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Those Americans, Nicole Keller, organist - [OAR-182] $15.98

Nicole Keller plays the 4-manual, 64-rank, organ built in 2009 by Nichols & Simpson of Little Rock, Arkansas, for the exceptional acoustics of First Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Michigan. Nicole Keller, organ prof at the University of Michigan, plays works by Calvin Hampton, Florence Price, William Grant Still, and the first recording of Rayner Brown's Twentieth Sonata.

Calvin Hampton (1938-1984): Five Dances for Organ
The Primitives
At the Ballet
Those Americans
An Exalted Ritual
Everyone Dance

Florence Price (1887-1953): Suite No. 1 for Organ

William Grant Still (1895-1978):

Rayner Brown (1912-1999): Twentieth Sonata
Allegro con brio

Anne Wilson (1954- ):

Those Americans by Nicole Keller
Those Americans is a narration on American organ composition beginning with influences of the American symphonic organ in the early 20th century and evolving through “modern” idioms that led us to the present. The composers of these works were influenced by a kaleidoscope of culture that swirled through their respective eras and fused their unique sounds with those of their Western European pedagogical roots. This fusion creates a palette that is distinctly American in its range of musical expression and breadth of eclecticism.

Calvin Hampton (1938-1984) was a brilliant composer and performer whose command of musical structure and style distinguished him as an influential voice of the 20th century. He wrote for solo instruments, small and large choral and instrumental ensembles, and created staged works including speakers, dancers, and pantomime. Hampton’s contributions to sacred and liturgical music are immense, including a substantial catalog of hymn tunes and harmonizations found in hymnals across the United States. His influence on the organ scene cannot be overstated even though his works are not often heard in concert, likely due to their significant technical demand. But it is that same demand that makes them so provocative and visceral. In all his compositions, we hear the primacy of rhythm as a source of infectious energy and color, defining the affect and char­acter of each piece.
The Five Dances for Organ were inspired by Stravinsky’s Five Easy Pieces for Piano Duet (1917) which are short, uncomplicated compositions of remarkable character. Hampton’s Dances are neither short nor un­com­pli­cated. Rather, he uses Stravinsky’s juxtaposition of os­ti­nato (a per­sis­ten­ly repeat­ed rhythm) against a “simple” tune to create extra­ordinary, sensual con­versations. The title of each dance describes the content and mood of the conversations, pain­ting a musical picture the listener can easily envision. The Primitives features an unrelenting, angular see-­saw of perfect fourths in the left hand, jagged and rhythmic thrusts in the pedal, and a soaring yet square melody in the right hand. The result is akin to the atmosphere of a bacchanal or entering a dance club on a busy night. At the Ballet turns the picture upside down, presenting the dancers’ feet “en pointe” in the hands while graceful, gliding torsos of melody soar in the pedal using a 2' flute. Those Americans grooves; murmuring triplets lay the foundation for a melody that is more sultry-scat than vocalise. The murmur changes to torrent in the chorus aided by a seamless shift of meter, intensifying the rhythmic affect into climax before relaxing back into a murmur for the second verse. An Exalted Ritual begins with a brief, gentle chorus quickly joined by a pedal ostinato in a bowing gesture of reverence as it leaps two octaves in unceasing veneration. The left hand sings a simple, almost stagnant chant that layers perfectly underneath a second, more active ostinato in the right hand. The result is a meditative trance that summons the senses to the ritual. Everyone Dance starts like a small gathering of revelers that gradually grows into a rave as the dance becomes more intense and furious. The ostinato that begins in the left hand with just two notes grows in harmonic complexity as the sharply pointed melody leaps and slithers chromatically. The dance climaxes in frenzied figurations punctuated by accented silences, reaching a final concordance after exhausting all the resources of the organ.

Florence Price (1887-1953) contributed to the legacy of American composition by creating a fusion of the musical culture in the Black arts renaissance of the early 20th century with Western European art music. This collision of symphonic organ grandeur with jazz, spirituals, and the juba dance created something quite new, perhaps greater than the sum of its parts. Though Price did not enjoy the widespread acceptance of her compositions in her lifetime, her musical legacy and that of many other Black composers are finally being recognized and proliferated. Price’s organ works are written in a different tone than her other instrumental and vocal works, perhaps because of their association with an instru­ment of the church. The composi­tional style does not break new ground in harmonic expression or musical structure but exploits her beautiful fusion of culture. In larger works, such as the Suite No. 1 for Organ, she clings to well-known structures. The Suite follows the form of a classical sonata with a sonata-allegro first move­ment, Fantasy; a scherzo-­like second movement, Fughetta; the reflective, melodically driven third move­ment, Aria; and the rondo final movement, Toccato. In these movements, we hear harmonic jazz idioms and pentatonic formulas, mirroring the language and sound of spirituals.

The title Fantasy likely refers to its bold, im­prov­isatory style, free use of harmonies enriched with 7ths and 9ths, and chromatic embellishments. Scalar flourishes alternating with dense, chromatic harmonies open the movement providing color to its predictable exposition. This develops into even more sensual territory, offering a perfect opportunity to exploit the many colors available on the organs of her time. The opening material returns as expected with additional chromatic colorations.

In the Fughetta, Price flaunts her contrapuntal skill in a scherzo-­fugue with sinuous accompanying material. The counterpoint is complicated, dense, and technically demanding – perhaps the most difficult of the Suite. Indulgent, chromatic harmonies lie beneath a very lithe, wandering melody in the Air. The liberal use of 7th and 9th chords, flatted 5ths, and slinky melodic movement are more appropriate for a speakeasy than a church but provide the color and “experience of Black life” that was so important to Price. The Toccato is a standard rondo form and an excellent example of a “juba” – a dance found in slave celebrations from the southern United States to what is now Suriname, expressed by slapping the hands, legs, and body to create complex rhythms. From the beginning of the piece, rhythm takes center stage and we hear “knee slapping” through punctuated chords on weak beats. Price never abandons her chromatic inflections, using them as ornamentation and primary voice-leading material atop the toccata-dance.

William Grant Still (1895-1978) was a man of many firsts as a Black composer – the first to compose a work played by a major American symphony, the first to conduct a major American orchestra, and the first to have an opera televised over a national network, among other achievements. But perhaps his legacy is more thoroughly described as that of a multifaceted artist of extraordinary talent who moved seamlessly from one style and genre to another, composing, orchestrating, and arranging music for a diverse array of instruments and instrumental ensembles with ease and remarkable craftsmanship. Still’s tow­er­ing catalog of more than 200 works in classical styles and genres is complemented by a sizable number of orchestrations and arrangements for film, musical theater, television, and radio – a testament to his discipline, skill, and talent.

Reverie was published in 1962 in the AGO Prelude Book compiled in celebration of the National Convention of the American Guild of Organists in July of that year. This short “daydream” is a brief but exquisite exploration of a simple melody accompanied by partially arpeggiated harmonies strongly evocative of blues. Once again, we find ourselves lurking in the dark, smokey corners of a night club rather than the bright open air of a church nave. Still’s immersion of the organ into this sultry, sensual atmosphere highlights the instrument’s flexibility and appeal to both the senses and the intellect. This performance exploits the velveteen foundation stops of the instrument in their many colors and timbres.

Rayner Brown (1912-1999) was a prolific composer with more than 200 works in his catalog including symphonies, concerti, chamber music, and solo works. His compositions for organ are numerous featuring 35 sonatinas, at least 27 sonatas, and several works for organ with instruments. He studied composition with Ingolf Dahl and Lucien Cailliet at the University of Southern California, becoming a church organist for 55 years, notably at Wilshire Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, 1942-1977. He was on faculty at Biola University 1950-1977.

He described his style as conservative; as we listen to his Twentieth Sonata (ca. 1989), we hear a similar dedication to the classic sonata structure we enjoyed in the Price Suite. Unlike Price, Brown’s musical language leans more towards a modern aesthetic that embraces post-­romantic sonorities with humor and quirky personality.

Allegramente opens with a cheerful melody full of chromaticism and quartal-quintal escapades. The movement is quite sectional with frequent changes of color that add definition to new motivic ideas. The development concludes with a fugue whose subject displays Brown’s affinity for stacking dissonant intervals to create consonant harmonic schemes. This interplay of consonance and dissonance embellishes most of the sonata, as does his penchant for ending musical conversations without conventional resolutions. The Adagio begins with a dramatic, improvisatory statement that dissolves into an ethereal plane. Brown then introduces a melody that leaps in range at one moment and slithers with sinewy stealth in the next. The result is a moment frozen in time, free from structure and conventional expectations. This frozen moment melts into a brief fugue that falls back into the ethereal plane, tak­ing hints of the fugue’s rhythmic struc­ture with it. The opening im­prov­isation returns in a different key and color, ending without resolution. The word Scher­zan­do could be loose­ly translated as “joking” – all too appropriate for this third moment. Brown dances and flits about, allowing some phrases to wander while crashing others into dis­sonant accents. Chro­m­atic movement dom­i­nates in consonant harmonic play. Brown can’t resist another fugue-like texture, this time using a colorful reed and a bright combination of flutes. The fugue is interrupt­ed by a rhythmic pedal frenzy – a call and answer, tit-for-tat competition between the hands and feet for which there is no winner. After an abrupt halt, the opening dance returns and quickly disappears into the distance. The Allegro con brio takes full advantage of its rondo form to explore the abundant colors of the instrument in constantly changing textures.

Anne Wilson (1954 - ) is a multi-faceted musician whose artistic voice is imaginatively expressed as a pianist, organist, composer, and teacher. Her compositions range from classical chamber works for cello and percussion to original jazz tunes, and even further on to music for steel drum ensemble. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music and winner of multiple competition for organ performance, she seamlessly pivots between musical universes, playing the “war horses” of organ repertoire at one moment and providing color and rhythm on key­boards with a jazz combo in the next.

Toccata was pre­miered at the 2003 Regional Con­ven­tion of the Amer­ican Guild of Organ­ists in Cleveland, Ohio. The opening bristles with a percussive left hand beneath a jagged trumpet melody alive with rhythmic agitation. Playful fragments of melody transition us to different key areas that explore the organ’s massive range of texture and color. The pedal shares in the virtuosic bravura with scalar runs up the pedalboard and frenzied outbursts of 16th notes. The middle section provides a brief release from the intense interplay between manuals but is no less motivated by rhythmic pulse. Insistent, melodic fragments rekindle the original agitation, climaxing in double fisted chords atop a pedal run amok.

Nicole Keller 
Nicole Keller is a concert artist in high demand, well known for her inventive use of color and brilliant orchestration of organ scores. She specializes in eclectic programs that span the centuries and musical styles with ease, always with a desire to expand the listener’s horizons. Her performances have featured historic and significant instruments and venues including St. Patrick Cathedral, New York; Cathédrale Notre-­Dame, Paris; Dom St. Steph­an, Passau; St. Patrick Cathedral, Armagh, Northern Ireland; and The Kazakh National University for the Arts, Astana, Kazakhstan. Concerts with orchestra includes concertos, works for small chamber orchestra, and large works featuring organ, harpsichord, and piano. She has extensive ex­per­ience as a chamber musician and continuo player, including many performances of Bach’s St. Matthew and St. John Passions, the Christmas Oratorio, and the Mass in B minor in addition to a host of cantatas and baroque chamber music. She appeared in the premiere of Handel: Made in America by Terrance McKnight and Pat Eakin Young at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, as well as the premieres of Concerto for Organ No. 5 in memoriam György Ligeti by Bálint Karosi at historic St. Peter’s Church in New York City, AMASS by James Dargan with the Early Music Access Project in Charlottesville, Virginia, and TIMEPLAY for organ, harpsichord, and carillon by Roshanne Etezady at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

As a teacher, Nicole 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. She is on faculty at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan. Ms. Keller received the Performer’s Certificate and the Master of Music Degree in Organ Performance and Literature at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, under the tutelage of David Higgs. While at Eastman, she studied continuo with Arthur Haas and improvisation with Gerre Hancock. She received the Bachelor of Music Degree in Piano Performance from the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music in Berea, Ohio, where she studied piano with George Cherry and Jean Stell and organ with Margaret Scharf.

The Nichols & Simpson Organ
The organ built by Nichols & Simpson of Little Rock, Arkansas, for First Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Michigan, has 50 stops and 64 ranks of pipes, incorporating all or portions of 12 stops from the congregation‘s previous Casavant organ. The Casavant op. 2208 was built in 1953 with 3 manuals and 35 ranks. In the Nichols & Simpson organ, pipes of the main divisions of the organ are on pallet-­and-­slider windchests. Larger pedal pipes and duplexed stops stand on windchests with individual valves for each pipe.

The architecture of the church interior was redesigned by Constantine George Pappas Architects of Troy, Michigan, widening the chancel. Riedel and Associates of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, redesigned the acoustics. Most of the organ is located across the front of the chancel and fronted by new casework designed by Frank Friemel. The Swell division and some Pedal basses are located in the original organ chamber located at the left of the chancel (when viewed from the nave). Tonal egress from the chamber was improved by making it shallower. The four-manual console is constructed of American cherry and features manual keys with coverings of bone and rosewood. The drawknobs are of rosewood with faces of bone, inset and engraved. The tilting tablets are of bone. The five expression shoes are solid rosewood. The wind pressures for the organ range from 4" for the Great division to 6" for the Solo division, with the separately enclosed Tuba stop on 15".

Nichols & Simpson, Little Rock, Arkansas, 2009
First Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Michigan
4 manuals, 64 ranks, 50 stops


16 Violone
8 Principal
8 Solo Flute (SO)
8 Harmonic Flute
8 Violone
8 Bourdon
4 Octave
4 Nachthorn
2-2/3 Twelfth
2 Fifteenth
1-3/5 Seventeenth
IV-V Fourniture
8 Harmonic Trumpet
16 Trombone (PED) †
8 Tromba (PED) †
8 Tuba (CH) ‡
4 Tromba Clarion (PED)†
Great Unison Off
Swell to Great 16 8° 4
Choir to Great 16 8° 4
Solo to Great 16 8° 4

Solo expressive
8 Solo Flute
8 Gamba
8 Gamba Celeste CC
4 Solo Flute
8 French Horn
8 Clarinet (CH)
8 English Horn
Harp* (CH)
Celesta* (CH)
16 Tuba TC (CH)
16 Trombone (PED) †
8 Tuba (CH)
8 Tromba (PED) †
4 Tromba Clarion (PED)†
Chimes (CH)
Solo 16 8 4

Choir expressive
16 Double Dulciana (1-12*)
8 Geigen Diapason
8 Geigen Celeste*
8 Bourdon
8 Dulciana
8 Celeste (1-12*)
4 Principal
4 Koppelflöte
2 Flautino
1-1/3 Larigot
IV Chorus Mixture
16 Bass Clarinet (1-12*)
8 Petite Trompette
8 Clarinet
Chimes (added 2023)
8 Tromba (PED) †
16 Tuba TC ‡
8 Tuba ‡
Choir 16 8 4
Great to Choir 8˜
Swell to Choir 16 8° 4
Solo to Choir 16 8˜ 4

Swell expressive
16 Lieblich
8 Diapason
8 Chimney Flute
8 Salicional
8 Voix Celeste CC
8 Flauto Dolce
8 Flute Celeste CC
4 Principal
4 Flûte Octaviante
2-2/3 Nasard
2 Octavin
1-3/5 Tierce
III Plein Jeu
III Petit Plein Jeu
16 Double Trumpet
8 Trompette
8 Trumpet
8 Hautbois
8 Vox Humana
4 Clarion
8 Tuba (CH) ‡
Swell 16 8 4
Solo to Swell 8˜
Choir to Swell 8˜

32 Contre Violone*ˆ
32 Contre Bourdon*ˆ
16 Open Wood
16 Principal
16 Subbass
16 Violone (GT)
16 Lieblich (SW)
16 Double Dulciana (CH)
8 Solo Flute (SO)
8 Octave
8 Bourdon
8 Violone (GT)
8 Chimney Flute (SW)
8 Dulciana (CH)
4 Solo Flute (SO)
4 Choral Bass
2 Solo Flute (SO)
IV Mixture
32 Ophicleide*ˆ
16 Trombone †
16 Double Trumpet (SW)
16 Bass Clarinet (CH)
8 Tuba (CH) ‡
8 Tromba
8 Trumpet (SW)
4 Tromba (CH)
4 Clarinet (CH)
Great to Pedal 8°
Swell to Pedal 8° 4
Choir to Pedal 8° 4
Solo to Pedal 8° 4

Tutti Iˆ
Tutti IIˆ
All Swells to Swell˜

16 General (with toe)
7 Swell
7 Great
7 Choir
5 Solo
6 Pedal (with toe)

* digital voices
† enclosed in Solo box
‡ The Tuba is under separate expression in the Choir box.
° Reversible, manual & toe pistons
˜ Reversible, manual piston only
ˆ Reversible, toe piston only

Those Americans, Nicole Keller, organist
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