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16 Mar 2024

Jay Fluellen discusses his musical journey and The Philadelphia Organ Festival

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March 16, 2024 Category: Entertainment Posted by:

By Kharisma McIlwaine

Philadelphia native Jay Fluellen is an accomplished pianist, organist, composer, professor and choir director. Classically trained, Fluellen received a doctorate in music composition from Temple University. As a composer, he has been commissioned by various institutions including Main Line Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Relâche, Singing City, Network for New Music, The Bucks County Choral Society and more.

A longtime professor, Fluellen has taught at Lincoln University, Morgan State University, University of the Arts, Montgomery Community College, Community College of Philadelphia and is currently teaching at his alma mater CAPA. Now Fluellen takes on the role of director of The Philadelphia Organ Festival. Fluellen spoke with The Philadelphia SUN about his musical journey and what attendees can look forward to during the festival.

Fluellen found his musical calling at a very young age and has never looked back.

“My grandmother purchased a piano and paid for my lessons at the age of seven. I really got into music because of composing. I started writing music at the age of 11,” Fluellen said, “that’s what really got me into the piano and studying at Settlement School of Music. I ended up coming to CAPA for high school, which is where I teach now. I have three degrees from Temple University and have continued to make music as a professional and also as an educator educating the young folks coming up in our city. We have such a rich city and heritage of music in Philadelphia, so I’m always inspired by the musicians that I get to collaborate with.”

Fluellen attributes his ability to create in various genres to his training and love for a wide variety of music.

“I’m classically trained both as a pianist and a composer. My composition teacher was Matthew Greenbaum at Temple University.” Fluellen said, “I really studied a lot of the music of Western civilization… from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, right on through to contemporary music, to my own teacher Matthew Greenbaum who was a student of Stefan Wolpe. I’ve analyzed and looked at all of that music and that music lives within me, but I also love jazz, gospel and pop, so I tend not to put one over the other. They’re all so important to me and my development and I see how one feeds off of the other. I’m just as comfortable writing a jazz piece as I am writing a symphony orchestra and the opportunities I have to blend both worlds, I take them.”

Fluellen continues to collaborate with a host of musicians in all genres both as a performer, and composer. He also shares his passion for music with his students as a longtime professor.

“This is my 19th year teaching in the district. I started out teaching K through 8th and I’m also a choir director. Then I went to Parkway West. I was there for five years and I developed a multimedia music program. Then I taught at Northeast High School for 9 years where I started off teaching choir and filled in a little bit with orchestra and some administrative work” he shared. “I love teaching, it’s kind of the family business. My mom and dad were both teachers, my siblings are both teachers so it does come naturally to me. There are so many talented young people in Philadelphia. This is my first year at CAPA. I have some really hard-working, incredible students. I arrange for them, I have them writing things for the group and I see it really as a collaboration. I think it’s such an important skill for my students to have… that they be able to work in team environments.”

Fluellen continues working in the spirit of collaboration taking on the role of Director of the first Philadelphia Organ Festival.

“It’s sponsored by Partners for Sacred Places, which is this incredible organization and one of the only national nonprofit, non-sectarian organizations that is dedicated to preserving pipe organs. They do this work throughout the country, but specifically in the city of Philadelphia. Pipe organs are a lot to maintain. They fall out of tune and if they’re not used on a regular basis that can have an impact on the health of the instrument,” he explained. “Our organ festival is going to display these 8 incredible instruments in 8 different locations…all pipe organs. Hearing the majesty of the pipe organ in the different spaces is really what this festival is all about and hopefully inspiring folks to support preserving these instruments.”

The Philadelphia Organ Festival offers an opportunity for music lovers to experience pipe organs in concert at various locations throughout Philadelphia.

“Our first concert is going to be at Girard College. They have an incredible instrument… all of the pipes are actually in the ceiling of the chapel. The building is a resonating chamber for the instrument. Then we’ll be moving to St. Luke’s Germantown, which is the church where I grew up. That is where I first heard the pipe organ, then The First Presbyterian Church in Germantown.

“Then we have an incredible concert at Tindley Temple that is going to honor Marian Anderson. She had a connection that I didn’t know— her mother was a member of Tindley Temple and Marian Anderson did three concerts there over the course of her life. Our program for that evening is inspired by those three concerts”, Fluellen shared. “Then we’ll move to Rodeph Shalom. Then we’ll have a concert at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral and finally Longwood Gardens. Each concert is uniquely designed by our Artistic Director John Walthausen to explore the incredible sounds of the instrument. He continued, “We have a concert that will be just Bach, one with percussion and organ, one with brass and organ, a minimalist concert with contemporary music, the Marian Anderson concert will have singers, so you’re going to hear the organ in all these different facets.”

The Philadelphia Organ Festival will conclude on Sunday, March 23rd with a collaboration with The Philadelphia Orchestra and Ensemble Arts Philly’s Organ Day at The Kimmel Center for Performing Arts. The Philadelphia Organ Festival will take place March 15th-23rd. For more information on tickets and showtimes visit www.PhillyOrganFestival.org.

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