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Alumnus honored by annual organ festival

By Miranda Lorenc
On March 17, 2014

USU’s annual Campbell Organ Festival will feature a concert by Richard Elliott, the principal organist in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, on Wednesday in the Kent Concert Hall. The event features classes open to the public.

Lynn Thomas, a university organist and director of organ studies in the music department, said the event began a couple of years ago.

“It's named to honor a woman who has donated significantly to the USU organ program and to the maintenance of the Campbell-Holtkamp Organ in the Kent Concert Hall,” Thomas said.

Paulette Campbell, a former student in the USU organ department, heard the Holtkamp Organ was in need of major tonal and mechanical repairs after 40 years of use. She donated money to restore it and established two scholarship funds and a maintenance fund to help with the organ’s upkeep.

“Thanks to the generous donors of the organ program here, I have access to organs on which to practice daily,” said Luke Shepherd, a senior in choral education.

The organ at USU was installed in 1973 and 1974. It has a classic American design with 42 stops, 57 ranks and 3,143 pipes.

After restoring the run-down organ to its original glory in 2012, Thomas said the music department wanted to showcase it and thank Campbell for her donation, thus establishing the annual festival.

This year’s featured organist, Elliott, plays and records with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was a guest during the first year of the organ festival.

“It took two years to get Richard Elliott, since he is in such demand worldwide,” Thomas said.

Elliott will be present during workshops and master classes today and perform in tomorrow’s concert. Thomas said they will discuss ways to enhance music in a church setting through improvisation, literature selection and improved performance techniques at the workshops.

“Though this may sound a bit dry, anyone who plays or is interested in organ music will find it enjoyable and quite accessible to a wide range of technical skills,” Thomas said.

The workshop will take place today at 2:30 p.m. in the Kent Concert hall.

“There's a lot an organist can do to help the congregation feel uplifted and gain new insight into hymns sung and heard,” said Kadie Clark, a senior in elementary education and one of the participants in the master class. “Many organists don't use or are unaware of techniques such as improvising, sound settings and organ technique.”

The second workshop and master class at 6:30 p.m. will feature six USU students demonstrating pieces and styles that will be of use to other organ enthusiasts and players.

“It’s all lovely music that appeals not only to musicians but average listeners as well,” said Thomas.

Elliot will be playing a variety of pieces during the concert, a few of which will include the accompaniment of bagpipes from the USU Scotsmen Pipe Band.

“I know of Richard Elliott because he is an organist on Temple Square,” Clark said. “I admire his arrangements and skills with the organ. I've always admired his mastery of the organ. I look forward to receiving instruction from him at the master class.”

Thomas said everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend any of the workshops or the concert, and all events are free with no registration needed beforehand.

Thomas said they’ve had exceptional student attendance each year because “around these parts, Richard Elliott is famous and a real rock star.”

For those interested in the organ program, there is a two-semester organ literature class and another called Church Music for Organists. There are also opportunities for non-majors and community members to take lessons.

“Though I'm studying nursing, I find that organ is a way for me to keep up on my music skills and gives me a break from all the science,” said Brandy Armstrong, a junior.

Both Armstrong and Shepherd said they’ve grown leaps and bounds in playing the organ since entering into the program.

“My experience with the organ program at Utah State can be summed up in one word: invaluable,” Shepherd said.

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