August 4, 1997
Volume 49, No. 36
Emory Organist Timothy Albrecht came by his vocation naturally enough. His father was an organist and a composer, and Albrecht started taking piano lessons at age six.
By the age of ten, Albrecht began accompanying his father to the church where the senior Albrecht played. As part of the service, young Albrecht would perform on the organ some of the Bach compositions he had originally learned for piano.
Since he was still small, he would have to crawl on the pedals to get up to the organ bench. And because the service was in progress, he said, he would always ask his father: "Are you sure the pedals aren't on?" When he was 15, Albrecht started taking formal organ lessons.
Like his father, Timothy Albrecht not only plays the organ, but composes for it as well. He has published five volumes of short compositions, all based on well-known hymns, and has recently recorded many of them on a compact disc titled "Grace Notes for Organ," which was released in March.
"For many years, even long before I came to Emory, I have been improvising hymn introductions-the introduction before a congregation starts to sing," Albrecht said. Around 1980 he began writing them down, and these became the basis for his published volumes and his CD, which is now being distributed in London, Tokyo and throughout the United States.
The title, "Grace Notes," is a sort of triple pun. Most obviously, grace notes are the ornamental notes printed in small type on music manuscripts. Also, "saying grace" is praying in a mode of blessing or thanksgiving, which identifies the mood and message of several of these pieces, and "many pieces began while I was music director at Grace Lutheran Church in Lancaster, Pa.," Albrecht explained.
A graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, Oberlin College and the Eastman School of Music, Albrecht first came to Emory in 1982. He has recently been promoted to full professor, effective Sept. 1, with a joint appointment in the Department of Music, where he heads the graduate organ music program, and the School of Theology, where he's a professor of sacred music. In addition to being University organist, he's also organist for Glenn Church.
During the summer, Albrecht teaches a course for Emory undergraduates in Vienna, Austria, "Music in Vienna." His course is part of the much larger summer abroad program offered by the German Department.
"Emory is very benevolent in paying for concert tickets for all the members in the program," Albrecht said, noting that he and the students attend the Vienna State Opera or orchestra concerts two or three times a week. Before the performances, Albrecht gives introductory lectures-in German-on the works that will be performed.
When Albrecht was about 20 years old and a student at Oberlin, he studied in Vienna on a similar program. "It really changed my life-living in a beautiful, big city and being exposed to art and architecture," he said. "I think it was the first large city that I fell in love with. Vienna has so much charm and musical history, so it was a thrill to study there and it's even a deeper thrill to teach there now."
In addition to teaching, Albrecht often performs in Europe during the summer. Last summer, before he left Atlanta, he had been negotiating to do a solo recital and concerto with orchestra during the Vienna Festival. But since he didn't receive any confirmation, he assumed the program was off.
"I got to Vienna and had been there about three or four days and happened to look in the program guide for the month," he said. "It said I was playing in two days."
Since Albrecht hadn't brought his organ shoes-special flexible shoes resembling dance shoes-he had to play in his street shoes. "I was so fortunate to have read about it, because otherwise I would have missed going," he said. "That was maybe the closest call I ever had to actually not going to my own recital."
Whenever possible, Albrecht's wife and daughter accompany him to Vienna. His wife, Tamara, who is also an organist, teaches music history at Emory, as well as KinderMusik-a type of musical development program for children age 18 months to seven years. "She's a fine organist, and we often play organ duo recitals," Albrecht said, noting that she's also director of music at a church here in town.
They met in central Pennsylvania where he was teaching at Lebanon Valley College and she was director of music for a church in nearby Hershey. Her organ teacher from years earlier happened to hear Albrecht perform in Pittsburgh and suggested they meet.
A religious man, Albrecht feels that he is fortunate to be able to combine his vocation and his beliefs. "I'm a Christian, and I love the whole notion of serving the Lord through music," he said. "I love the church, and I love music, and when you can put those two together, then it's a tremendous joy."
He is frequently in demand as a guest artist for master classes, hymn improvisation workshops and recitals on leading national and international university campuses. This past March he performed in concert at the University of Alaska, and a few years earlier he was featured in recital at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition, his recitals have been broadcast on National Public Radio, National Television Peru and the BBC.
Albrecht will be giving an all Bach recital on Sunday, Sept. 7, at Glenn Auditorium. The performance, which begins at 4 p.m., is free.
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