Organ Concert Brings Joy to Audiences


Photo Courtesy of Seven Days VT

Professor Emory Fanning celebrated his 50th year at the college with a lively and moving organ performance.


Professor Emeritus of Music Emory Fanning celebrated his 50 years at Middlebury on Sunday, Oct. 1 with the sparkling musical tones of an organ recital. The program began with Concerto No. 1 in G Major by Johann Ernst, one of wsix concertos transcribed by J.S. Bach for the organ in his earlier years. The lively and celebratory sounds of the first piece were followed by the deeply moving and poetic “Organ Mass” by François Couperin, played from the sections “Gloria Dialogue” and “Offertoire” to offer the audience a glimpse of a variety of musical forms in the different mass elements.

Fanning’s next piece, J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata No. 1 in E-Flat Major, is one of Bach’s most beloved compositions and was intended as instructive material for the organ studies of his oldest son. Ronnie Romano ’20, one of Professor Fanning’s organ students, admired his crisp rhythm and thoughtful articulation, both of which contributed to the precision and independence of voices in the music.

Romano recalls the energetic professor’s instructions regarding a particularly bubbly, manual-intensive piece: “Here, have fun with this!”

This rings true to the Professor’s teaching philosophy, which places emphasis on “bringing the music alive, attending to technical details, and sharing a love for the music!”

As Fanning says, one of his goals in teaching is to convey to his students “the core of the music as it was conceived and finding meaning beyond the notation, with attention to the historical styles,” as he seeks to do in his own playing.

Fanning’s rendition of the next two pieces by César Franck were arguably the high-points of the concert. The first piece, “Prelude, Fugue and Variation”, was a duo played by Fanning and his wife, pianist Diana Fanning, who has been an affiliate artist at Middlebury since 1975 and has toured extensively both in the US and abroad. Both have long been and continue to be integral members of the Middlebury community.

The Chorale No. 2 in B Minor that followed, Fanning’s “all-time favorite” piece, is widely considered to be the greatest organ work of the 19th century and conjures the majestic tolling of a great bell.

The inclusion of three expressive and stylistically diverse pieces by twentieth-century composers Herbert Howells, Norman Dello Joio and Percy Whitlock expanded the range and scope of the concert repertoire, leading up to the conclusion of the concert with Bach’s glorious three-part Fugue in E-flat Major in the tune of William Croft’s “St. Anne,” whose three contrasting sections are said to reflect the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

Regarding the programming of the concert, Fanning comments that the repertoire was chosen, “from music that [I have] played for a long time; that reflect contrasting compositional styles and historical periods; and that show off the wonderful characteristics of the organ, which allow the player a rich palette of sound.”

The effect of such an auditory palette was recognized by students present.

“I think what impressed me the most in Emory Fanning’s performance was the versatility of the organ and the different moods he was able to express with ease,” Miranda Seixas ’20 said. “From the deep, vibrating, feel-more-than-hear notes to the lilting and whimsical notes, I was able to hear more personalities within the organ than I had before.”

At the conclusion of the concert, members of the Middlebury community were so moved that some even took to stomping and slapping the pews to express their appreciation. As Professor Peter Hamlin aptly described in his opening remarks, Emory Fanning is not only a mentor and a friend, but also a musical hero for many in the Middlebury community and beyond.

The concert was followed by a reception at Crossroads Café, where many of Professor Fanning’s previous students and alumni of the college and choir were reunited.