Frederick Swann

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Frederick Swann
Frederick Swann.jpg
West Virginia, United States
OccupationOrganist, Composer, and
President of the American Guild of Organists (2002–2008)

Frederick L. Swann (born 1931) is an American church and concert organist, recording artist, choral conductor, and former president of the American Guild of Organists. Music critic Tim Smith called Swann "one of the country's most distinguished organists".[1] He is Organist Emeritus of the Crystal Cathedral and the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

Swann currently lives in Palm Desert, California, where he was Artist-in-residence at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church as well as University Organist and Organ Professor at the University of Redlands prior to his retirement in 2018.

Early years and education[edit]

Frederick Swann was born in West Virginia in 1931. The son of Methodist bishop Theodore M. Swann, he began taking piano lessons as a 5-year old from the organist at Braddock Street United Methodist Church in Winchester, Virginia, where his father was pastor 1937–1943.[2] He told an interviewer in later years that he was "mesmerized when I saw the organ console for the first time" at the church and soon began taking organ lessons.[2] By the age of ten, Swann was playing the church's organ for services when his teacher died suddenly.

Swann's older brother, Edgar, also an organist, was killed in action early in World War II.[2] A sister died in September 2008.

The Swanns moved to Staunton Virginia in 1943 and Frederick, known then as "Freddie" continued his organ study with Dr. Carl Broman, professor of music at Mary Baldwin College. Lessons were on the Emmons Howard organ at Trinity Episcopal Church. After graduating from Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton, Virginia, where he played the piano for the school's chorus, Swann attended Northwestern University. He earned degrees in music from Northwestern University and the old School of Sacred Music at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, both degrees granted "with distinction".

Career as an organist[edit]

Swann was associated with the music ministry of the famed Riverside Church in New York City from 1952 through 1982, first as substitute organist (1952–1957), then as organist (1957–1965) joining organist Virgil Fox there until the latter's departure in 1964. Between 1966–1982, Swann was organist, choir director, and director of music at Riverside.[3]

Beginning in 1982, Swann was organist and music director at the former Crystal Cathedral (now Christ Cathedral) in Garden Grove, California, where he presided over the Hazel Wright organ and appeared on the weekly Hour of Power nationally-televised services.[3] His performances were characterized by music critic Daniel Cariaga as "splendid, probing, brilliant and entertaining".[4]

Swann then served as organist of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles between 1998 and 2001, playing one of the largest church organs in the world. The instrument has more than 20,000 individual pipes.[5]

As a concert organist, he has performed at recitals throughout North America, Europe and the Far East.[6] Past appearances include Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and Passau Cathedral in Germany.[6]

Swann is known for dedicating new organs in churches, concert halls, and auditoriums during his career, such as Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Illinois, with the Chicago Symphony in 1981 and at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, California, with the San Francisco Symphony, in 1984. On September 9, 2003, he dedicated the largest church organ in Asia, located in YounDong Presbyterian Church, in Seoul, Korea, having 104 stops, 119 ranks, and 6,820 pipes, The following year, on September 30, 2004, Swann played the inaugural concert of the 6,125-pipe organ of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall.[7] A month later, he performed at the largest pipe organ in the island nation of Bermuda, playing the 88-rank organ of St. Paul's Anglican Church there in a concert sponsored and broadcast by Sacred Classics.[6]

The Kotzschmar Organ, Portland, Maine, where Swann performed in 2016

Even at age 85 in 2016, Swann was still giving concerts. In August of that year, his performance at the Kotzschmar Organ in Portland, Maine, was praised by music critic Allan Kozinn of the Portland Press Herald as possessing a "commanding sense of pace and color". Swann's playing of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541) was called "masterly ... notable for both the vigor he brought to the Prelude and the textural transparency with which he illuminated the fugue".[8] He continued as Artist-in-residence at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California, until his retirement at age 87 in 2018.


Swann has served on the faculties of New York City's Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music, Teacher's College of Columbia University, and chaired the Organ Department of the Manhattan School of Music for ten years. He was University Organist and Organ Professor at the University of Redlands in California 2007–2018.[9]

AGO role and awards[edit]

In 2002, Swann was elected president of the American Guild of Organists (AGO). He was re-elected in July, 2006, to a third two-year term as president of the 25,000 member organization.[10]

In 2002, he was named "International Performer of the Year" by the New York City Chapter of the AGO.[9] On April 13, 2008, the AGO saluted him at an AGO Gala recital at First Congregational Church in Los Angeles as the "Crown Prince of the King of Instruments" for his "dedicated service ... for more than a half century".[9] On July 1, 2008, Swann was succeeded by Eileen Guenther as president of the AGO.[11] At the AGO's July, 2010, national convention in Washington, D.C., Swann was presented the Edward Hansen Award for Outstanding Leadership by the organization's vice president, John Walker.

Following eleven years as organist and organ professor at the University of Redlands, Swann received an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree from the California university upon his retirement in April, 2018.[12]

Published works[edit]

Swann's published compositions include Let the Whole Creation Cry and Trumpet Tune in D Major (1991), along with Hymns of Praise and Power, a collection of his organ arrangements of familiar hymns such as Amazing Grace, Great is Thy Faithfulness, How Great Thou Art, Fairest Lord Jesus and O God Our Help in Ages Past. His discography of organ and choral recordings includes:

  • At Riverside Church
  • Easter — The Way to Emmaus
  • Four Masterworks for Organ
  • Great Organs of 1st Congregational Church
  • Hymns on the Crystal Cathedral Organ
  • Music from Riverside (4 vols.)
  • The Mystic Organ
  • O Magnify the Lord
  • Riverside Revisited
  • Sing We Now of Christmas
  • Swann at the Organ of the National Shrine
  • Swann plays Franck at Riverside Church
  • We Sing the Power
  • "Frederick Swann In Hawaii Vol. 1"
  • "Frederick Swann In Hawaii Vol. 2"


  1. ^ Smith, Tim (2009-05-12). "Kennedy Center President, Noted Arts Shaper And Rescuer, Wins Peabody". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on 2014-06-22. Retrieved 2014-06-22. The bicentennial of Mendelssohn's birth gets another acknowledgment this weekend when the Chancel Choir of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church performs his mighty oratorio Elijah. Making this particular presentation even more noteworthy is that the accompaniment will be provided by one of the country's most distinguished organists, Frederick Swann.
  2. ^ a b c The Master Series, Volume III — Frederick Swann (DVD). American Guild of Organists. 2006.
  3. ^ a b Vivien Schweitzer (August 4, 2006). "Frederick Swann at Riverside Church: A Master of the Organ, With the Curtain Pulled Back". The New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2008.
  4. ^ Cariaga, Daniel (1998-08-10). "Organist Swann Delivers an Inspired Farewell Recital". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2011-09-14. Retrieved 2014-06-23. Swann, 67, will move next month to a new musical challenge, the post of organist-in-residence at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. He will preside over that church's suite of organs as he has dominated and helped evolve the combination instrument in Garden Grove for 16 years.
  5. ^ "The largest pipe organs in the world". Sacred Classics. Retrieved April 14, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c Mello, Terri (October 15, 2004). "World famous organist to play in Bermuda". Bermuda Sun. p. 39.
  7. ^ Swed, Mark (2004-10-02). "Organissimo!". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2014-01-04. Retrieved 2014-06-23. ...the organ at the Walt Disney Concert Hall...finally had its say at the official inaugural recital performed by Frederick Swann.
  8. ^ Kapp, Madeline (August 24, 2016). "Orgelfest16 opener showcases masterful playing of Frederick Swann". Retrieved 2018-08-07.
  9. ^ a b c "Recital and Gala Benefit Reception Honoring Frederick Swann". American Guild of Organists. April 13, 2008. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ "About the AGO". Retrieved September 15, 2007.
  11. ^ "American Guild of Organists Elects 2008–2010 National Council". June 30, 2008. Archived from the original on September 14, 2008. Retrieved July 16, 2008.
  12. ^ "Frederick Swann Honored", News St. (April 27, 2017).

External links[edit]