Olivet Faculty Releases Album Recorded in Centennial Chapel

Dr. Josh Ring ’13 recorded an album on the Ruffatti Organ

“The organ is in my eyes and ears the king of all instruments.” ― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Since it’s installation in 2010, the Ruffatti organ, in the Betty and Kenneth Hawkins Centennial Chapel on the campus of Olivet Nazarene University has been played by a select group of musicians. Dr. Josh Ring ’13, adjunct professor in Olivet’s School of Music has had the unique opportunity as a student, and now as a faculty member, to push the pedals and press the keys of one of the largest pipe organs in the Midwest. 

Mentored during his undergraduate career by other great musicians including the late Ovid Young, Karen Ball and Gerald Anderson, Dr. Ring found a passion for playing the organ. As a student at Olivet, he was selected as the recipient of the highest School of Music honor; the Walter B. Larsen Award & Naomi Larsen Scholarship. After graduation, he continued his academic preparation by studying music composition at Northern Illinois University (NIU), organ performance at the University of Iowa (Iowa), and completed a D.M.A. in organ performance and pedagogy in 2021, also at the University of Iowa. He also took advantage of performance opportunities, ranging from scholarship competitions to international concerts.

This past summer, Dr. Ring recorded his first album “Fanfare for a New Century: The Organ Works of Aaron David Miller” on the Ruffatti Organ. Recently, the Olivet marketing team asked Dr. Ring about his inspiration for recording the album, his teaching methodology and his upcoming performance on October 28, 2022.

Olivet: What was your inspiration for recording the music of Aaron David Miller?
Dr. Josh Ring (JR): I originally heard Aaron David Miller perform at a hymn festival that was opening night of an organ convention in Iowa City.  His hymn settings and improvisations were absolutely electric.  To this day, it was still some of the best hymn playing I’ve ever heard – he had so much energy.

Recording an album of organ music came out of my D.M.A. thesis from the University of Iowa.  I had wanted to record something that was fun and accessible to everyone, not just other organists.  Aaron’s music is rhythmically energetic, harmonically stimulating, and many of his compositions are based on hymn tunes and other well-known melodies.

Olivet: Why did you decide to record the album on the Ruffatti organ at Olivet?
JR: An instrument of versatility above all else, Olivet’s Ruffatti organ is one of the largest organs in the Midwest. It is equipped with a great variety of tone color and timbres, including many solo stops, which are vital components of Aaron’s compositions. My goal throughout the album was to show off as many sides of the organ as I could, using almost every possible solo sound.

Rhythm is a major component of Aaron’s style. The overall quick speech of the Ruffatti pipes is perfectly suited for the rhythmic complexity and precision required for these compositions.  The clarity of the hall’s acoustics is also a necessity for this agile music. 

Olivet: What was a highlight of the experience? What surprised you about the experience?
JR: One of the biggest highlights of the experience was getting to intimately know and understand Olivet’s Ruffatti organ. Every organ is vastly different – from the acoustic of the hall, to the specific organ’s stops, which are much like an individual instrument in an orchestra.  Each stop has a different color and sound.  The Ruffatti has 4,190 pipes and 105 stops.  As you can imagine, this leads to a wide variety of tonal combinations, each of which needs to be pre-programmed in order to play a piece of music.

Another big highlight of the project was the generosity of Aaron David Miller. He gave me the music for all his compositions for free.  He was happy to answer any questions I had and even let me interview him over Zoom for an hour.  

Once the recording was finished, I started a Kickstarter in the hopes of raising enough money to cover the cost of printing the CDs and releasing it on all major streaming platforms. The biggest surprise from the project was that within 24 hours I had raised enough money for my original goal. By the end of the month-long Kickstarter, I had raised enough funds to cover all the recording and post-production costs as well. The Ruffatti organ company in Italy heard about the project, and they donated money in exchange for some CDs to distribute to potential clients. Steve Smith, our organ technician and the Ruffatti representative in the area, also ordered CDs for the same goal.  

Olivet: As a faculty member, what is your hope for Olivet music students?
JR: My primary goal is for students to become good stewards of their talents. I don’t just mean musical talents, although that is a large part of it in my music classes. Learning music is so much more than just making music. It’s about working together well in a group (i.e. ensembles), it’s about constantly improving yourself and what you’re doing (i.e. practicing), and it’s about connecting your heart and your mind (i.e. music theory), and connecting with your audience (i.e. performing). It’s about improving the world around them, both now and once they leave Olivet.

More specifically to music, my goal in my music theory classes is that students come to understand how music works so they can in turn create better music. Being able to quickly recognize what’s going on in the music helps students learn their music efficiently and quickly, and helps them create more reflective, more expressive, more confident music.

Olivet: What are some highlights of working for your alma mater?
JR: I had so many amazing professors in the School of Music when I was an undergraduate student here. Now those same professors are my colleagues, and we have been able to collaborate on projects and perform together. I also love getting to pray with students in the classroom, which I missed doing when teaching at other schools.

Another big highlight is the opportunity to regularly perform on the Ruffatti organ, which is the organ that first caused me to take organ lessons back when I was a student here. They finished Centennial Chapel when I was a sophomore, and I was one of three students that were the first to perform on the organ when it was complete. Now in my fourth year teaching here, I’ve gotten to play it for Sounds of the Season, Messiah, Commencement, Baccalaureate, chapel serves, and even Dr. [John C.] Bowling’s Musical Gala for his retirement — the last track on the album is my own arrangement of “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” which I wrote for the event since it was his favorite hymn.

Olivet: Who do you count as significant influences to you as an artist, a professor, and a scholar?
JR: This is a tough question. There are honestly so many people that have poured into me to help me become who I am today. Every single music teacher I’ve had has been a big influence in my life. A few major ones from Olivet include Dr. Don Reddick, Dr. Karen Ball, and Freddie Franken. For this album, I especially have my organ teachers to thank: Dr. Timothy Nelson (ONU), James Brown, (NIU), and Dr. Gregory Hand (Iowa).  

In addition to my professors, a big influence on me as an artist is Jan Dee, who was the pianist at Batavia United Methodist Church, which was my first job as a church organist. She played with such artistry and expression, it was so freeing for me as a performer. She became a good friend and taught me to be myself as a musician.

Olivet: When can the Olivet community see you perform this fall?
JR: I’m performing in an organ recital with Dr. Jeff Bell at Olivet’s Homecoming at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, October 28, in Centennial Chapel. I’ll be playing a few of my favorite organ compositions, including one piece from this album and one of my newest organ arrangements that combines “Praise to the Lord” and “Come, Thou Almighty King.” Dr. Bell will also join me for a few vocal/organ duets and then some piano/organ duets by Ovid Young.  

At the recital I’ll also be selling signed copies of the album if you want a physical copy! You can also listen on all major streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Amazon Music, etc. Soon you’ll also be able to order a physical copy on my website, JoshRing.com.

To learn more about Olivet’s School of Music, contact the Office of Admissions at admissions@olivet.edu or 800-648-1463.

Published: 09/28/2022
LB