Cover Feature

August 28, 2019

The University of Michigan Organ Department, one of the nation’s oldest, largest, and most recognized programs, is an international leader in the fields of organ, harpsichord, carillon, and sacred music. Its home, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, is a highly selective professional school offering programs in music, dance, theatre, and musical theatre on a welcoming campus in the culturally rich college town of Ann Arbor. The school combines the rigor of a conservatory with the academic breadth and depth of a major public research university. Students pursue a comprehensive program of performance and study that embraces a liberal arts education and emphasizes innovation and diversity in the arts. The faculty—eminent performers and scholars with a broad range of specializations—share a profound commitment to teaching. The Organ Department’s reputation for fostering talent is evidenced by the number of graduates enjoying careers as recitalists, university professors, published composers and scholars, and music directors of major churches.

Faculty and staff

• James Kibbie, Professor of Organ and Chair; University Organist

• Kola Owolabi, Associate Professor of Organ and Sacred Music

• Joseph Gascho, Assistant Professor of Harpsichord and Early Music

• Tiffany Ng, Assistant Professor of Carillon; University Carillonist; Digital Studies Institute Affiliate Faculty

• Jerroll Adams, University Organ Technician

• Colin Knapp, Organ Conference Coordinator

• Andrew Meagher, Hill Auditorium Scheduling Coordinator

• Distinguished former faculty members include organists Palmer Christian, Robert Noehren, Marilyn Mason, Robert Glasgow, Robert Clark, and Michele Johns, carillonist Margo Halsted, harpsichordist Edward Parmentier, and composers William Bolcom and William Albright.

Guest artists

The Organ Department sponsors recitals, masterclasses, and workshops by leading international artists. Recent faculty residencies have featured Vincent Dubois (Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris; Conservatory of Strasbourg) and Daniel Roth (Church of St. Sulpice, Paris). Recent guest artists and clinicians include Olivier Latry (Cathedral of Notre Dame; Paris Conservatory), Keith Hampton (Chicago Community Chorus; specialist in the Black Gospel tradition), Jaap ter Linden (Royal Conservatory of the Hague and Amsterdam Conservatory, the Netherlands, early music specialist), Nicole Keller (Baldwin Wallace Conservatory, Berea, Ohio), Jörg Abbing (Hochschule für Musik Saar, Germany), Andrzej Szadejko (Gdańsk Music Academy, Poland), Jaroslav Tůma (Academy of Performing Arts, Prague, Czech Republic), and Jean-Baptiste Robin (Royal Chapel of Versailles).

Degrees offered

• Bachelor of Music in Organ Performance and Sacred Music

• Bachelor of Musical Arts in Organ Performance

• Master of Music in Organ Performance

• Master of Music in Sacred Music

• Master of Music in Harpsichord Performance

• Master of Music in Early Keyboard Instruments

• Master of Music in Carillon Performance

• Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance: Organ

• Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance: Sacred Music

• Doctor of Musical Arts in Performance: Harpsichord

• Dual degree programs with six other University of Michigan colleges and joint degree programs with other departments in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance are also available.

Organ and sacred music

Student career preparation includes development of artistry, technique, scholarly research skills, and the ability to play music of all periods with integrity. Students attain knowledge of specific performance practices, supported by a wide range of courses in repertoire and technique. Hymn-playing and choral accompaniment are pursued with the same seriousness as solo repertoire. Studies in improvisation enable students to develop their creative voices as church musicians and performers. In sacred music, a graded curriculum exposes students to the musical practices of diverse cultures and liturgical traditions. Choral conducting and continuo are offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

Harpsichord and early music

Both solo and continuo playing are emphasized for harpsichord students, who also build a strong foundation in historical performance practices. Other early music opportunities include participation in Renaissance Choir, Baroque Chamber Orchestra, and a wide variety of chamber music events. Students have the opportunity to study and perform on period instruments, including those in the university’s extensive Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments. Recent performances include a fully-staged production of Charpentier’s opera La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers.


The carillon program is built on the dual pursuit of innovative artistic excellence and inclusive community engagement and offers one of the only Master of Music in Carillon Performance degrees in existence. Students enjoy frequent performance opportunities and new acoustic and electroacoustic music collaborations, develop socially engaged outreach projects for diverse audiences, and pursue original research in campanology. Alumni hold faculty and performance positions throughout the country.

Organ, harpsichord, and sacred music courses

In addition to studio instruction in organ, harpsichord, and carillon, students elect from a rotating sequence of courses designed to prepare musicians for professional careers as organists, church musicians, harpsichordists, and carillonists:

• Organ Literature: Antiquity to 1750

• Organ Literature: 1750 to Present

• Early Music for Keyboard

• Baroque Organ Music

• Music of the French Baroque

• Organ Music of the 19th Century

• Contemporary Organ Music

• Topics in Historical Performance

• Basso Continuo

• Basso Continuo II

• Advanced Continuo and Partimento

• Organ Pedagogy

• Harpsichord Pedagogy

• Harpsichord Maintenance

• Improvisation I

• Improvisation II

• Contrapuntal Improvisation

• Advanced Improvisation

• Service Playing

• Creative Hymn-Playing

• Blended Worship Music Styles

• Contemporary Issues in Sacred Music

• The Church’s Song: Critical Issues in Hymnology

• African-American Spirituals and Gospel

• Students also find arts leadership development, entrepreneurial opportunities, and grants in the EXCEL Department (Excellence in Entrepreneurship Career Empowerment & Leadership).


Organ Department faculty and students engage in major scholarly and creative projects within the nation’s top-ranked public research university (as recognized by the National Science Foundation in 2018). Recent faculty grants have supported a project to develop applications of data science to performance issues in the Bach trio sonatas; innovations in carillon scholarship, technology-augmented performance, and multimedia publishing; audio and video recordings integrating scholarship and recording on historic instruments; the pioneering of team teaching with architecture; and scholarly publications. Current graduate students are receiving grant support for projects including a series of compact disc recordings of organ music by women composers and research and performance on North German Baroque instruments.


The University of Michigan recognizes the pipe organ as the only instrument suitable for practice, teaching, and performance of the organ repertoire. Students perform, study, and rehearse on 16 pipe organs on campus, including:

• Frieze Memorial Organ, Hill Auditorium: four manuals, 124 ranks, electro-pneumatic action; Farrand & Votey (1893), Hutchings (1913), Skinner Organ Company (1927), Aeolian-Skinner (1955);

• Marilyn Mason Organ, Blanche Anderson Moore Hall: two manuals, 27 stops, mechanical action; C. B. Fisk, after instruments of Gottfried Silbermann;

• James Walgreen Organ, School of Public Health: two manuals, 12 stops, mechanical action; Orgues Létourneau;

• Organ teaching studios: three manuals, electro-pneumatic instruments by Reuter and M. P. Möller;

• Italian positiv organ: one manual, three stops, mechanical action; unknown 16th-century Italian builder;

• Kistorgel (continuo positiv): one manual, four stops, mechanical action; Henk Klop;

• Portativ organ: one manual, one rank; Wendhack, Redeker & Kreuzer, after a medieval model;

• Practice organs: eight two-manual mechanical and electro-pneumatic instruments by A. David Moore, Aeolian-Skinner, Reuter, and M. P. Möller;

• Students also study and perform regularly on instruments in Ann Arbor churches by Karl Wilhelm, Orgues Létourneau, and Schoenstein.


• Keith Hill: German double manual;

• William Dowd: Franco-Flemish double manual after Ruckers;

• Peter Fisk: French double manual;

• Hubbard/Eckstein: French double manual;

• Hill and Tyre: German single manual;

• David Sutherland: Flemish single manual;

• William Post Ross: Italian single manual after De Quoc;

• Two Zuckermann kit instruments;

• Randall Scott: clavichord after a 1784 instrument of Christian Gottlob Hübert.


• Charles Baird Carillon, Burton Memorial Tower: 53 bells cast by John Taylor & Co., England, 1936;

• Robert & Ann Lurie Carillon: 60 bells cast by Royal Eijsbouts, the Netherlands, 1996;

• Three practice keyboards.

Conferences, competitions, and workshops

The annual Organ Conference, a tradition for almost sixty years, presents recitals, workshops, and masterclasses by international artists and performances by University of Michigan students and faculty. The summer Early Keyboard Institute, presented by University of Michigan faculty and resident artists, provides an intensive six-day experience focusing on harpsichord and fortepiano.

Co-sponsored by the American Center of Church Music, the annual Organ Improvisation Competition has featured finalists from North America, Europe, and Asia. The Schoenstein Competition in the Art of Organ Accompaniment, presented with support from Jack M. Bethards, Schoenstein & Co. Organ Builders, recognizes artistry in the accompaniment of solos, choral repertoire, and hymns.

Recent special events have included the 2018 Annual Conference of the Historical Keyboard Society of North America, with over 70 performances, lectures, and other events on the theme “Kenner und Liebhaber.”

The UM Summer Carillon Series presents leading international recitalists each year. Supported by a UM Bicentennial Grant in 2017, “Resonance & Remembrance: An Interdisciplinary Bell Studies Symposium,” pioneered new directions in scholarly and applied campanology research and technology-augmented performance.

Performance opportunities

Organ students perform for the annual Organ Conference, the bi-weekly Brown Bag Recital Series on the James Walgreen Organ, AGO recitals, and outreach recitals at churches. There are also frequent opportunities to perform with the university orchestras, bands, and choral ensembles. Carillon students perform on the daily recitals at both carillon towers, at student guild recitals, official university events, and during field trips to area carillons. Harpsichord students perform in solo recitals, chamber ensembles, and with the Baroque Chamber Orchestra and Early Music Choir.

International organ study tours

Students in the Organ Department have the opportunity to participate in European study tours to play historic organs, study with eminent artist-teachers, and perform in group recitals. Student expenses are funded in part through fundraising recitals at area churches. During their 2019 tour to the Netherlands and Germany, students studied 13 historic organs by van Covelens, Schnitger, Silbermann, Trost, Ladegast, and Sauer and performed in masterclasses with Pieter van Dijk, Thiemo Janssen, Ullrich Böhme, and Johannes Trümpler.

Application and financial aid

The Organ Department supports students with financial aid packages that reward artistic and academic excellence, while also considering a student’s overall financial resources. Undergraduate applicants are eligible to compete in the annual Undergraduate Organ Scholarship Competition. Master’s students are considered for a variety of scholarships, and nearly all DMA students receive full-tuition fellowships and are also eligible to apply for fellowships to fund research, travel, and performance. For further information and to apply, visit

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