I experienced Europe for the first time when I was a freshman in high school. I had just started organ lessons with Miss Pelton, the Professor of Organ at Kansas State University. This feisty, barely 5’ tall, cheerful ball of energy was to become my mentor and inspiration. And yes, it was she who “took” me to Europe for the first time.
Miss Pelton lived in what I determined was an English-style cottage. It was a house unique to others in this Midwest town and just walking up to her door, I was transported to another world – to Europe.
Opening the front door and entering her living room cum music studio continued the “other-worldly” experience. This small low-ceilinged room was filled with musical instruments the ilk of which I had never seen: an antique grand piano with intricately carved legs and music rack (not the gleaming black Steinway grands of my piano teacher); a petite triangular-shaped instrument that I was learn was a harpsichord; and, wonder-of-wonders, row upon row of pipes — a pipe organ! Seating was limited to instrument benches and a couple of weary brocade chairs. A room unlike any I had ever seen.
Miss Pelton, besides being a fine organist and teacher, was also an avid traveler and photographer so the wall space of this music studio was adorned with her photographs of the great cathedrals and organs of the world; and book shelves, the floor, and small tables standing here and there were covered with fascinating books with titles like “The Bach Reader” and “The Harvard Dictionary of Music.” A veritable art gallery, library, and instrument museum!
Miss Pelton’s home informed her teaching. Her students couldn’t play the music of Bach without studying of photos of St. Thomas in Leipzig; couldn’t play the music of Franck without hearing stories and perusing photos of the great organ of Ste.-Clothilde; couldn’t play the music of Reger without learning of the meeting of three great rivers and seeing photos of the confluence of those rivers below the cathedral in Pausau. Miss Pelton not only in instilled in me the love of organ music, but gave me a sense of discovery and adventure.
That first “trip to Europe” and nearly weekly “trips” around the world with Miss Pelton through her inspired, creative teaching continues to inform and instruct my playing and my life. Thank you Miss Pelton.
JW Walker Continuo Organ – gift from Marion Pelton to Kansas State University