Rochester, NY Acknowledging the burgeoning need for skilled leaders in sacred music and the increased demands faced by organists in the 21st century, the Eastman School of Music has reaffirmed its commitment to delivering one of the worlds most comprehensive and integrated programs in organ and sacred music. The School with its rich history of distinguished organ instruction, leadership in the field of sacred music, and powerhouse of renowned faculty with expertise in organ performance, organ-building, improvisation, and sacred music is taking several innovative steps to further enhance the skills, education, and versatility of its student organists. Many of these students win national and international organ competitions each year and go on to hold leading positions in major churches, cathedrals, synagogues, and schools around the world.
New Sacred Music Diploma and Program Director
Beginning this fall, Eastman will offer a new Sacred Music diploma, designed to equip students (either graduate or undergraduate) with the knowledge and tools necessary to meet the challenges of the rapidly changing and diverse settings in which sacred music is practiced today. The 24-credit diploma "will ground students in a variety of worship traditions, both liturgical and non-liturgical," explains newly appointed Program Director Peter DuBois, a prize-winning performer, full-time practitioner in the field of church music, and Eastman alumnus. "Todays leaders in sacred music need to be conversant in contemporary, classical, jazz, and world music, in order to reflect those styles of worship. The curriculum stresses both an understanding of historical perspectives in liturgy and music, as well as practical skills that will meet the variety of styles in todays worship."
The diploma is open to students in a variety of disciplines including organ, keyboard, conducting, voice, and music education, and includes a unique two-semester supervised internship in a church or synagogue. It is a fulfillment of the vision of the late Eastman organ professor, Dr. Russell Saunders, and Eastman Professor Emeritus David Craighead, both of whom fervently believed in the value of a sacred music program at the School.
New Organ Improvisation Specialist / William Porter Named Visiting Professor
Although jazz is usually what comes to mind with the term "improvisation," historically, church musicians improvisatory skills were essential to help congregants gain a better understanding of the liturgy. In recognizing the need to return to this skill, Eastman’s organ department has established a new position, visiting professor of organ improvisation. This fall, William Porter will be the first to hold that position, which will rotate among several improvisation experts in future years. Widely known as a virtuoso and scholar, Porter has achieved international recognition for his improvisation skills in a wide variety of styles, and for his leading role in the recovery of this historical approach to the instrument.
"Improvisation is a one-time event," explains Porter. "Whenever people realize what is happening, that it is being done just for them, people pay attention. That kind of music-making creates community, and helps people define what they are about on that particular Sunday morning." Porter will visit Eastman from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he also is artist-in-residence at that citys prominent First Lutheran Church.
Organ Department Travels to Sweden this Fall
In the organs 700 years, there has been an inseparable relationship between the actual instrument and its repertoire; in fact, organs throughout the world were built with specific repertoire and purpose in mind. To better understand this relationship, the entire Eastman School organ faculty and its 35 organ students will take a two-week "field trip" to Göteborg, Sweden, from October 22 to November 3, to see firsthand what the future holds for their instrument. The trip is made possible in part by the recent addition to the Eastman faculty of noted Swedish organist, Hans Davidsson, the founder, artistic, and research director of the Göteborg Organ Art center (GOArt), an international center for research in historical organ building and performance practice. Through GOArt, the Eastman visitors will attend lectures, seminars, lessons, master classes, and concerts, in addition to exchanging ideas with students from the School of Music at Göteborg University.
"Much of the European organ music we play today contains indications referring to original instruments," says Davidsson. "These indications are possible to realize on the Göteborg organs. Its as if one had access to a cookbook with wonderful recipes, but without the appropriate ingredients. Our fall trip will allow us to cook and taste original and delicious musical meals, so important for our understanding and interpretation of our common musical heritage." The citys 10 historic, national organs will expose the students to as many different instrument styles.
"This is a sensational opportunity for our students to gain a broader understanding of the organs place in todays world, and how they are a part of it," says David Higgs, co-chair of Eastmans keyboard department and head of its organ program. Also one of Americas leading concert organists, Higgs has an impressive background in pedagogy and sacred music performance. "Our goal is to equip Eastman students to become leaders in the field, and this trip is absolutely necessary to experience firsthand the kinds of organs that were the genesis of so much of the standard repertoire. The instruments are of such high quality that they can inspire new creative work by todays musicians."
Göteborg may be an example of what Rochester, New York, may one day aspire to become.
Note to editors: Interviews with members of Eastmans organ faculty are possible.