOR, rather than weight or intensity, as BOTH are needed in a church instrument … and even Bach doesn’t SUFFER from their presence .

    Cheers,
    Bud

    • Dear Mr. Clark,

      As Dr. Ward point out the the Violon cypher was in fact a piece of sawdust. Given this was the opening of the organ to the public and with some 3412 pipes and 2,000 actions, with less than one weeks use on it. I was much relieved by the performance and the lack of issues. As a builder and technician I have removed debris from everyone’s instruments at sometime or another ranging from Wicks to Fisk. Demonizing the instrument for problems that followed it is rather small on your part.

      As to your comments about Diapasons, you are in fact correct Bach does not suffer from their presence. However, the French music worked quite well and I don’t recall seeing your name on the donor list for the possible inclusion of such stops you insist should have been there. Besides I and many people grow extremely weary of people insisting on things that should be different. It was full knowledge all along this was a late Aeolian-Skinner and not an E.M. Skinner of which there is much difference. The organ committee, church and music staff were well aware of that fact and fully comfortable with moving ahead. Your comments reflect against many decisions made by a lot knowledgeable and committed people at Providence UMC. If you every care to discuss tonal design I will be happy to go toe to toe with anytime you wish. Next time you wish to hear OPEN Diapasons, maybe the Providence organ is not the one you should listen to.

      Phillip Parkey

  2. Adam Ward says:

    I’d like to make a correction or three to the above notes. :

    1. The Callahan was not played from memory. (I don’t recall music on the rack for the Stover.)

    2. The State (horizontal) trumpet was NOT used on the Franck. The Fanfare Trumpet was.

    3. The cipher issue (Mr. Clark) had NOTHING to do with mechanical issues, but rather with a piece of sawdust that became lodged in the one of the Violon pallets.

    Thanks for a lovely review, John! We are thrilled that this instrument has found an appropriate home, and we found on Sunday morning that it is the PERFECT service instrument–which is most appropriate, as that is what a church instrument is meant to do: play services.

  3. Adam Ward says:

    one more reply… I was corrected… the stover WAS with music. my bad!

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