Sumter at home on College’s 1951 Holtkamp organ
Dec. 17, 2013
Contact: Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications
Growing up, Josh Sumter ‘16 had never thought much about the organ as an instrument. That is, until middle school, when he and his family began to attend a Baptist church in Knoxville, which had an organ.
“I pretty much decided that’s what I wanted to do,” said Sumter, who is majoring in music performance with a concentration in organ at Maryville College.
Mastery of any instrument takes a lot of practice and dedication, so Sumter knew that he would need an instructor to learn this complicated instrument. After finishing his freshman year at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Sumter contacted Ashley Burrell, adjunct instructor of organ at Maryville College and organist/choirmaster at First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville.
“Josh basically had not had any organ or piano training before, and he sat down and played a very elaborate organ piece,” Burrell said. “I thought, ‘I want to teach him.’”
Sumter worked with Burrell throughout high school and continues to study under Burrell at Maryville College, where he practices and performs on the organ in the Clayton Center for the Arts. Most recently, Sumter performed John Rutter’s “O Clap Your Hands” and Randall Thompson’s “The Last Words of David” with the Maryville College Concert Choir for the “Cathedral Classics” concert on Nov. 21-22.
Sumter said there is a lot about the organ that he likes, but he particularly loves the sound.
“Anything from the loud and boisterous pieces – I love those – to the soft and meditative pieces,” Sumter said. “I love playing it, and I love making music.”
The College has a long and distinguished history of preparing musicians, according to Dr. Bill Swann, chair of Maryville College’s Division of Fine Arts.
“We are proud of our history of organ study at MC, and Josh is a great torchbearer for our program,” Swann said. “We have a small organ program (two students, currently) which means that students do not have to compete for practice time at the organ. Our organ instructor, Ashley Burrell, is an excellent performer and teacher, and goes above and beyond to ensure that his students get what they need. We welcome all students of the organ to come to MC to study.”
‘A major asset’
“One of the College’s major assets is just the organ itself,” Burrell said, referring to the 1951 Holtkamp organ in the Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall.
In 1951, Maryville College purchased the pipe organ from the Holtkamp Organ Company in Cleveland, Ohio, for the then-new Fine Arts Center. An introductory recital was held in the Fine Arts Center on Dec. 16, 1951.
“It is a remarkable instrument and in its combination of appearance, tone and range has no counterpart in this section of the United States,” read a description printed in the April 1952 issue of The Maryville College Bulletin.
“The new organ … represents the influence of the principles of tonal and architectural design characteristic of the great European instruments of the 17th and 18th centuries,” the 1952 description continues. “However, the specifications make possible the playing of organ literature of all periods and styles. Careful selection of acoustically balanced registers, low wind pressures, special voicing and exposed placement of the pipes were among the important features considered in its construction. It is essentially a teaching, recital and concert organ.”
In 2007, the Fine Arts Center was razed to make way for the Clayton Center.
“The College spent a great deal of time, effort and resources ensuring that the Holtkamp made a safe journey from the old building to the Clayton Center,” Swann said.
Before the building was demolished, alumnus James Stettner ’85 flew to campus from Seattle, Wash., to dismantle the organ and pack it up. The organ remained in storage until 2010, when local master organ builder Bradley Rule rebuilt and installed it in the Harold and Jean Lambert Hall.
The organ was rededicated in its new home during a concert on May 5, 2012.
“The organ is not one-of-a-kind, but it’s certainly unique in its design,” Burrell said. “It’s a wonderful instrument.”
A high demand for church organists
After graduating from Maryville College, Sumter plans to pursue a master’s degree.
“I’ll probably be a church musician – an organist or an organist and choirmaster, much like Mr. Burrell at First Presbyterian,” Sumter said. “I’ll probably take on some students, and hopefully, I’ll teach at a college.”
Burrell said that job prospects for aspiring organists are very good – and there has been a shortage, so churches are looking for organists.
When asked whether Sumter will have a problem finding a job after graduation, Burrell laughed.
“Not at all,” he said. “Particularly the way he plays.”