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Local music director teaches next generation of organists
University of Georgia students Adrian Foster, front, Kaitlyn Davidson, center, Alan Reese, back left, and Jared Price, back center, along with their instructor Dr. David Burton-Brown at Grace Episcopal Church where the students recently gave a recital. - photo by Tom Reed

At first glance, the organ looks similar to a piano.

But beyond its set of white and black keys, it is a much different instrument. And mastering the specialized technique of playing the organ takes years of practice.

Just ask David Burton-Brown.

Director of music and organist at Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Burton-Brown also is the organ professor at the University of Georgia and teaches the craft to four students. They performed a concert last weekend at Grace Episcopal, featuring pieces by Paul Hindemith, Johann Sebastian Bach and Louis Vierne.

"There aren’t a lot of youngsters that take the organ seriously anymore, which is really looming as a crisis for the Christian church, and these four youngsters played beautifully," Burton-Brown said. "They’re very interested in the instrument and it’s good of Grace church to allow us to use the fine instrument here."

The four students — Adrian Foster, Kaitlyn Davidson, Alan Reese and Jared Price — make up the entire organ department at UGA. They performed pieces that took almost a semester to practice and learn for the studio recital.

"I played two movements from the Messiaen and the piece that I played from is called L’ascension and I also played a piece by Vierne and the piece is Sicilienne," said third-year student Adrian Foster. "I’ve been playing organ for about seven years now and I decided I was really interested in that and that’s what I wanted to do as my major at school."

Junior Alan Reese played a 20th century sonata by Hindensmith, and also the romantic "Cantabile" by Cesar Franck.

"I’ve been working on it for the past few months, and the Hindemith one before Christmas," Reese said. "My main instrument is piano and so I don’t dedicate as much time to the organ, but it was a bigger piece than the Franck one. It had multiple movements."

The students were not officially graded during the recital, but Burton-Brown said he did take mental notes.

Burton-Brown added that it takes years of experience to teach undergraduate students the principles of the organ.

"You have to know how the instrument is played and then you have to approach it ... with the right text and materials," he said. "You have to know the repertoire so that you can assign to each student the kind of piece that the student needs to learn; that will be enough of a challenge and not swamping the student.

"It’s taking me years to accumulate that knowledge."

Burton-Brown, who teaches part-time at UGA, also has taught at the University of Arizona, Wayne State University in Detroit and Gainesville State College.

Foster said it is nice to have Burton-Brown at UGA because he offers something different in his teaching.

"I think its really good to have two different approaches and I think (Burton-Brown) technical approach is a little different," said Foster, who studied with Jolene Davis previously. "His ideas about interpretation, his ideas about expression in musicality are different ... It’s good to have those different approaches because it helps me to be a more rounded musician and I feel like he has a lot of good playing experience and good ideas to bring."

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