Memorial Organ

William Edward's University Chapel-Auditorium, completed in 1924 and now on the National Register of Historic Places, was intended to be the first unit of an imposing central University administrative building and tower in English collegiate Gothic style. The complex was clearly patterned after London's 11th-century Westminster Hall and 19th-century Central Lobby in the Houses of Parliament, and also appropriates some design features of Proctor Hall, the graduate dining hall at Princeton University. Later UF planners would eventually decide to site Tigert Hall in an entirely different location, however, and then to build the Century Tower as an adjacent but free-standing campanile. The design of University Memorial Auditorium is unique in its application of a 14th-century hammerbeam ceiling to a cruciform structure, and has housed the vocal art of James Melton (as a student here in the 1920's), the lyrics of Robert Frost (who annually read his poetry here), the organ performances of Palmer Christian, Marcel Dupré, Virgil Fox and Claude Murphree - and has even served as movie stand-in for Harvard University (in Sean Connery's Just Cause, filmed here in the mid-1990's, and the banners remain hanging from the ceiling). Here each hammerbeam end presents one symbol of the land-grant quadrivium: the Scholar wears a four-cornered cap reminiscent of a 5th-century square nimbus, while the Musician strokes a Greek lyre, the Engineer lifts a notched gear, and the Athlete sports a leather football helmet. In each of the two large windows above the east and west transept balconies, six scholars depicted in Art Deco style overlook the audience space.

Pic of organ

University President Albert Murphree received $50,000 for the organ from Dr. Andrew Anderson, a St. Augustine physician, philanthropist, and associate of early Florida developer Henry Flagler. The spacious interior of the new hall, with its elaborate wood-carvings and roomy galleries, offered a congenial home. Tonal plans for Florida were prepared by William Zeuch of Boston's famous Skinner Organ Company, which built and installed the original instrument in early 1925. It was first played publicly on June 7th at the annual University Commencement Convocation. A musical landmark for its day, the organ was designed and voiced at the zenith of orchestral-imitative or "symphonic" organ design in this country, and is mentioned in such reference works as Orpha Ochse's The History of the Organ in the United States and Charles Callahan's The American Classic Organ. It was heard frequently through the 1930s in recitals by Claude Murphree, University Organist, as well as in early broadcasts over the University's "new" radio station, WRUF. A massive and elaborate organ case was also designed by the architect, but was never built.

During World War II and immediately after, due to institutional economic conditions, the instrument itself was not given proper care. This University treasure was virtually buried behind layers of heavy velour curtains hung in front of the organ to allow theatrical presentations. When the Division of Music was established in 1948, however, immediate efforts were made to rescue the instrument. By the early 1960s the curtains were removed, and the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company began a program of mechanical renovation and tonal rehabilitation to repair the ravages of time and neglected maintenance. By 1976, renovation and air-conditioning of the building had been completed, but the Aeolian-Skinner company was no longer in business. Thus the M. P. Moller Organ Company continued the careful work of restoring the organ to its former excellence as a teaching and recital instrument. Completion of this project was finally assured through funding from University sources, and the entire organ began to be heard in its final form in the Spring of 1992. A year of settling in allowed fine-tuning and final adjustment of the balance between registers. During March, 1993, a week-long series of events celebrated the place of the Andrew Anderson Memorial Organ in the musical life of this community of scholars.

From the Renaissance to its high point in the Baroque era, and continuing through the Classic and Romantic eras to the present day, composers have given some of their finest musical ideas to the "King of Instruments" (Mozart's phrase). The great Auditorium Organ is used primarily in teaching the major organ literature to generations of students. The innovative Fridays at One series, begun by the organ studio class to showcase a variety of literature in an informal campus setting, has continued in a revised format, and an annual Summer Organ Festival of workshops, seminars and recitals was established in 1994. The organ finds extensive use throughout the academic year in solo recitals by visiting artists and by University faculty, as well as in programs with other instruments, with chorus, and with orchestra. The instrument has a significant role in research using the latest "state-of-the-art" technology in instrument design and organ construction, in cooperation with the University's internationally known faculties in architectural acoustics, in the physics of sound, and in medical kinesthetics.

With increasing availability of computer resources in the School of Music and on the campus, use of the Auditorium Organ as a MIDI controller in a variety of recording, playback, and notational applications becomes significant for the first time. The new console's microchip technology allows recording with immediate playback of actual organ performance--the 1920s "player organ" brought into the present, ready for the pedagogy of the future.

The organ continues to be heard in major University ceremonies - each year many of the various colleges and professional schools of the University hold their annual graduation ceremonies in the University Auditorium, enjoying the particular aura of dignity conferred by music of the great organ. As part of the University's community and professional outreach, adult classes in special areas of organ interest are frequently scheduled. The local chapter of the American Guild of Organists uses the Auditorium Organ for repertoire sessions, organ crawls and encounters, and often for their annual member's recital, while regional meetings of such groups as the American Musicological Society, the Music Teachers National Association and the American Choral Directors Association use the Auditorium Organ as a unique adjunct to their programs.


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