Joe Gribb, ’13, passed signs for the University of Richmond when attending a camp for organists in Richmond, but had no idea he’d be attending and studying pipe organ there one day.

The camp, Pipe Organ Encounters, is a weeklong camp for teens to encounter, experience, play, and learn more about pipe organs. Gribb says the camps are an educational outreach program of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), a national association of organists and organ enthusiasts.  

“I started going when I was 14, and I went to a total of seven — yes, that did mean I went to two for two summers — in places like Philadelphia, Orlando, Richmond, Charlotte, N.C., and Macon, Ga.,” Gribb says. “During the camp, you would stay in a college dorm, have private lessons every day with an organist who was often nationally known, attend lectures and recitals, and play a piece in a student recital at the end, as well as having the opportunity to play many of the best organs in a city or region.”

Gribb describes the pipe organ at its base level as, “a glorified piano,” but insists, “it's so much more than that.” Unlike a piano, it has multiple keyboards called "manuals," as well as a pedal board that is played with the feet.

The University’s pipe organ was installed in 1961 and premiered in 1962. It was one of the first instruments built by German organ-builder Rudolf von Beckerath to be installed in the United States, Gribb explains. 

When he was looking at course offerings his freshman year, Gribb decided to get in touch with the organ teacher, Bruce Stevens, and asked what he would have to do to take lessons. “Stevens told me that because I already had so much experience, an audition was really a formality,” Gribb says. “I’ve been taking lessons every semester since for credit, and I get to practice in the chapel, which is pretty amazing.”

A Latin major and law minor, Gribb is comfortable performing more than just the organ. He is a skilled vocalist and has been a member of Schola Cantorum — the most selective co-ed mixed choir on campus — since the fall of his freshman year.

Every three or four years, the group goes on a concert tour in Europe with director Jeffrey Riehl — a tradition they’ll continue this spring break when they travel to Spain with the Jazz Combo.

“The origins of classical music, a genre of music in which I'm very interested, come from Europe, and it's always thrilling to travel there and see firsthand the places where great composers worked,” Gribb says. “For instance, when I was abroad in Scotland last semester, I got the opportunity to travel to London and tour Westminster Abbey. Seeing Handel's tomb and monument there was an incredibly moving experience for me, as I've loved his music for practically my whole life.”

Riehl says Schola Cantorum will be performing mostly American music, since he’s found in years past that that’s what audiences want to hear— they don’t want to hear Americans try and sing Spanish music.