Whatley Chapel, Johnson & Wales Univeristy, Denver, CO

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Beginning in the late 1950’s and continuing into the 1970’s, the American musical scene was dominated by the European influenced organ reform movement. The organs built in this period were designed along classic principles and featured Principal choruses and Mixtures patterned after the historic instruments of North Germany. The 1961 specification of the Whatley Chapel Reuter organ as designed by Franklin Mitchell reflected the inspiration of ths organ reform movement.

Music, as much as life itself is in constant evolution. Early in the organ reform movement Franklin Mitchell could appreciate that these reactionary and sometimes musically sterile Germanic organ sounds were not always the most satisfying for the venues they served. Mr. Mitchell in the 1970’s and again early in the 1980’s was able to expand the musical resources of the Whatley Chapel Reuter. He, along with his competitor G. Donald Harrison, were leaders in developing what was to become know as the American Classic pipe organ. The sound of the American Classic organ is quintessentially represented in the present Whatley Chapel Reuter. While retaining the stunning crystal clarity of the finest North German organs, it also contains many other musical elements that allow the organ to faithfully execute most other styles of organ literature as well.

In the summer of 2001, 40 years after the building of the original organ, David Salmen was enlisted to mechanically restore the Whatley Chapel organ. In this restoration, the mechanically operated switching and memory of the organ were replaced with solid-state components. This is a procedure that is best illustrated in the comparison of a mechanical adding machine being replaced by with a computer. New electrically operated drawknob solenoids and tilting tablets were installed. The low-voltage wiring of the organ was replaced in accordance with the National Electrical Code. In addition, all of the organ’s many air reservoirs and concussion bellows were releathered.

The solid-state technology used in this organ allows for greatly expanded conveniences for the organist. Multiple memory levels along with programmable crescendo settings and additional pistons aid in effective registration changes. A digital recording and playback system is included. This feature actually plays the organ pipes in the traditional windblown manner and is not an electronic reproduction of an original sound. A transposer is included as is a MIDI interface. Through this interface and the proper computer software, the organist may record, print and edit music as well as access digital voices from a synthesizer.

The recent mechanical restoration included console and switching preparations for the addition of future pipe voices. As the Whatley organ has musically evolved during the past 40 years it is now possible to continue its growth and development as funds are available. Through the leadership and vision of the Friends of Whatley Chapel, this crown jewel of Denver will continue to inspire audiences, performers, students and worshippers in future generations.

Phyllis Selby Tremmel

Phyllis Selby Tremmel was born in Chicago, July 11, 1916 to Dr. Claude A. and Mabel Duke Selby, both of Nebraska homesteading families. After World War I, Phyllis and her parents returned to their home town, North Platte, Nebraska. There, Phyllis began studying piano at the age of seven. She earned a Bachelor of Music degree in piano and organ at the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1938.Phyllis Selby Tremmel.jpg

With the outbreak of World War II, Phyllis launched her career as a church organist in Kearney, Nebraska and New York City. The war’s end brought Phyllis and her young daughter to Denver, where she accepted a position teaching piano and theory of music at Colorado Women’s College (CWC). Her mother Mabel also served as a CWC house mother in Foote Hall. Phyllis married Dickerson Tremmel, and raised two daughters, Carol and Marcia, in the Denver area. While teaching full time, Phyllis earned her Masters of Music Degree in piano from the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver (DU) in 1950. She studied composition with renowned Colorado composers Cecil Effinger and Normand Lockwood. She served as church organist and choir director at Calvary Baptist and Ascension Episcopal Churches in Denver, and as assistant organist at St. John’s Cathedral.

Phyllis Tremmel’s tenure as Assistant Professor of Music at CWC spanned thirty six years, from 1945 until 1981, when the faculty awarded her the title Professor Emerita. She mentored dozens of devoted piano and organ students, while teaching numerous courses in music theory, history of music, carillon, and the history of Black music. By acquiring and directing a Balinese gamelan orchestra, Phyllis introduced the field of ethnomusicology to CWC in the 1970s. Now owned by DU, these instruments are played regularly by “Gamelan Tunas Mekar.”

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The highlight of Phyllis’ career began with the construction of Whatley Chapel in 1962, under the visionary leadership of CWC President Eugene Dawson and Chaplain Glenn Brown. The construction included installation of the Retta Foote Memorial Organ. Phyllis worked closely with benefactors Donald and Margaret Foote, and Franklin Mitchell of Reuter Organ Company, to plan and design the three manual, 52 rank, Reuter organ. The Retta Foote Memorial Organ soon earned a reputation as one of the finest organs in the Rocky Mountain region.

Phyllis watched over the installation of Colorado’s first carillon, the 30-bell cast bronze instrument installed in 1962 by the Royal Van

Bergen Bellfoundries of Holland, in the tower adjacent to Whatley Chapel. As college carillonneur, Phyllis taught and regularly played the bells for special events. Later, DU Chancellor Daniel Ritchie appointed Phyllis to the selection committee for the 65-bell Williams Carillon in the Ritchie Center tower in 1999. She performed her own composition at that carillon’s inaugural concert.

Phyllis was appointed Whatley Chapel Director in 1976, when she began her life-long efforts to preserve and enhance the special amenities of Whatley Chapel. That year she founded Friends of Whatley Chapel (FWC) to provide public musical programs, and also launched Whatley Wedding Services. After the campus came under the ownership of DU, Phyllis reorganized FWC with a Board of Directors made up of CWC alumnae, CWC and Lamont faculty, and former benefactors. Funds raised by FWC’s “Bells and Whistles Campaign” enabled special projects, including two extensive renovations of the chapel organ. Plans for renovation of the carillon await implementation. From 1997 to 2004, Phyllis and FWC sponsored dozens of free public concerts. She has served as the official organist for hundreds of private weddings, memorial services, and other special events held in the chapel, including the annual graduation baccalaureate for Johnson & Wales University.

At age ninety this year, Phyllis remains actively at the helm of Friends of Whatley Chapel, continues to play the organ with great artistry, and is an enthusiastic member of the arts and music community. A member of AGO Denver Chapter for sixty one years, she is also a past member of the Board of the Young Musicians Foundation, a member of the Lamont Music Associates, and currently serves on the Board of the DU Women’s Library Association. In 2005, Phyllis was chosen as the first recipient of the “Spirit of CWC” Award by the CWC Alumnae Association. She boasts two grand-daughters, a grandson, two step-granddaughters, two great grandsons, and three great granddaughters. Tonight, her extended network of family, friends, colleagues, and admirers have gathered to honor Phyllis Tremmel’s life of dedication to the arts, education, and the human spirit.


A poem for Phyllis Tremmel

A perfect form for its function –

the organ resonant with muscles and movement –

oldest of instruments for sound,

for sacred sound most suited;

an organist answering to the music composed,

eye foot hand in skilled control,

body and soul voicing in various tones,

majesty to murmur,

the living experience of divine reality.

Listen: from the loft

the great Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

The opening is tumultuous. It could portray

the creation of the world, the void’s

troubled waters subdued in proportion and measure.

It could reflect a temperamental clash at work,

hurt, unyielding, accepted.

But it is not program music. It is,

like nearly all Bach wrote,

a passionate, fiery cosmic drama of spirit

in dance, in song, in poetry, in praise,

immaculately structured,

from nature’s smallest wonders

to union with the Highest,

invigorating, exciting, mesmerizing.

Love speaks in music

as only music can

of the final sense of the hidden

you, dear Phyllis,

teacher, performer, lover,

with your technical virtuosity

and engagement of your whole person

so well convey. You have our lasting

affection and gratitude for sharing

the vision call rapture only music can define.

— Ida Fasel (2006)

Audio Samples

Weaver, Built on a Rock, Chelsea Chen

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Wood, Happy Birthday, Chelsea Chen

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Durufle, Suite, Chelsea Chen

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