Introducing the Eastman Organ Experience: Summer at Eastman’s High School Organ Academy

Eastman Associate Professor Edoardo Bellotti introduces Summer Organ Academy students to Eastman’s Italian Baroque Organ at the Memorial Art Gallery

By Caroline Robinson, Coordinator, Eastman High School Organ Academy

In the summer of 2015, the Eastman Organ Department held its first official Summer Academy for High School Organists, having hosted a Pipe Organ Encounter via the American Guild of Organists in 2013. In its first year, the Organ Academy attracted 12 teenaged organ students, all of whom varied in their previous experience with the King of Instruments. Twelve more students attended in 2017, and the program was so well-received that the organ faculty decided the Organ Academy would occur annually rather than every other year. Thus, the Academy returns this summer, July 23-27, 2018. Click here for registration information.

The Summer Academy for High School Organists consists of five full days of interaction with the pipe organ. Participants have the opportunity to play and study on a wide complement of Rochester instruments during the week, all of which represent different historical eras and building practices. Highlights of this collection include the Craighead-Saunders Organ at Christ Church and the Halloran-All Saints Organ at Sacred Heart Cathedral, both of which will celebrate their 10-year anniversaries in 2018; the Eastman Italian Baroque Organ at the Memorial Art Gallery, and the historic E.M. Skinner instrument at St. Paul’s Church.

The stellar Eastman organ faculty guide students on the above instruments (and more) in daily lessons and masterclasses. Students can bring repertoire they are currently learning, as well as older, more polished pieces. At the end of the session, two Participant Concerts take place for students to demonstrate the work they have done throughout the week. Each night during the Organ Academy, the Organ Faculty and current students play concerts so the participants can hear the instruments (and their teachers for the week) “in action.”

We tracked down three Summer Academy alumni to share with us about their experiences at the Academy. 2015 participants Alden Wright and Joshua Ehlebracht are now undergraduate students at Eastman, in their second and first years of study with Professor Nathan Laube. Two-time participant (2015 and 2017) Aaron Patterson is a high school senior living in the Philadelphia area.

Why did you choose to attend the Summer Academy for High School Organists?
Aaron: I chose to attend this camp the first time on account of knowing one of the teachers [Nathan Laube] and also being aware of Eastman’s tremendous reputation.

What was your experience like in lessons during the academy?
Alden: Having the opportunity to study with the organ professors was one of the most valuable experiences I gained from the week. During the summer academy, I studied with two of the world-class faculty while travelling to different venues around the city for lessons with one other student. Through our lessons together, I learned skills and ideas which I will never forget and which really shaped me as a musician. I found it interesting to have double lessons* because even when I wasn’t playing, I was still able to gain a great deal of knowledge by listening to the professor’s comments to the other student.

*At the Summer Organ Academy, students attend lessons in pairs.

Aaron, what made you choose to attend Eastman’s Summer Academy for High School Organists (for two years in a row!)?
My decision to return was based on the admiration I have for the faculty, the stunning instruments, and the incredibly fun time had during my previous attendance.

What was your favorite instrument you got to play at the Summer Academy and why?
Josh: During the summer academy I had the opportunity to play many amazing instruments around the Rochester area, but two stand out for me and I would deem them favorites of mine, those organs are the Austins at Asbury and Third Presbyterian. Being from Canada, a Casavant dominated landscape, the Summer academy gave me the opportunity to try instruments from many different builders that I had neither seen nor heard of, and ultimately fall in love with those instruments. I was particularly enamored with the two Austins as they were very lush and symphonic, they could go from a soft string with celeste right up to a monstrous full organ texture, which was perfect for the transcription of “Nimrod” [from Elgar’s Enigma Variations] that Professor Laube helped me with that week.

What did the Academy tell/show you about Eastman as a learning institution?
Alden: Throughout the week, I got to know the instruments, the atmosphere, and the community of Eastman. Those components are all good to keep in mind when deciding which school is the right match, but I truly believe the teachers are the most important factor in defining a good school. The Summer Academy helped me realize the professors’ vast knowledge and passion, as well as their kindness and genuineness, making them uniquely integral to the Eastman Organ experience.

Summer Organ Academy students on a break at Canandaigua Lake, after a trip to Parsons Pipe Organ Builders.

What was the most fun experience you had at the Academy?
Josh: One of the most fun experiences during the week, for me, was the master class at Asbury. I thought it was a really great learning experience as working with the profs helped me shape my music in a completely new way. It also gave me the chance to perform for my friends and colleagues on a magnificent Austin organ which I found incredibly amusing as one of my favorite parts of playing the organ, is getting the chance to play new instruments that are different than what I’m used to. The summer Academy is also largely what inspired me to audition for Eastman two years later!

Click here to register for the Summer 2018 Academy!

Caroline Robinson is pursuing the Doctorate of Musical Arts degree in Organ Performance and Literature in the studio of David Higgs. She also serves as the Executive Assistant for Outreach within Eastman Rochester Organ Initiative (EROI) and as coordinator for the Summer Academy for High School Organists.