Frederick Swann

Categories: IPYA Winners

Frederick Swann is Organist Emeritus of the Crystal Cathedral, and Organ Artist-in-residence at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, California.

In the summer of 2001, after completing a 60-year career as a church organist, Frederick Swann retired from church work in order to devote his full time to concertizing. This 2002-2003 season has been designated his “farewell season” as a touring recitalist. In July 2002 he began a two-year term as President of the American Guild of Organists, and was also Program Chair for the 2004 National Convention of the AGO in Los Angeles.

Throughout his long and illustrious career, Mr. Swann has held pinnacle posts as an organist. One commentator noted that he has probably presided over more ranks of pipes and stopknobs than any organist in history. This is probably true given the size and prominence of the instruments with which he has been most notably associated.Riverside Church in New York City, Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, and First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

Frederick Swann is a native of Virginia. He began the study of piano at a very early age, and was appointed to his first church position at age 10. He holds degrees from Northwestern University and the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary, each granted “with distinction”. Mr. Swann spent two years between formal schooling and duty in the U. S. Army serving concurrently as Acting Organist/Director at The Brick Presbyterian Church, and Associate Organist at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York.

In 1957, Frederick Swann was appointed Organist of The Riverside Church in New York City, and in late 1966 was appointed Director of Music as well. He remained with great distinction at that post through 1982. In addition, he was Director of Music and Organist of the Interchurch Center (1960-1967), was for ten years Chair of the Organ Department at the Manhattan School of Music, and served on the faculties of the School of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary as well as Teachers College of Columbia University, New York. He was the Dean of the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists from 1971-73.

In 1982, Frederick Swann was appointed Director of Music and Organist of the famed Crystal Cathedral, where he remained for 16 years. During his tenure at the Cathedral he was widely regarded as the most visible organist in the world, as millions in every major city in more than 165 countries world-wide saw and heard him on the weekly televised services from the Cathedral. Upon his retirement in 1998 he was named Organist in residence at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, where he presided over a five-manual organ of 346 ranks, perhaps the largest organ in any church in the world. In addition to playing services, Mr. Swann played two noonday recitals each week, guided the Organ Artists Concert Series, served as organist for the Los Angeles Bach Festival, and founded and directed Organ Alive, a highly regarded annual organ conference.

In 2002 Mr. Swann was elected the National President of the American Guild of Organists. His involvement with the American Guild of Organists spans more than 55 years, during which time he has held many local and national offices, as well as serving on the Editorial Supervisory Board of the official Guild magazine, The American Organist, for 14 years. As a performer he has been repeatedly engaged for regional and national conventions of the Guild, and was honored to be chosen as one of the major recitalists at the AGO Centennial Convention in New York City in 1996.

In addition to performing in each of the fifty United States, throughout Canada, and in Asia, Frederick Swann has played recitals in many of the major churches, cathedrals, and concert halls of Europe. He has also been a performer and jury memory at many international organ competitions and festivals, notably those at St. Albans, Chartres, Nuremberg, Paris, and Calgary. He also performed at the International Congress of Organists in 1977 and 1987. He has performed with major orchestras and choral groups throughout America and abroad.

Frederick Swann’s recital for the International Performer of the Year Award was given on 22 October 2002 at The Riverside Church.

Click here to listen to performances by Fred Swann and conversation with Michael Barone on Pipedreams.