John Schwandt began playing church services as well as tuning organs at the age of 12 and has held professorships at Indiana University and the University of Oklahoma. He is a passionate, creative teacher and a pioneer in an integrated interdisciplinary approach towards the organ craft and art in all its forms-performance, building, and maintenance. He has many successful students in the professional organ field and is proud of their accomplishments and contributions to the organ world. He has lived out his vision for future organ professionals combining technical expertise with performance art throughout his career.
In 2006, he founded the American Organ Institute (AOI) at OU to preserve the uniquely American aspects of the pipe organ. This interdisciplinary program stressed skills such as improvisation, and liturgical organ playing, along with the established classical repertoire. Of particular emphasis was broad musical flexibility, especially as it is applied to the accompaniment of silent films and the performance of jazz and popular organ music. The AOI was also the only program in America with a fully equipped pipe organ workshop capable of building, maintaining, and restoring instruments, along with functioning as the laboratory for the organ technology curriculum. Students of Dr. Schwandt have won many of the premier organ competitions and have successful positions at major churches, educational institutions, and organ building firms across the country.
John Schwandt is known for his considerable skills as a performer, improviser, church musician, teacher, as well as organ technician. After 25 years in higher education, John Schwandt has started the American Organ Academy, a private and cooperative educational venture poised to meet the emerging needs of our changing world.
All over America, organists and organ builders are deeply concerned about the shortage of qualified pipe organ technicians. Many of the best builders and technicians are retiring, while young people with technical talent seem to be moving away from time-honored trades and “old fashioned” things like pipe organs. On the other hand, we have also observed that many young people who are fascinated by the pipe organ are frustrated with their office-based jobs and are looking for a profession with more interest, variety, and independence.
With all of this in mind, we are proud to join together in support of this educational venture with the firm belief that it will be a significant benefit to the entire organ industry and to the church music world.
For those whose interest is piqued by developing and maintaining centuries-old craft skills, we think the time is right for a professional school to train people for careers in pipe organ technology. Firms nationwide - large and small - are looking for talented, qualified people to hire. There are also countless opportunities to start small businesses tuning and maintaining pipe organs.
The school is led by Dr. John Schwandt, who is uniquely qualified as both a performer and a technician. The AOA program is an interdisciplinary environment, combining the best hands-on elements of trade school with collegiate-level course work covering the history of the organ, organ design, and the physics and math related to the organ.
In balance with the technical aspects of organ building, students can also study organ performance, improvisation, and church music with Professor Schwandt. We believe that the skills necessary to play the organ are mutually beneficial with organ building and maintenance.
The location in Northeast Ohio is ideal in many ways: The cost of living is relatively low, yet there is a major airport and a widely admired musical community nearby. The school also has the facilities and personnel from three major and internationally experienced pipe organ companies to support the training and course work of the AOA. A.R. Schopp’s Sons is a leading supplier of pipework and organ components. Schantz Organ Company is a large, long-established, departmentalized organ builder. Kegg Pipe Organ Builders is known for innovation and creativity; its employees are primarily generalists collaborating on projects together. Every major component of a pipe organ - including blowers - is made within a 30-mile radius. The two builders also have large service departments providing opportunities for observation and personal on-site experience of real maintenance problem-solving and tuning visits. The AOA is also fortunate to have the partnership of Schoenstein & Co., supporting the educational mission beyond Ohio.
While the world continues to develop and change, we believe that the AOA will play an important role in building, restoring, and maintaining pipe organs. We are eager to provide opportunities for people who want a rewarding career devoted to the pipe organ and music.