Saturday, October 29, 2016

In Memoriam: Grigg Fountain



Grigg Thompson Fountain (1918 - 2016)
Organ Professor and Chapel Choir Director at Northwestern University 1961-1986

As I begin to compose the post, many of Grigg's former students are gathering at Northwestern University for the annual Hymnfest at Alice Millar Chapel, where most of us got to know him and be inspired by him. This year it is in his honor, and a I very much regret not being able to join in. Instead I offer this post to his remembrance, and a gift to anyone interested.

First Meeting

My high school band director suggested that I should attend a summer music camp the summer after my junior year. He showed me a number of flyers, mostly within Illinois. (I lived in Cahokia, just south of E. St. Louis where my Catholic High School was located.) I chose Northwestern University's three-week program. Yes, I was a '68 Cherub, and one of only two that took organ lessons. I also played clarinet in the Concert Band and sang in the Choir. We were also given some chances for solo and ensemble performance, and Grigg helped me refine a piece that I had already play at church for a wedding, the "Invocation" from an Organ Mass by Theodore Dubois. I performed it one evening on the wonderful Cassavant in Lutkin Hall, one of my fondest memories. I played it again for Grigg and Dr. Richard Enright. They considered it my audition to enter the school and the organ department upon graduation in '69.

As an aside, this also meant that I played clarinet under John Paynter, one of the best band directors of the entire 20th century; the program was run that summer by Fred Hemke; our Choir director was Margaret Hillis; and the guest conductor of the Orchestra was Karl Husa. This summer may have been the beginning of my being "in the right place at the right time" habit!

Student at Northwestern University

To be totally honest, I was sent home after NSHMI with a task of taking formal piano lessons during my HS senior year, and coming back in the spring for a piano audition to get into NU for the organ program. I did accomplish this, but since my piano background was so limited, I was required to take piano lessons along with my organ lessons, and these along with my clarinet (my minor) lessons. I played in the Marching  Band for two seasons as well as singing in Chapel Choir. Both were inspiring and memorable, but then my chosen career was to play the organ in Catholic churches, so that was much more important. Grigg mostly had graduate students, but took me on since we had worked the previous summer. Being around those students was also a blessing, and possibly an awakening. I remember a party at the Fountain house my freshman year - a beautiful modern house of mahogany!

Unfortunately, college didn't seem to agree with me, and I dropped out at Christmas time of my sophomore year. My lack of experience didn't help me, but the real problem was my left elbow. I had broken my left arm at about 5 years of age, just above the elbow, damaging the nerves to the growth center of the humerus bone. The ergonomics of my left arm, wrist, and hand made performance of any real repertoire very difficult. Oh well, I was really more interested in hymns and chant anyway.

But my time with Grigg was quite formational with me.

After Leaving NU

I spent a year back in southern Illinois working various jobs and getting my first car. Then I decided that I needed something fore solid for my life. I had spent some hours working with Kurt Roderer while at NU, and I really like working on  pipe organs. I called him, and he was agreeable to hire me as an apprentice. So, not much more than a year later, I was back on the NU campus. There were still former classmates finishing up there bachelors degree, as well as various graduate music students. The Roderer shop was in the Millar Chapel basement at that time. The organ shop would often come upstairs for lunch with Grigg and whoever else was around at lunchtime. This was about the time when Kurt Hansen came back to NU. It was an exciting time, especially since I felt more like I was in my element working on organs rather than playing them. This also that I often tuned the Skinner organ on Fridays for the weekend. Grigg would leave a list of problems so that we didn't have to "bang on pipes" unnecessarily. Helen also had a position at a suburban Episcopal church, and I would regularly tune the Hinners tracker there. Grigg and Helen also purchased an Estey reed organ - two  manual and pedal - and I performed some major work on it also. Even though Grigg wasn't really teaching me those years, he was still an influence, as were many fellow musicians at NU.

I had moved to Houston, Texas, and gotten married when Grigg retired. We drove up for the weekend, and I sang in the Chapel Alumnae Choir that evening. It was wonderful - singing favorite pieces from the Chapel repertoire. I also got to see John Paynter and Fred Hemke again. I may be one of few musicians who got so much out of the NU Music School without ever attaining a degree!

After Grigg's Retirement

A few years later, Visser-Rowland Associates built an organ for Fountain of Life Luther Church in Sun City, AZ. I had to make a tuning/servicing visit one week. Rather than fly immediately back to Houston, I flew to Albuquerque to visit Grigg and Helen in their retirement home. We had a very nice visit, and  in the morning we saw a snow storm coming in over the mountains to the north. There was an inch on the ground by the time Grigg took me to the airport. It was an interesting trip, since upon my arrival in Phoenix a few days earlier they had just had a sudden thunderstorm, and all the viaducts were full, and water rolling across the roads as I made my way over to Sun City.

Some time after than visit, Grigg and Helen were on a birding holiday in south Texas. Grigg had received a call from Duke University, asking him help out during an interim period. They interrupted their trip to fly there, leaving their Winnebago in our driveway. We had a nice visit on that occasion. I was quite frustrated with pipe organ building, and Grigg suggested that I might want to transcribe music professionally - something that I had been dabbling in since high school. It was a very good idea. After they left, I contacted the librarian of the Houston Symphony Orchestra who loaned me a comprehensive book on the subject. I understood it all. It all made sense, musically and visually. My problem was, again, my left arm. Not so much that it wouldn't work, but the first chapters in the book were about how to care for and hold a calligraphy pen. All the photos showed the pen in peoples' right hands! Oops! So that's why there are fat and thin sides of notes. Mine would all look backwards because I'm left handed! Well, I returned the book with a comment that I would wait till someone invented a computer program for music composition! (More on that and my gift to y'all below!)

You all know that Grigg was born in South Carolina, which is where I live now. I am the Associate Musician at Stella Maris Catholic Church on Sullivan's Island, at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Since moving here in 2003, I chatted with Grigg a few times, the last being only a few months before he went to his well-deserved reward. Those conversations were also blessings!

"Ave Maria" by Charles Gounod
with J.S. Bach's Famous Accompaniment

Many years ago I came upon an octavo copy of the Bach/Gounod "Ave Maria" for Soprano Solo, SATB Chorus, Piano or Harp, and Organ. I think I paid a dime for it. I knew it could be stunning - with some changes. It was not the actual prayer, but the Sir Walter Scott "Lady of the Lake" poem. As a Catholic musician, I really needed it with the Latin text. It was also in the key of F major, giving both soprano parts a high C to sing. I'm sure none none of you need more fingers than on one hand the Catholic choirs that can boast such a soprano!

Here at Stella Maris, we have a wonderful tradition of performing the Gabriel Fauré "Requiem" in its original form - the actual music of the Latin Mass, i.e. the Traditional Latin Mass, or EF Mass. That is what it was composed for, not concert or stage performances, and we usually have as many instrumentalists as can fit in our choir loft. The performance does, however, leave a few parts of the Latin Mass without music, notably the rest of the distribution of Holy Communion. So we find other repertoire to perform. Last year it was time for my re-arrangement of the classic "Ave Maria"!

This piece is quite flexible. I have put it all into Finale, the most popular music composing program. The original Bach had a few adjustments made by the original arranger from 1913, which I returned to Bach's original. The rhythms had to be adjusted for the Latin text. I lowered it to D major so our sopranos only needed to hit a high A. I added string parts. Here is what I have available at this point:

Soprano Solo with SATB Chorus
Bach's original for Harp or Keyboard
String parts based on the organ accompaniment
String parts colla parte of the Chorus

I'm including in this post an audio recording from that Requiem High Mass using the strings to support the choral parts (except for the contrabass taking the organ pedal part), Harp playing the Bach, and the organ accompaniment.

video


Without a harp (or piano, if you must!), the strings can play the organ parts and the organ play the Bach. The whole thing is quite flexible!

I have decided to dedicate my work re-arranging this piece to Grigg. And I offer it to any of you who would like to use it, in any configuration, and remember Grigg at the same time. Just contact me with your specific key signature and instrumentation needs.





1 comment:

Vijaya said...

Steve, I really enjoyed learning your history. What a wonderful mentor!!! And this was a beautiful arrangement. I remember it well. Thank you!