California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

Cal Lutheran’s beloved organist dies at age 89

Carl Swanson, California Lutheran University organist and professor emeritus, died Feb. 19 after a brief hospitalization at the age of 89.

Swanson began teaching at Cal Lutheran in 1964 in the music department and taught piano, music appreciation, music theory and organ. Swanson went on to become the music department chair from 1981-1989. He was also the designer and overseer of the Borg Peterson Memorial Organ in Samuelson Chapel.

“I want to underline how instrumental Carl was to the building and the development of the organ that’s in the chapel now,” said Professor Daniel Geeting, who taught alongside Swanson at Cal Lutheran for 14 years. “Every time I see that organ or hear it played, you have to think Carl Swanson.”

Humor was one of Swanson’s underlying qualities Geeting recalls as well.

“He was a wonderful colleague and a lot of people didn’t get right away how funny he was. He was really a funny guy when you got to know him,” Geeting said.

In an email to the Cal Lutheran community, President Kimball stated Swanson retired in 1998 and continued to display his love for the organ by playing for the Lord of Life congregation and chapel at Cal Lutheran. He always had a passion for music which started at the age of five when he took his first piano lesson.

Swanson picked up the organ in high school and gained experience playing in front of people through playing for his church where his father was the minister. 

He went to Luther Junior College in Nebraska before transferring to Augustana College in Illinois, where he attained his undergraduate degree in music. Swanson then went on to earn his masters degree in organ and church music from Northwestern University.

After obtaining his masters degree, he went back to teach at Luther Junior College and later became an organist and choirmaster at congregations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Massachusetts.

According to Elmer Ramsey, a friend and colleague of  Swanson for over 50 years, it was through all his experiences as a teacher and organist that made such an impact on the students and faculty at Cal Lutheran.

Swanson has earned awards throughout his lifetime dedication to music, including the Presser Foundation Award in music performance from Augustana College  and he was honored for outstanding service in education and music from the American Scandinavian Foundation. 

He has also traveled all around the world playing concert tours in Scandinavia and performing in recitals in Spain, England and the Netherlands.

“He was just one of our successful faculty members who did a good job. Our philosophy was to have performing faculty so he performed a lot and I know all of his students were very successful,” Ramsey said.

Another person who was impacted by Swanson not only through a professional relationship, but through a family one as well is Professor Wyant Morton.

“My wife is his cousin so we had a family relationship too. My kids grew up knowing him as Uncle Carl and so I had both a professional and a family relationship with him,” Morton said.

“He was a great guy who is remembered by his students and colleagues as someone who was always impeccably dressed and very polite and just had a lot of integrity,” Morton said.

The memorial service was on March 12 at 2 p.m. with a reception to follow at the Samarkand Retirement Community in the Mountain room, 2550 Treasure Drive, Santa Barbara. Music has been recorded with Swanson playing the organ for the service. Swanson will be buried alongside his parents in Nebraska where he was born and raised.

McKay Weiler
Staff Writer
Published March 16th, 2016

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