John Storm Mueller, a music professor at N.C. School of the Arts, now UNC School of Arts, and Salem College for many years, died Monday. He was 91.
Mueller and his widow, Margaret Mueller, 95, taught several hundred students in both schools in widely recognized pipe organ instruction programs. He also greatly influenced the revival of classical organ construction in the U.S. and a renewed interest in music composed for the organ by Europeans during the Baroque era and earlier.
His advocacy led to him being a consultant for several churches and institutions that were building organs. On his advice, the 1965 Flentrop organ was installed in Salem’s Shirley Recital Hall.
The Muellers were also instrumental in getting the new organ for Crawford Hall at UNCSA. It was built by C.B. Fisk and funded by UNCSA founder and patron Thomas S. Kenan III of Chapel Hill and the Sarah Graham Kenan Foundation. Mueller played at the dedication of the organ, which was named the Sarah Graham Kenan Memorial Organ in 1977.
Others he encouraged were the Flentrop at Reynolda Presbyterian and the 290-stop Holtkamp in Salem’s Hanes Auditorium.
Timothy Olsen is the current Organ Department chair in the School of Music at UNCSA.
“He is a monumental figure in the organ world particularly in the classical organ,” Olsen said. “He has a long list of students that have gone out into the world and are in major church and teaching positions.
“He had seven students who received Fullbrights.”
Mueller studied in Germany on a Fullbright Scholarship in 1960.
“He was a very well-known figure in the organ world, and he’s been a truly great supporter of the program at UNCSA,” Olsen said. “They attended just about every organ event that there was. Though he didn’t always agree with the repertoire (he had his opinions), he was always gracious about it.
“They were legends in the community, and will be greatly missed.”
William Van Pelt of Richmond is a former executive director of the Organ Historical Society of which Mueller was a member.
“He was a very important figure to literally thousands of organists and church musicians throughout the world, not to mention his tremendous influence throughout the latter half of the 20th Century in North Carolina,” Van Pelt said.
Although Margaret Sandresky started the organ programs at UNCSA and Salem in 1965, Mueller took the reins when she left in 1967. He led the department and taught organ and harpsichord, until he and his wife retired from college teaching in 1995. He was given emeritus faculty status, and the couple continued to teach workshops and master classes throughout the country and world for many years.
They ran a Summer Organ Academy at Salem College for 21 years, attracting students and faculty globally. “As well, they mounted tours of organs in Europe — many examining very important organs in Eastern Germany despite the inconveniences of travel there before the (Berlin) Wall came down — for a bus load of organists and organ students,” Van Pelt said.
The Muellers met at Oberlin College, where they were both students, in the late 1940s. He served in the U.S. Army, attended the Juilliard School and received a doctorate degree from Boston University. Mueller began teaching at Salem College in 1955.
Mueller served as an organist at local churches, including Centenary United Methodist, First Baptist and St. Ann’s Episcopal, and he performed on organs worldwide.
The Muellers established the John and Margaret Mueller Hymn Prize for the best hymn playing in the annual N.C. High School Organ Festival and Competition, which is being held Jan. 25-27 at UNCSA.