100 Year Anniversary of UVa’s Skinner Organ

Posted in Jacob Canon, Skinner, The Oscar Show, UVa College of Arts & Sciences, University of Virginia, history, restoration at 12:04 pm by Jacob Canon

In today’s show, written by Jane Ford, Senior News Officer for the UVa News Department, we celebrate the one hundred-year anniversary of the E.M. Skinner Organ, which was installed in UVa’s Cabell Hall in 1907.

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AUDIO SLIDE SHOW: E.M. Skinner Organ Celebrates 100 Years

On March 29th, 2008, UVa celebrated the 100th anniversary of the E.M. Skinner Organ, an iconic fixture of the University of Virginia since its installation at Cabell Hall in 1907. At the turn of the 20th century, pipe organs were models of cutting-edge technology and American engineering, an organ expert told an audience celebrating the 100th anniversary of the E.M. Skinner organ.

Laurence Libin, research curator emeritus of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, said, “I have come to congratulate the University of Virginia… This is really a monument. The organ here is a benchmark of American taste and ingenuity.” He added that there could be no better place to have the instrument than at a University, where engineering, architecture, music and other disciplines could play a role in the “wider scope of inquiry” and “create benchmarks for future evaluation of the state of the organ. At 100 years it has a lot to teach us.”

The March 29 tribute included organ historian Barbara Owen, who said, “The organ was a gift to the University from Andrew Carnegie, the man who built a steel empire and spent his later years as a philanthropist. Valued at $7,000 at the time, it is estimated that to replace it today with an organ of that complexity and workmanship would cost in excess of $600,000.”

The session was concluded with U.Va. associate professor emeritus of music Donald Loach presenting a history of Skinner’s organ at the University. Loach shared details about the 1907 dedication recitals, at which University President Edwin A. Alderman and Skinner gave brief remarks before Samuel L. Baldwin, organist of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn, N.Y. performed musical selections chosen to highlight the organ’s special features. Loach delighted the audience with recordings from the rededication concert held in 1983 and from a second rededication concert in 2000.

Following the symposium, evening concertgoers were entertained with a recital by organist Ken Cowan of Westminster Choir College, who played music contemporary with the time of its installation that showcased the instrument’s unique features.

Paul Walker, who teaches organ at the university said, “Ken Cowan’s recital was amazing. The music he played was most appropriate to the organ and the time when it was installed, and his program brought out the organ’s obvious strengths: a deep, rich tone and colorful solo stops. Most impressive to me was Cowan’s own transcription of the Mephisto Waltz #1 of Franz Liszt, a technical tour-de-force which made dazzling use of the organ’s resources. The audience particularly responded to Cowan’s encore, a piece by George Thalben-Ball played almost entirely by the feet.”

The U.Va. organ, although built in the early years of Skinner’s long career of organ-building, incorporates unique innovations that he continued to pursue throughout his career. It boasts a movable console of the rare “batwing type” as well as more than 1,500 pipes, ranging from three-quarters of an inch to 16 feet in length; a piston system with combinations set by Skinner and features one of the first examples of his famous “Erzahler” stops, said Owen. The Erzahler is his first foray into creating tonal color by adding the sounds of orchestral instruments, such as French and English horns, oboes, clarinets, strings and flutes.

Loach, who played a major role in preserving the Skinner organ, noted that while it was primarily used at ceremonial occasions such as baccalaureate ceremonies, it was included in several musical performances and served as a practice instrument for budding student organists. Occasionally, after a full rehearsal of the Glee Club in the auditorium, he would play a few pieces on the organ which “the boys seemed to really enjoy,” he said.

Only a few years later, one of those students, William R. Piper, class of 1977, offered funds to restore it. The two-year project was completed in 1983. Loach oversaw the work conducted by the A. Thompson-Allen Organ Company of New Haven, Conn. The goal was “not to improve or alter the tonal or mechanical character of the instrument.” Leather membranes were replaced, new valves were installed and springs and pipes were cleaned and refinished.

After a remodeling of Cabell Hall in the 1990s a new restoration was instigated by Marita McClymonds, acting chairman of the Music Department, and begun in 1998 by Xaver A. Wilhelmy of Satunton, Va. A second rededication on Sept. 15, 2000 featured organist Peggy Kelley Reinburg. The organ continues to be played occasionally for concerts.

Libin said, “The organ here is irreplaceable and historical. Skinner’s vision was in the vanguard a century ago. Organs like this just aren’t built any more.”

You’ve been listening to the Oscar Show, I’m Jacob Canon. Join us next week when we look at a University of Virginia study, which indicates that air pollution from power plants and automobiles is destroying the fragrance of flowers and thereby possibly inhibiting the ability of pollinating insects to locate flowers, and may partially explain why certain populations of these pollinators are on the decline.

For more information about scholarship, creativity and research, please visit www.oscar.virginia.edu. Did you miss a show? Then go to www.wtju.net and click on “blogs & pods” or visit www.cvillepodcast.com. Question about this program; please call WTJU at 434-924-0885 or email at wtju@virginia.edu.


Planting the Seeds of Change

Posted in Eastern Shore, GPS, Hog Island Bay, Jacob Canon, The Oscar Show, UVa College of Arts & Sciences, University of Virginia, VIMS, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, coastal bays, crustaceans, environmental science, environmental scientist, marine life, restoration at 11:55 am by Jacob Canon

Today, from an article found on the Oscar web site written by Faris Samarrai, we discuss the efforts being made by environmental scientist Karen McGlathery to reestablish the natural environment needed to insure those crustaceans and other marine life can thrive and return to their previous population levels on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

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As environmental scientist Karen McGlathery slips from the side of the boat into the shallow, murky waters of Hog Island Bay, one of three major lagoons on the oceanside of Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the chill of the morning water hits her, she exclaims “Oh, that’s cold.”

McGlathery is the University of Virginia’s lead investigator on a project to restore sea grasses to the region. Last fall she worked with a team of scientists from VIMS, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, to seed a 500-acre area of Hog Island Bay with eelgrass, a submerged sea grass that is common in temperate waters worldwide. It was hoped it would establish a meadow that may eventually spread outward, potentially propagating new areas.

McGlathery and her team of graduate students, a few undergrads and even a couple of local high school students, are now back to see if the grass is growing. The team finds the site using GPS — the Global Positioning System — to pinpoint their plots, which are not visible from the surface of the turbid water. They wade and snorkel along the beds, taking measurements of the length of the grass and the extent to which it has spread. They also take core samples from the muddy bottom, and water samples for later analysis. McGlathery said, “what we learn from these studies will help us determine the baseline conditions for future restoration efforts.”

Sea grass once flourished in the seaside bays of the Eastern Shore. But in the late 1920s and early 1930s a pathogen began killing the grasses. A hurricane in 1933 essentially finished them off. In the years since, the bay bottoms have been mostly muddy and barren. A once thriving scalloping and fishing industry collapsed. “I’ve read accounts by old watermen of how the water here was once crystal clear and that the sea grass meadows were so extensive and visible from the surface that it looked like a lawn of long grass,” McGlathery said.

Not anymore. The water is murky green most days and even muddy on windy days. Without extensive sea grass beds to stabilize the bottom, the sediment is continually stirred up, blocking out the sunlight needed by eelgrass to photosynthesize and flourish. But when grasses grow well, they stabilize the bottom, clear up the water and serve as habitat for an assortment of creatures: scallops, crabs, shrimp, mollusks, and the fish that feed on these animals.

McGlathery is encouraged by what she is finding. Most of the half and one acre plots in the 500-acre area are doing well. Apparently, about 10 percent of the 1.5 million seeds that were scattered last fall took root and the plants are growing. Many are 12 to 18 inches long. McGlathery is not surprised. Prior to the seeding, she and her team surveyed the area, tested the sediment and the water quality, and determined that the area might be receptive to a crop of eelgrass.

VIMS has conducted similar work during the past 10 years in South Bay, a lagoon to the south of Hog Island Bay, that extends between the barrier islands of the Virginia. “In areas of South Bay there are now lush sea grass beds… as far as you can swim, continuous meadows,” McGlathery said. “It shows that we can not only get these grasses to grow, but we can also get them to thrive.” And recently, scientists discovered a few sparse natural areas of eelgrass in Hog Island Bay, likely seeded by tide and current from the manmade beds in South Bay.

It is hoped that these restoration efforts will allow the coastal bays to regain their health and vitality, leading to the return of the indigenous marine populations in the waters of the Eastern Shore.