Dr. John Schwandt and the American Organ Institute he created at OU captivated me since we first met at the 2012 National Convention of the American Guild of Organists. Shortly after I had the pleasure of pursuing my Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Organ Performance under his guidance. I had received offers from six other prestigious universities, most with full scholarships, but there was no question in my heart when I chose to be his student.
The unique learning experience I had as a student technician at the AOI organ shop for three years taught me so much about how an organ works that in my subsequent church positions I have been able to diagnose issues at the instruments I worked with as they happened over time and fix most of them on my own, besides tuning the entire instrument. I am certain that if I, as a performance major, was able to learn so much about organ building and maintenance, so much more will current and future organ technicians and organists learn at the American Organ Academy.
Dr. Schwandt has encyclopedic knowledge about all-things organ, including history and literature, an astonishing ear and skill for voicing pipes, phenomenal playing and improvisation skills, and a burning passion for what he does. What struck me most after all my years learning from him is that it all still remains vivid within me. He changed my very understanding of music (sacred and secular) and purpose to such degrees that every time I sit at the organ bench I still think he is with me in spirit.
On a personal level, Dr. Schwandt helped me reinvent my passion for music. His teachings go far beyond just playing notes and tuning pipes – he cares about his students on a personal level. His sensitivity, compassion, and wisdom as I struggled with things that prevented me from accessing my feelings and internal self (very important elements for music-making) helped me overcome some of the internal barriers that kept me from living a happy and authentic life, and consequently from becoming the best musician I can be. The journeys of learning and self-improvement never end and it is extremely helpful to have a mentor who reignites the flame and stirs the student's path in a positive direction for the best outcome. Thank you for being that mentor to me, Dr. Schwandt!
I will always fully endorse Dr. John Schwandt and his pursuits, with much gratitude. I also wish to congratulate his colleagues at the new AOA for working together for such an important venture!
Kris Rizzotto, DMA, Director of Music at Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, MN