A Conversation with Fred Swan

A Conversation with Fred Swann 

World-renowned concert organist discusses enhancements to the University of Redlands’ Casavant organ

By the time most Americans reach their 80s, they’ve been in full retirement for years. Not Fred Swann. A prominent church and concert organist known throughout the world, Swann teaches organ at the University of Redlands School of Music and continues to perform at some of the world’s top performance venues.

In a storied career that has spanned more than half century, Swann has performed on most of the well-known pipe organs in the world. He was the organist and Director of Music at the Riverside Church in New Your City for 25 years. He also was the Music Director and organist at the Crystal Cathedral for 16 years and also served as organist at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles where he played on the largest church organ in existence.

We sat down with Swann recently to discuss the 1927 Casavant organ in Memorial Chapel at the University of Redlands and the recent enhancements that were made to it.

Tell me about the Casavant organ at the University of Redlands.

FS: “The organ was built in Canada by Casavant Freres, one of the most respected organ builders in the world, and installed in Memorial Chapel on campus in1927. The organ has had minor modifications over the years but not too much until 2003. By that time, it had deteriorated quite a bit. In fact, most organs last about 20-40 years. After that, there are generally too many things that need to be replaced. However, if maintained over time, as this one was, organs can actually last for quite sometime. And that’s been the case with the Redland’s Casavant organ.”

What are some of the modifications or restorations that were made?

FS: “In 2002/2003, the chapel was closed for an earthquake retrofit. At that time, the organ was taken out of the chapel and sent back to the builder, Casavant, for restoration. When it came back, it was like new.

“Just this past year, we’ve also been able to add several features that were in the original plans for the organ and these additions were made by Casavant here, on site, in the chapel.”
What was added?

FS: “There were 13 ranks of pipes added – each rank consists of a pipe for each note on the keyboard.”

“What’s important are the enhancements it makes to the sound. There’s an added brightness and color, and also an increased dynamic (soft to loud) range. In the original organ, if you wanted to play early music, like Bach, we didn’t have the proper stops, but now we do. That’s exciting.

“It really is a wonderful organ and always has been. It has a rich, French-like sound. That has not changed. It sounds like the same organ but better.”

How costly were the recent enhancements to the organ?

FS: “I’d say they ran in the range of about $160,000. There’s actually a great deal of labor and time involved in preparing the organ by our organ curator. This is the person who maintains the organ over the years to ensure it stays in the best condition possible.”

When is the Casavant organ used and by whom?

FS: “There are four major guest artist events during the year and the organ is also used for all major recitals in the Chapel including convocations, choral concerts, student recitals and the Feast of Lights each December.

“This year, in February, we’ll also be using the organ during the installation ceremony for the new university president, Dr. Ralph Kuncl. We’re really looking forward to that.”

Tell me more about organ music and why it matters.

FS: “The art of organ music has been significant to history throughout the centuries. In fact, literature for the organ has been in existence longer than any other instrument, going back to the 10th century. Every musical period, from baroque to romantic to contemporary, has used the organ.

“In fact, some of the most famous composers wrote for the organ with the French and German excelling in the field due to the strong organ culture in Europe.

“In the U.S., people probably don’t realize that over the last 20 years there hasn’t been a concert hall built that hasn’t had a pipe organ—Disney Hall and Segerstrom Hall, to name a few in the area. People who have never gone to hear an organ at a church are now hearing them at major concert halls, which is creating a resurgence. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in downtown Los Angeles also has a pipe organ and a large concert series.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

FS: “Oh yes. I want to be sure to mention that I’ve never seen a community that’s been so in love with an organ more than the Redlands community. There’s so much support. If they know the organ is going to be played, they come. I hope they’ll enjoy the recent enhancements and continue to support our program. In fact, I’ll be performing a recital this Sunday, October 28, to demonstrate these additions and I hope to see a lot of campus and community members there!”

Memorial Chapel Organ Recital Series

Sunday, October 28, 2012 (3:00 p.m.)
Fred Swann will demonstrate the recent additions made to the Casavant organ in a “Show and Hear” session.

Sunday, January 27, 2012 (3:00 p.m.)

Ken Cowan, one of America’s most celebrated concert organists

Sunday, March 17, 2013 (3:00 p.m.)

Richard Elliott, principal organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, UT



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Redlands has 12 recent Fulbright Scholar recipients.

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