Custom-Built Organ Is Part of Music Professor’s Lasting Legacy

Across his 27 years at Hope, the late Roger E. Davis of the music faculty helped guide the talent of hundreds of organists and vocalists.

Starting this fall, he will do so again through the custom instrument that he built for the studio in his 14th Street home, where he used it for rehearsal and master classes.  In storage since Davis’ death in January 1990, the organ is being reconstructed in the Robert Cavanaugh Choral Room in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.

New generations of students will soon benefit from the talent of former long-time music professor Roger E. Davis, whose custom-built home-studio organ is being installed in the college’s choral rehearsal room.

“The intent of the organ is to accompany choirs in preparation for performances such as Vespers.  It will also be an instrument for student organ practice,” said Mark DeWitt ’87, who, in addition to being senior director of principal gifts at Hope, was one of Davis’s students.  “Also, the pedal board is comparable to many European instruments, which offers the students a contrast from the standard American Guild of Organists specification.”

The instrument is being reassembled by Swem Pipe Organ Maintenance Inc. of Grand Rapids, Michigan, which cares for all of the college’s organs. Pictured with the cabinet is Bill Swem.

Given to Hope by Davis’ friends and family, the organ is joining five other performance and rehearsal instruments at the college.  Its colleagues include the historic E.M. Skinner chancel organ in Dimnent Memorial Chapel; the Casavant concert organ in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts; the Dutch Pels and van Leeuwen organ in the chapel’s gallery; the J.W. Walker and Sons organ in the studio of Dr. Huw Lewis, professor of music and college organist since 1990; and one practice organ.

Davis, a professor of music who joined the faculty in 1963, enjoyed organ building and wood crafting as an avocation, and earlier in his career had spent two years working in pipe organ building and maintenance.  While at Hope, he spent many summers on pipe organ rebuilding and voice projects in several West Michigan churches, and was often called upon to serve as an organ consultant.  He based his own organ on the casework and pipes from an instrument by the Kilgen Organ Company, a U.S. firm that built many church and theatre organs during the 20th century.

In addition to teaching organ and music theory, and serving as the college organist, Davis directed the College Chorus for 20 years, and for 10 years chaired and was program director of Christmas Vespers.  In 1971, he initiated Hope’s annual Tulip Time organ recital series, which continues to this day.  He had played a central role in the college’s acquisition of the Pels and Van Leeuwen organ, which was installed in the chapel in 1971.

Davis was also an active recitalist, and performed in many churches in the Midwest.  His scholarly work included the textbook The Organist’s Manual.

Charles Aschbrenner’s Gift of Music Forever

The late Dr. Charles Aschbrenner, long-time professor of music at Hope, has left a lasting impression upon the college beyond his 53 years of teaching piano. Aschbrenner’s personal grand piano — a Steinway over 100 years old — now resides in the college’s presidential home, a gift given to Hope by his spouse Chris Spencer recently. Aschbrenner passed away in in September, 2016.To celebrate its arrival to its new and permanent location, members of the Hope music department performed a dedication concert in the President House in Aschbrenner’s honor last week. The piano, both figuratively and literally, was the centerpiece of the event in the formal living room of the house. At 6-foot-11-inches, it is the second largest piano Steinway builds. Made of tiger, or flame, mahogany, the instrument took a year to construct and was completed in 1914. It first belonged to Aschbrenner’s mother from whom he received his first piano lessons.

Violinist Craioveanu with Pianist Le. Photo by Greg Olgers

Pianist Dr. Andrew Le accompanied both violinist Mihai Craioveanu and flutist Dr. Gabe Southard at the installation concert. Le also performed two solo works written by Claude DeBussy, an Aschbrenner favorite. “Charles loved DeBussy, and anything French actually,” Le said before he performed. “This is for Charles.”

Flutist Southard with Pianist Le. Photo by Greg Olgers.

Aschbrenner joined the Hope faculty in 1963 after receiving his master of music degree from Yale University. He further studied with renowned teachers Nadia Boulanger in France and Adele Marcus in New York City. But piano was not his only instrument. Aschbrenner also studied oboe with Ray Stills of the Chicago Symphony.

“An instrument is an extension of the musician. Sometimes we choose them and sometimes they cross our paths. This piano is very much an extension of Charles,” said Le. “It’s very generous. It’s warm and it’s delightful.”

“An instrument is an extension of the musician….This piano is very much an extension of Charles. It’s very generous. It’s warm and it’s delightful.”

While the warm and delightful Aschbrenner piano had a meaningful introduction to the president’s home — President Dennis Voskuil called the event one of the highlights of his time at Hope — it also has special significance for the new presidential residents moving in this summer. Sarah Dieter ’02 Scogin, wife of Hope’s next president Matthew A Scogin ’02, was a music performance major at Hope (as well as a computer science major).

Charles Aschbrenner was her mentor.

Listen to the Aschbrenner piano played by Dr. Andrew Le!

A Paul Galbraith Performance: It’s Personal

Paul Galbraith
Paul Galbraith

When the Grammy-nominated classical guitarist Paul Galbraith performs at Hope College on March 1, it will be his fourth appearance on our campus. While I’ve presented many artists to Hope over the years, no one has made four visits. Until now.

Galbraith is unique, not only in his skill on guitar, but also because he has been instrumental in moving the classical guitar world through the sometimes hard wall of what constitutes classical music. . . and that does not usually include a guitar. He surprises people with his playing ability, his interpretations of classical standards, and even his one-of-a-kind playing style.

Presenting the performing arts is part of my work at Hope. For 20 years, I have listened to countless recordings, attended performances, watched videos, and read scripts in the search for the right performers to bring to the Hope and Holland communities. So, when the performers finally reach our stage, I’m already very familiar with their work. I have an idea what to expect.

But once and awhile, someone surprises me.

I was not raised on classical music and have little formal training. Fortunately, you do not need that to enjoy and indeed be moved by a performance. I remember one of the first performers I booked here was the pianist Sergio Tiempo who performed Maurice Ravel’s  Gaspard de la nuit.” I was caught off guard by the power of each single note creating a haunting scene. One note, played quietly, sounding like a distant bell tolling to announce a death.

More recently, Trio Con Brio Copenhagen performed Bedrich Smetana’s “Trio in G minor” and it pulled hard at me. Instinctively I recognized it as a piece on grief. It was only later, when I read the trio’s program notes, did I realize that Smetana wrote the piece in response to the death of his five-year-old daughter. As a parent of a child who died far too young, Smetana’s piece reached across 200 years to grieve with me. This is what art can do.

Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach

My response has also been strong to anything written by Bach. The clean, structured pieces can be playful or thoughtful, but they are always stunningly beautiful. This “beautiful” probably resonates more strongly with me because for Bach, who has been called “The Fifth Evangelist,” that beauty comes from God. While the pieces by Ravel and Smetana address our sorrows, Bach addresses our hope. Perhaps that is why whenever I see that Bach is on the program, I know I’m going to leave the concert with a renewed faith.

My experience of this has been most strong when hearing Paul Galbraith perform Bach. He clearly loves that 17th century composer as his work appears on five of Galbraith’s eight recordings. Two of his recordings focus on Bach alone and his 1998 recording of Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas received a Grammy nomination, ended up in Billboard’s Top Ten classical chart, and was called a “landmark in the history of guitar recordings” by Gramophone Magazine.

While his Grammy nomination got him some attention, his development of  the 8-string guitar that he plays like a cello makes him instantly recognizable.

Better than any award, the legend of classical guitar, Andreas Segovia, heard the then 17-year-old Galbraith play and declared, “Paul is magnificent. He will be a great artist.”  Not surprising, Segovia was right. Galbraith enjoys a great solo career but was also a founding member of the highly regard Brazilian Guitar Quartet (even though he is from Scotland!). He is in demand to perform with chamber groups and orchestras and is now working with the great Brazilian cellist Antonio Meneses.

Galbraith’s program at Hope is more varied this time and I have no doubt all of it will be excellent. Plus, the chance to hear him perform in the acoustically superior concert hall at the Jack H. Miller Center is too good to miss. If you have never heard a classical guitar concert, there will be no better first experience than this concert.

By the way, he opens the performance with Bach.

And, I’ll be happy.

Tickets to the Paul Galbraith concert can be purchased online, in person at the Hope College Ticket Office, or at the door on the evening of the performance. Adult tickets are $10, seniors $7, and children $5.

Precision and Heart: Beijing Guitar Duo

The acoustic guitar world is a demanding world. Precision is key, but heart is essential. A technically precise performance is expected, but if that is all you hear, you leave the concert impressed but unmoved. But when a performance combines technical skill with passion, you can walk away with a slightly altered worldview. Of course, this is the result of any great art which takes you into another realm and sends you back with a new way of seeing your world.

It can also be a solitary world for the guitarist, practicing for hours alone in preparation for those few hours in front of an audience. But for guitarists Meng Su and Yameng Wang, who make up the Beijing Guitar Duo performing here at Hope this Friday, those hours alone are supplemented by hours of working together. A solo guitar concert is a chance to watch an artist single handily fill the void, but a duo guitar concert is similar to watching a pas de deux in ballet. There are moments of individual soaring, but the guitarists are continually working around and with one another.

Wang and Su obviously love this guitar dance. Both come from the coastal city of Qingdao in China, and they each found early individual success. Before Su left high school, she had already won several international guitar competitions. Wang was the youngest winner ever of the Tokyo International Guitar Competition — when she was 12. Eventually, they both ended up in the U.S. studying in Baltimore with the legendary Manuel Barrueco. But despite their individual success, they continue to work together.

In addition to recording a CD with Barrueco himself, the duo’s other recordings have found great success. Their debut CD,  Maracaípe, received a Latin-GRAMMY nomination for the title piece, written specifically for them by Sergio Assad (who performed at Hope College with his brother in 1998). As a duo they have performed throughout Europe, Asia, and North America. This past season alone took them to countries such as Germany, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Poland, China, Panama, and the United States.

Watch and listen to the Beijing Duo!

But for our audience, you only need to drive to the Jack H. Miller Center on the Hope College campus to be part of the Beijing Guitar Duo’s world. As with any performance, you get the chance to see the world with new vision.

EVENT INFORMATION

Beijing Guitar Duo
Friday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m.
John and Dede Recital Howard at the Jack H. Miller Center
Tickets are available online, at the Hope Ticket office in the Anderson-Werkman building (100 East 8th St.), or at the door on Friday.