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Published: Friday, 4/22/2005

Performance brings Skinner back to life

Skinner Skinner

Its $780,000 restoration complete, the Toledo Museum of Art's 1926 E.M. Skinner organ ends nearly three decades of silence when organist Aaron David Miller performs works by Frenchmen Francis Poulenc and Camille Saint-Saens with the Toledo Symphony tonight and tomorrow in the Peristyle.

The repertoire is perfectly fitted to this 3,000-plus pipe Romantic-style instrument, said Miller. "The French dominated organ building throughout the late 19th century and Skinner was a student of that sound. That was the sound he had in his ear when he started building his own instruments. It is almost certainly the sort of sound Poulenc envisioned," said Miller, who for the past six years has served as organist at Monroe Street United Methodist Church.

What constitutes a Romantic-style sound? Wide pipe diameters make for a darker tone than that of contemporary organs. Also, there is very little attack (or "chiff") when a tone is initiated, so notes tend to bleed one into another, Miller said.

Although the instrument has a rapturously warm tone that seems ideally suited to the acoustically dry Peristyle, performances will present special challenges. One is because the museum chose to restore the instrument to its original condition, with no updating. Modernizing the keyboard console would have made the instrument much easier to play.

Miller completed a doctorate in organ performance at the Manhattan School of Music and won top prize in 1996 at the American Guild of Organists' National Improvisation Competition.

Organist Aaron David Miller joins the Toledo Symphony in a program of music by Russell Peck, Poulenc, and Saint-Saens at 8 tonight and tomorrow in the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle. Tickets range from $23 to $48. Information: 419-246-8000.

Contact Steven Cornelius at:scornelius@theblade.com

or 419-724-6152.

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