A person seated at an organ playing the keys.

Growing—and Teaching—through Music

By Kalee Emery, on

Music has the profound ability to influence both its listeners and performers—and organ music is no exception. Each of our upcoming organ performances is a testament to the power of music, and we are thrilled to be soon showcasing the talents of organists Nicole Keller, Bryan Anderson, and Alcée Chriss. Through their talents, their unique programs, and their inspiring dedication to music education, these impactful performers aim to deepen appreciation for organ music and are fostering the next generation of musicians through their teachings.

On February 9, we will welcome concert artist, chamber musician, and continuo player Nicole Keller to the spotlight for her Longwood debut. Assistant Professor of Music and University Organist at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Keller has performed around the world and in such venues as St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York and the Cathédrale Notre-Dame in Paris. She specializes in eclectic programs suited to instrument and audience with a desire to expand the listener’s horizons, pairing familiar sounds and genres with those less familiar. At the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Keller teaches private lessons, as well as courses in organ literature and sacred music. She is frequently invited to teach masterclasses and workshops at music schools, universities, and conventions around the country.

A person seated at an organ playing the keys.

Organist Nicole Keller. Photo provided by Nicole Keller.

As a teacher, Keller strives to foster and model a commitment to excellence in performance, scholarship, and self-growth as students deepen their love of music and their instrument. “So much of our own personalities emerge in our music making, which makes working with developing young musicians quite an adventure, “she shares. “Watching them grow is always a good reminder to myself of the need to learn and grow both as a musician and as a human being and to enjoy myself in the process. It also keeps me on my toes, as there is always the need to set an example for those you are teaching in everything that you do.”

A person with a dark complexion standing in front of an organ, smiling.

Organist Nicole Keller. Photo provided by Nicole Keller.

When choosing a program, she always thinks of the instrument, the venue, and the potential audience.  She chooses music that will bring out the best features of the instrument and introduce the audience to something new and interesting—including her upcoming performance at Longwood, during which she will focus on the world of Florence Price, Nadia Boulanger, and William Grant Still. “In settings such as Longwood Gardens, it is fun to imagine the organ as an orchestra of seemingly infinite colors and sonic possibilities that the audience can connect to in some personal way,” shares Keller. “It’s always my goal that each member of the audience hears something that sounds familiar that they enjoy as well as encounter something new that just might blow their minds a bit!” 

On March 22, the Longwood Organ will be featured as part of the week-long Philadelphia Organ Festival. This event is hosted by Partners for Sacred Places, the nation’s oldest and leading nonsectarian nonprofit that builds public support for the preservation and active use of historic pipe organs in Philadelphia’s sacred places. They have partnered with performing arts organizations, such as Longwood Gardens, to support performances that expand access, audiences, and interest in the pipe organ, music-making, and the sacred places so integral to many of the region’s great neighborhoods.

During the festival’s stop at Longwood, with a performance called Romance in the Garden: Franck and Rachmaninoff at Longwood, our organ will be showcased by 2016 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition Firmin Swinnen Second Prize winner Alcée Chriss. Chriss currently serves as University Organist and Artist-in-Residence at Wesleyan University, where he teaches courses in organ and keyboard skills to his students. His goal as a teacher is to ensure his students' comfort across different genres and styles. In addition to being fantastic musicians, he prepares them for a changing musical landscape where versatility is considered an asset. The program he has prepared for his performance at Longwood reflects this as well, as it aims to show off the many styles and genres for which the organ is suited.

A person with a dark complexion standing in front of an organ, smiling.

Organist Alcée Chriss. Photo proved by Alcée Chriss.

His carefully selected program will showcase the many different roles of the organ—both as a collaborative instrument and as a solo instrument. “The subtleties of the organ's timbre and charm become all the more rewarding when blending with the sonorities of a live orchestra,” shares Chriss. “More importantly I want to show off a diverse repertoire that demonstrates both the [seriousness] of the stalwarts of Romantic repertoire, as well as more popular music that speaks to the emotional instincts of the audience.” With this meticulously curated setlist, Chriss’s performance will surely lead us on a journey of musical experience and exploration, with music from César Franck’s great masterwork, Symphony in D Minor—excerpts from Rachmaninoff’s vivid Symphonic Dances, and more.

Three people holding bouquets of flowers standing in front of an organ.

Organist and 2016 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition Firmin Swinnen Second Prize winner Alcée Chriss (far left) with Joshua Stafford (center) and Colin MacKnight (right). Photo by Ken Cangin.

On April 26, we have the honor of welcoming Bryan Anderson back to Longwood for his solo performance debut. Anderson was crowned winner of the Pierre S. Du Pont First Prize during the most recent 2023 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition, as well as the winner of the AGO Philadelphia Chapter Prize, which recognizes outstanding performance of the judges’ choice piece. Anderson also competed in the 2019 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition—winning the Firmin Swinnen Second Prize that competition year.

A person in a blue suit walking off the stage of an organ.

Organist Bryan Anderson with his AGO Philadelphia Chapter Prize at the 2023 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition. Photo by Laurie Carrozzino.

Anderson enjoys a versatile career as an organist, church musician, teacher, and musical collaborator. He has completed nearly one dozen original orchestral transcriptions, including works by Duruflé, Alkan, Debussy, and Dave Brubeck and enjoys utilizing these arrangements in recitals. In his current position as Director of Music at Saint Thomas’ Episcopal Church and School in Houston, Anderson trains all ages of choirs from elementary ages through adults, oversees eight services per week, and organizes a concert season of guest artists and in-house ensembles. 

A person in a blue suit sitting at the bench in front of an organ console.

Organist Bryan Anderson with his Pierre S. du Pont First Prize at the 2023 Longwood Gardens International Organ Competition. Photo by Laurie Carrozzino.

“Performance and teaching both involve the unfamiliar,” shares Anderson. “The question is always whether a listener is in a receptive state to unfamiliar sounds or concepts, and what can be done by the performer to lead them in that direction.  This can be a fraught endeavor: there is a line by Samuel Butler that ‘the only things we really hate are unfamiliar things,’ and that is often true in music! Conversely, we are all excited by the idea of discovering and being surprised by new experiences. The difference can inhere in the presentation and is something that I always take very seriously in programming recitals. Personally, I love finding completely unfamiliar music, and I want other people to find that excitement with me.”

A close up image of an organ console and the keys.

A close view of the Longwood Organ—with 10,010 pipes divided into 146 ranks, it’s the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting. Photo by Kelly Giarrocco.

Anderson is certainly no stranger to the unique performance setting of Longwood, as well as the Longwood Organ—the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting, composed of a staggering 10,010 pipes divided into 146 ranks.  During his April performance, Anderson will treat us to Marcel Dupré’s Nympheas, as well as music by Elgar and Gunnar Idenstam. “One thing I've always appreciated about the setup for organ events at Longwood Gardens is that it relies on this principle of ‘show, don't tell.’ For someone being introduced to the instrument, just walking behind the organ and seeing the pipe chambers through clear walls, something not possible almost anywhere else, does a great deal to teach and excite new audiences. Approaching the planning of a recital program at Longwood in the spring, I'm excited myself to continue to explore communication, education, and new experiences in performance.”

Whether you are unfamiliar with the organ or are a longtime enthusiast, our upcoming organ performances promise something for everyone. We invite you to join us and be moved by these musical celebrations of the Longwood Organ! 

Editor’s note: Tickets are available now for our Nicole Keller, Alcée Chriss, and Bryan Anderson performances. 

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