Upcoming Performances

December 1
3:00 pm Eastern

Messiah organist, First Presbyterian Church, Statesville, N.C.

December 3
8:00 pm Eastern

Haydn Creation organist, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

December 13
12:15 pm Eastern

Music at Midday, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

February 9, 2020
3:00 pm Eastern

Inaugural recitalist, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C..

February 16, 2020
5:00 pm Eastern

Evensong recitalist, Church of the Ascension, Hickory, N.C..

March 6, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn.

April 5, 2020
2:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Ga.

April 18, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Concerto organist, Milligan College

May 12, 2020
12:35 pm Central

Tuesday Series recitalist, Church of St. Louis, King of France, Minneapolis, Minn.

June 21-26, 2020
Worship Organist, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Lake Junaluska, N.C.

Entries in Clyde Holloway (6)


Thoughts on organ pedagogy

Here are some scattered excerpts from my in-house textbook for my organ lit class:


Many organ teachers don’t bother with a method. They skip over the how-to-play stage with students and go right into music, where they depend on the real-world issues of the music to help the student develop technique. I have always felt that is a lazy and irresponsible way to teach a student. I still think that, but given that I have only four years to “transform” a student from freshman into organist, I am often put in the position of doing things the same way. I used to take lots of time to get a student’s technique just so, and then let them dive into music. Nowadays, I pile on the repertoire like other teachers do, using the usual formula of two pieces per lesson credit hour. It is what it is. A good solution I have come up with, though, is to teach freshmen twice per week for the first semester or two.

As Clyde Holloway said to me many times, "Good teaching renders the teacher gradually dispensable." Just as I was trained, I’m training my students what to do with any given piece in an established style, how to fend for themselves more and more as time goes by. Any student still needing the teacher to attend to every detail of, say, the senior recital is either not paying attention or has been taught to depend on the teacher too much. I am trying to make them conversant in many styles, so that they can go and do likewise, going into all the world to play well and correctly.


So what makes a teacher great? I suppose if you could answer that, then you could answer what makes the world go ’round. Academia likes to think it can identify and reward good teachers, but it really can’t. We have our tenure and promotion systems, and we have teaching awards. But ultimately, there is no accreditation agency that stamps a teacher as good, great, or otherwise. There are only the students to demonstrate success and tell their stories. If that is so, then Russell Saunders, Robert Glasgow, Alexander McCurdy, and David Craighead must have been legendarily wonderful teachers in their day. And that must mean that modern hotshots like Ken Cowan, David Higgs, and Christopher Young are nearly legendary today.

I’d call my teacher Clyde Holloway legendary because he took me step by step toward a near-flawless technique and a fully flawless practice ethic. And he did it without cutting corners or making assumptions. I’d call my other teacher Max Smith equally legendary because he was always there for his students. I have my teaching job because Max Smith advocated for me. I know how to do that job because of Clyde Holloway’s pedagogy. Therefore, based on my own experiences, I consider the two greatest qualities in a teacher: 1) being there for the students, and 2) teaching by example and not just by lecture.


I have met a lot of teachers and have heard them play, but I have no idea how effective they are as teachers. Only their students know that, and the market can only infer teacher effectiveness based on student success or where the teacher teaches, neither of which is a completely accurate measurement.

The history of organ pedagogy is usually told anecdotally, rather than scholarly. (Someone ought to write a book.) I offer quotes and tell my stories about Max Smith and Clyde Holloway. They in turn told me stories about their teachers Mildred Andrews, Carl Weinrich, Robert Baker, and Catharine Crozier. And my students are already telling stories about me. Many people I talk to at AGO conventions mention a teacher or a mentor, and we all either have a good laugh at the story, or we all pause in honor or in memory of our great teachers.

The most colorful stories I have heard tend to be from students of Russell Saunders and David Craighead. I also hear reverent, worshipful stories of Alexander McCurdy, Arthur Poister, Robert Anderson, Robert Glasgow, and Mildred Andrews. Nowadays, Christopher Young, Marilyn Keiser, Janette Fishell, David Higgs, and Marilyn Mason are the subjects of fond narratives. It’s easy to talk about a teacher from whom you have learned. Indeed we are defined by those with whom we studied. Thank goodness for that – otherwise, we wouldn’t know much about our pedigrees in this business.

But all one usually hears are anecdotes, which are usually about something funny or dirty the teacher said, rather than about his/her teaching. One evening, following a long period of cackling hysterically with a friend over Saunders and Holloway stories, I planted my tongue in my cheek and asked, "Did Saunders ever teach, or did he just say dirty things all the time?" For the first time all night, my friend actually began to stutter and hem and haw. He was looking for a way to describe Saunders' teaching. All of us might have the same trouble categorizing our teachers, after all the pithy or off-color sayings are laid out on the table.


Caution: Studying with someone – anyone – does not guarantee success. I have heard miserable performances by people who studied with one of the greats, and I have seen people continue to capitalize on the fact that they studied with a great teacher 30, 40, 50 years ago. But when I hear them play, I shudder on behalf of that poor, dead teacher. That’s just how it is sometimes.


Never say ‘pedagogy’ or ‘pedagogue’ to anyone unless they’re a teacher. Non-teachers will hear the word ‘pedophile,’ and chaos ensues. It has happened to me.



Dear Teacher

Students of Mildred Andrews called her “Dear Teacher.” Surely other teachers have been similarly endeared, but she was the most famous of the nicknamed. Recently one of my classmates called our own teacher Clyde Holloway that, which isn’t surprising, given that he was an Andrews student himself. Here is an excerpt from a hypothetical letter I might send to my Dear Teacher today, were he still around:


... I remember those long Tuesday evening studio classes, listening to people perform their recital pieces. Two, sometimes three hours. It felt like family; we were glad to be there. For the first time ever, my studio resembles yours. I have eight students now, including three grads. Everyone now speaks the same language, because they have studied with me long enough. The older ones are shepherding the younger ones (for the most part). If there’s one thing I do differently in my studio, it is in disallowing people to look down upon others slogging through Gleason exercises while everyone else breezes through Vierne, Buxtehude, Bach, and Roger-Ducasse. One should never become smug about being done with Gleason, because the fellow actually doing it just might come up and pass you before long. I saw that happen in your studio more than once...

... I miss your smooth, soothing voice full of good advice. I miss going to Luby’s and catching up. I miss seeing you show up at my performances in Houston. But I believe I miss most of all any opportunities for you to hear some of my students play. You heard only one, but you should have heard THESE. It is such a feeling of connection to know that my students speak the same language you taught me and that if they were to fly to Houston and play in a blind competition in your presence, you could identify them as mine...

... Let me tell you about my students. They love to get together. They love to eat. They love to go to Kilgore every year for the festival. They love to gossip. They love to compare notes on church politics, beautiful music, and performance critiques. I say to them all the time how I wish they could play some Gleason for you. Imagine how NERDY that would sound to any other studio but how absolutely thrilling it would be for you and me. Alas, you heard only one of my students, but you could tell that I was on the right track as a teacher, and that means everything...

... I was particularly excited about one student who NAILED every lesson, every assignment, every detail, the first time. There are a lot of details in what you and I do, and consequently there are many lessons I am prepared to re-explain the following week, student after student. But not this student. This one was, to use your word, a thoroughbred...

... Then there was another student who played better and better, having discovered inner genius. Also a thoroughbred, but it took a few years to get used to the saddle...

... Then there was the student whose lousy practice habits reminded me of a story you once told about Mildred Andrews. She had instructed a student that he was to practice that evening and was not to attend a certain recital in Oklahoma City. He went to the recital anyway but had a flat tire on the way home. Miss Andrews passed right by him in her land yacht, glaring at him the whole time. Teachers can always tell that a student hasn’t practiced, but we always have other ways of finding out why, don't we. You and I don’t set out to find out these things – the information just comes our way. I have plenty more stories of students goofing off, but then when a thoroughbred shows up the next semester and starts providing some competition, the game is on. Such is this studio now. There is a lot of traffic on the practice organ, and people are making weekly rather than monthly progress...

... I tell your stories. I use your vocabulary, at least the cleaner parts. I can still hear your voice saying some things I now say word for word. I channel you every time I walk into a lesson. Even so, I have found ways to keep Gleason from feeling like punishment or boot camp, and I’m constantly searching for ways to speed things along. For example, I teach all new students twice per week during their first semester: once on hands, once on feet. That gets them going faster and into “real” music sooner. The material covered is the same; perhaps the biggest difference between you and me is that I’m never late for lessons. :) ...

... Perhaps the ultimate closeness to you comes from now owning your practice organ, Aeolian-Skinner Op. 1457-B. I think of you constantly when I’m sitting there. (That's why I'm writing this letter while seated next to that organ, rather than practicing on it.) Many people have commented to me that they took many lessons on that organ. I don’t recall ever having taken a lesson on it, but as it turns out I taught some Gleason on it within two weeks of setting it up in my house! Anyway, I have named the organ Clara Belle, an amalgamation of your first two initials, the first two letters of your first name, and my own last name. I have nicknamed the console Clyde, not only after you but also for the fact that that console has worked harder than a Clydesdale. And I have nicknamed the bench Big Mac, in honor of your love for all things Apple/Macintosh and also for the fact that that bench weighs five thousand pounds. Really? Solid PECAN for the bench top?...

... You played so well and worked so hard. But you didn’t know squat about organ maintenance, did you. Your Aeolian-Skinner needed a fair amount of voicing and regulating at my house. I fixed things that should have driven you crazy. With an organ that close to my ear, I need things perfect. But I also noticed that the organ was beginning to show signs of under-use, as if it hadn’t been turned on in a few years. I am saddened to think why...

... Remember before my final doctoral recital some notes on the Rice organ that were out of tune? I was going crazy not because of the tuning but because every time you climbed up there to tune something, you knocked something else out, whether with the tuning knife or with your butt. So I committed a crime one night by bringing a friend over after hours. She held notes, and I tuned the problem notes, plus those that you knocked out. I never told you that, and I enjoyed a quiet triumph at our next lesson when you announced, “Hmm, those notes seem to be fine now. The whole thing seems to have settled down. I won’t bother.”...

... You loved your gadgets and your technology, and you had no idea how to use any of it. You had read all the promo materials to know what something was supposed to do, but you didn’t read the manuals and had no idea how to do it. Even the phone at the Rice console was a mystery to you in some ways. It is all now very endearing, but I was a nervous wreck when your learning interfered with your teaching...

... I have had several mentors, none of whom was perfect. I have spent countless hours in therapy (most of it with wonderful counselors you recommended), learning how to hold on to the good stuff and ditch the rest from my mentors and parents. You were no exception, but the good stuff I get to keep from you is far greater than anything I needed to ditch from you, and what I am able to keep has given me the tools to maintain a reputable career in teaching and another one in performing. I really do owe you everything. There was no way to repay you even when you were alive. The best any student can do is pay it forward to his own students. Rest in peace...


My last days with Clyde Holloway

My interview with Clyde Holloway just came out in the June 2014 issue of The American Organist magazine. After that interview, I was newly inspired to learn more, do more, memorize better. I was even inspired to learn more Messiaen.

I would like to have heard more details about Clyde’s every church job, every school. We didn’t talk much about his training, and so I did not ask about all those little details that so many interviews cover about studying with this or that person. No, I wanted to hear more about those revivals that he and my other teacher H. Max Smith used to play for on the piano and organ. I would love to have heard more about what a drill sergeant Jack Ossewaarde was to work for. I would love to know if Jack’s Dutch name had anything to do with Clyde choosing to study in the Netherlands on his Fulbright. But I never asked.

The last time I saw Clyde was following my recital at Houston Baptist University, September 13, 2013. I closed that recital with one of his specialties, the Sowerby Pageant. After the recital, he said, “You play too fast.” I thought he was referring to general tempos, but he apparently was referring to the Sowerby, because he went on to say, “Sowerby wrote the notes to be exciting; they are perfectly exciting just the way they are. You don’t have to push and pull the tempo to make it more exciting; that just overblows it. You should play it strictly. I played it in Sowerby’s presence three times, and he said I played it better than anyone!” (In his prime, Clyde played a lot of things better than anybody else. I wish I could have heard more of it.) And as it turns out, he was right about Pageant’s tempos; I’m a believer now. Every time Clyde spoke, there was something to learn from him.

That was the last time I saw Clyde. But it wasn’t the last time I spoke with him. A few weeks later, he was working with a classmate of mine, Ann Frohbieter. Ann was preparing to travel to “my house” at Appalachian State to play a recital and to lecture on Jewish organ music. Clyde was helping her prepare registrations on an unfamiliar organ so that she would not be so far behind the curve when she got to my instrument. And he called me about five times that night to ask questions about my console so that they could work within those parameters where they were at the time. The problem was that he was working with her on a 72-rank Aeolian-Skinner from 1949, and I have a 51-rank Casavant from 1984! Huge difference. But I later figured out that he was probably re-living some pleasant memories of preparing huge pieces on huge instruments. I suspect it didn’t help Ann much, but it probably helped Clyde immensely, and since he died about a week later, I don’t begrudge any of it.

Right up to the very end, Clyde was giving and teaching. I had hardly a conversation with him that I didn’t come away with just a little bit more knowledge about our field or a little more insight about his generation. Sometimes, I would avoid talking to him because I didn’t have time for a long story or didn’t want to hear a lecture about how I should be doing something differently. [He and I did disagree on how some things in the organ world work, but I disagreed with him quietly.]

Clyde loved people, and he loved talking. The tributes paid to him in the wake of his death have been moving and loving. He was such a force in the profession that sometimes it was hard to think of him as a real person. And even though I studied with him toward the end of his prime, I nevertheless got the best of his teaching, and I also caught glimpses of both his personality as a lonely-ish fellow and his force as a world-class performer. As I’ve said before, there is very little I do in my work that doesn’t remind me of a teacher or a mentor, and I hope that his training won’t fade in my work or my own teaching.


Clyde Holloway's memorial service

I attended my last mentor's memorial service this past weekend in Houston. An event like that is more like a family reunion than a memorial service. The memories, the friends, (the foes), it's all so strong and vivid that it's worth preserving here in cyberspace.

The service was at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston, where Clyde served for many years. Organ music selections were most appropriate: BWV 547 (with which Clyde won the AGO national competition in 1964), the Franck Prelude, Fugue and Variation (which Clyde loved and which the Rice organ played beautifully), the Messiaen Joie et clarté (representative of Clyde's dissertation on Messiaen), and the Final from the Vierne 1st (which was always Clyde's swan song in a given church). In addition, Jason Roberts improvised a brief but stunningly clever prelude which had the basic form of the opening pages of the Reubke Sonata (which Clyde recorded twice and with which Clyde inaugurated the Rice organ), and which also contained brief allusions to the Liszt BACH (which Clyde recorded) and to the Messiaen Banquet céleste (which Clyde used as a teaching piece -- when Jason played those familiar first few chords, there was audible tittering in the nave. It was utterly brilliant and unifying for all of us gathered).

The Cathedral and choir offered their customarily high-quality liturgy. It was a pleasure to be back there. The choir sang the Malcolm Boyle "Thou art praised in Zion" and the Duruflé Ubi caritas. Hymns were sturdy tunes such as Vigiles et sancti and Cwm Rhondda. The eulogies were short and lovely. I was amazed to hear about a younger, healthier Clyde I did not know. Did you know that he once donned a pair of overalls to help paint a former student's barn? But everyone was in agreement about his teaching and his love for his students. The only flaw I found in the service was in the Dean's insistence that a congregation full of professional organists needed to be told to stand and sing the hymns or to sit and listen to the closing voluntary.

Just so I don't forget those I chatted with, in no particular order: Karen McFarlane (Clyde's manager), Daryl Robinson, Pieter Visser, Marty Wheeler Burnett, Marsha Seale, Bob Simpson (Clyde's sucessor at the Cathedral), Jian-Guang Shi, Melissa Givens (my dear friend plus hotel and taxi for this trip), John Marsh, Sandi Ward, Jan Salassi (Jouett, but she'll always be Salassi to me), Anna Marie Flusche (Clyde's first doctoral student to finish), Wick Rowland, Emily Borling, John Meier, Paul Meier, Suzanne Anderson, Jason Roberts, Ann Colbert Wade (Clyde's first graduate student), Ben Harris, Tom Crow, Lucinda Meredith, Glen Douglas, Carl & Pat Hand, Ann Frohbieter, and Linda Hazelip. I probably forgot a few.

Then a few folks I saw at a distance but didn't get a chance to visit with personally: Micki Simms, Cathy Hildreth, George Ritchie, Mary Bahn, Bruce Power, Robert Bates, Matthew Dirst, Chris Thomas.

And of course there were surely some folks there I didn't see at all, plus some who wanted to be there but couldn't, plus others who should have been there but weren't (shame on them).

Rest in peace, Clyde Barrington Holloway II, 1936-2013. Maker of careers, especially mine.


Another nunc dimittis

I just got word that my teacher and mentor Clyde Holloway died this week. As of this writing, details are unknown, but reflection on my long relationship with him is already heavy.

I met him at my Rice audition in the spring of 1990. The music building was not yet finished, and the School of Music was still scattered all over the campus. My audition was in the chapel, and Clyde's office was in the basement of a language building of some sort. I still remember standing outside Fondren Library, where there were more music offices, when I saw him walk out with another student in conversation. That was the first time I ever saw him in person, but I was too shy to speak up, and we didn't meet until later that day at our official rendezvous time. Fast-forward to just last week, to my final conversation with him. He was at First Presbyterian in Houston, helping a former classmate of mine get ready for her recital at "my house" next March. He called me several times to ask about specifications of the organ here, and he and she were working within those parameters where they were. He and I also briefly spoke of a draft I had just sent him of an interview a couple years ago, intended for The American Organist magazine. He never had a chance to review that and get back to me, and so I'll be sending it to the magazine as a memorial tribute rather than a retirement tribute.

Virtually everything I do as a professional is informed and infused by the mentoring of both my organ teachers. Thanks to H. Max Smith, I have the job I have. And thanks to Clyde Holloway, I know how to do that job. Max's example taught me how to behave, how to be there for students, how to network, and how to be diplomatic. Clyde taught me all the rest: the teaching, the practicing, the performing. And it's all working!

The four most important father figures in my life are now gone: my father Donald Bell, my first boss Richard Woods, and my two organ teachers H. Max Smith and Clyde Holloway. There is absolutely nothing I do in my life that does not remind me of at least one of these men. I am living proof that all of them lived! To meet me is to meet them on some level, and I say that proudly.

Rest in peace Clyde Holloway, 1936-2013.


My teachers

Of all the topics I could write about, it wasn't until a few days ago that the idea of writing a few words about my keyboard teachers came to mind. Where, O Where would we be without our one-to-one teachers?! I have had eight:

Mrs. Josephine "Jo" Bunch (now Bunch-Sande), Statesville, N.C.: a fine, upstanding, proper Southern lady. She was reluctant to take an 8-year old (me). I thought she was the coolest ever. She had lots of students, lots of music, and lots of respect. Those were the days. She had three pianos in her converted garage. Two of them had stiff actions for little hands, and the other was a square Steinway that was not to be touched. Later on, she added a 9-foot Knabe to all that. Her class recitals were legendary. And long.

Marian Hahn, North Carolina School of the Arts: a picture of patience with a high schooler like me, and a picture of pianistic elegance seldom matched. I talked about her all the time, to the point that my mother thought (mistakenly!) we were having an affair. (I was FIFTEEN.)

Robert McDonald, North Carolina School of the Arts: while my keyboard fingers got their training with Mrs. Bunch and Ms. Hahn, my musical ears woke up with Mr. McDonald. Studying with this guy cannot be described; it can only be experienced. And then years later, all you can do is send him a sheepish, nearly speechless letter, thanking him for his patience and for his extraordinary teaching, not to mention his playing. One of the two most intense musicians I have ever known.

John S. Mueller, North Carolina School of the Arts: Dr. Mueller gets the short straw in this list. I studied with him for only a semester. But it was my first organ lesson ever. Self-teaching was no longer an option.

H. Max Smith, Appalachian State University: Daddy Max, Uncle Max, etc. A father-figure to those who needed one, a safe haven to those going through identity crises, a safe haven to those undergoing wars with parents.  A tireless champion for the students, ALL students. And a great teacher. Thanks to Max, I have the job I now have. It was he who suggested "they" call me to fill in at Appalachian for a year. That was 2004; the rest is history.

Rodney Reynerson, Appalachian State University: elegant, poetic, knowledgeable, and overworked, this man was and is a quiet mainstay of teaching at Appalachian. And he likes jokes.

Allen Kindt, Appalachian State University: a powerhouse of a pianist and teacher. A pupil of Sandor. And a kind, huge-hearted bear of a man. May he rest in peace.

Clyde Holloway, Rice University: the other most intense musician I've ever known. What can I say? Everything I now do as a musician is a direct result of his legendary teaching: everything from practice habits to teaching style to self-promotion. If I have my job because of Max Smith, I know how to do the job thanks to Clyde Holloway.

My torch burns for all these. They were a perfect storm, in the perfect order, at just the right time. How much more fortunate can a kid be?