Spivey Hall, located on the campus of Clayton State University, is a 400-seat, acoustically-superior performing arts venue that has presented the best in jazz and classical music to the metro Atlanta area since 1991. Its celebrated concert series receives regular national and international attention as one of America’s finest, and the Hall’s acoustics and design are routinely lauded by patrons, pundits and performers. Thanks to frequent appearances on American Public Media’s “Performance Today,” as heard on public radio stations across the country, the hall has earned a national reputation while also reaching an international audience through exposure in such publications as BBC Music magazine and International Arts Manager. The Hall also routinely receives superb accolades from the noted artists it annually presents.
“Spivey is the best of the newer small halls in America,” says concert pianist Steven Blier, while jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis believes “Spivey Hall is the most fantastic little performance hall I have played – ever!”
In addition to a world-renowned concert series, Spivey Hall has an innovative approach to education-outreach, which has resulted in the formation of the award-winning Spivey Hall Children’s Choir and the newer Spivey Hall Young Artists. Its Young People’s Concerts series won the prestigious Abby Award for arts education in Atlanta in 1998.
The story of Spivey Hall begins with one woman’s love of music and a couple’s desire to give back to their community.
Emilie Parmalee Spivey and Walter Boone Spivey were prominent citizens of Atlanta’s Southern Crescent. Having made a fortune developing Lake Jodeco and Lake Spivey, the community-minded Spiveys wanted to create something significant for the region. But what?
Emilie was an organist, chamber music aficionado and patron of the arts. She was drawn to Clayton Junior College’s Lyceum cultural programs, its beautiful wooded grounds, and the noble stewardship of founding President Harry S. Downs.
Emilie’s husband Walter approached Harry Downs with the idea of building a small, elegant concert hall as a fitting legacy for Emilie who, by this time, had contracted cancer. Walter passed away soon thereafter, and in 1984 Emilie assumed the role of visionary leader of the project. She entrusted Harry Downs with carrying out her dream.
But this was not to be just any concert hall. Emilie’s insistence on hiring acoustician Rein Pirn first, engaging architects Gardner Spencer Smith & Associates who understood music, and including her personal interior designer Gerald Underwood, ensured the creation of a jewel of acoustic perfection. A hall that would allow music lovers to hear music in the best possible way… so clear and crystalline that it was like hearing music for the first time. A hall elegant and luxurious, yet small enough to create an intimate connection with the artist while allowing every patron an excellent view. And a hall with a world-class pipe organ.
Yes – not just any concert hall – Spivey Hall.
The Spiveys founded the Walter & Emilie Spivey Foundation, donating $2.5 million to the construction, while contributions from individual and corporate sponsors covered the remainder of the $4.5 million cost. Built as a gift to Clayton State College, Spivey Hall moved from idea to impending reality when ground was broken in November of 1988.
Neither Walter nor Emilie lived to see the ground breaking – but their kindness and generosity manifests itself in the beauty of Spivey Hall. Emilie passed away one month after completing the formal plans in 1988, yet every detail was followed faithfully through the project construction. The Spivey’s financial gift lives on as well through The Spivey Foundation Board of Trustees who administer a generous endowment.
Sherryl Nelson, daughter of opera singers and a career administrator trained at the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta and the legendary Ernest Fleischmann, left California in 1990 to become Spivey Hall’s first Executive Director. She quickly went about creating a world-class concert series to establish Spivey Hall as a premiere recital hall.
It happened more quickly than anyone could have guessed.
After a opening trio of high-profile invitation-only concerts – violinist Itzhak Perlman, pianist André Watts and bass Samuel Ramey – Spivey opened its doors to the public in the winter of 1991. Despite the initial perception of the hall as being “far away” from downtown Atlanta, the hall struck an immediate chord by relying on an old-fashioned thesis – people love to hear timeless music played by great musicians in a beautiful hall.
Very quickly, Spivey Hall became one of the places to play on the American classical and jazz music circuits. Artists who had never before come south began making regular stops at Spivey Hall. Atlantans were treated to the world’s best musicians creating moments of utterly sublime musical majesty. And they liked it.
In 1992, the final piece of Emilie Spivey’s original dream was added. The hall closed for three months early in the year for the addition of the 79-rank, 3-manual, 4,413-pipe Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, built and installed by Fratelli Ruffatti of Padua, Italy. The hall has become known for its organ concerts and garnered great acclaim for hosting the 1998 and 2002 North American Selection Rounds for The Calgary International Organ Festival & Competition, the world’s most prestigious organ event.
Choral legend Robert Shaw sensed Spivey Hall’s importance right away. In his dedication statement he noted, “What a precious and perceptive gift the Spivey’s have given all of Atlanta.” He lent his time, prestige and name recognition to the hall in its early years. His famous words – “Spivey Hall is to music what light is to painting” – have become synonymous with the hall. The Robert Shaw Chamber Singers performed several times during his tenure as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music at Clayton State College. He recorded two discs for Telarc at Spivey during this period and, in 1994, launched the Robert Shaw Choral Workshop, which became the very successful annual Spivey Hall Choral Workshop for high school and treble choirs.
Over the years, Spivey Hall has increased its presence in the community with one of the state’s larges education-outreach programs: the Noteworthy Concert Series serves 20,000 children in 17 area counties each year; teacher staff development courses and Master Classes enrich curriculum; the Choral Workshop and Chamber Orchestra Workshop offer high-level instruction for 250 young artists annually; and the Spivey Hall Children’s Choir program promotes excellence in both singing and character for its 3 ensembles.
Spivey Hall’s reputation has expanded outside the Southern Crescent, the city of Atlanta and the Southeast.
It’s been a busy 15 years, one filled with great achievements, exceeded expectations and rapturous musical moments. And it all began with one woman’s love of music.
Spivey Hall combines extraordinary acoustics and elegant design to create one of the finest facilities of its kind in the nation. The architects, Gardner Spencer Smith and Associates, have designed a beautiful three-story 32,865 square-foot curved structure of brick and glass overlooking Clayton State University’s twelve-acre lake.
The focal point of this 400-seat hall, filled with elegant touches of marble and gold leaf, is the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, honoring the memory of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. The 4,413 pipe, three manual, 79-rank organ was installed and dedicated in 1992 with a series of concerts featuring organ masters Gillian Weir, Jean Guillou and Michael Murray. Tommy McCook, of Widener and Company, is the curator for the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ.
From the beginning, Spivey Hall was conceived to be one of the finest acoustical environments in the world. The acoustical engineer responsible for the project was the renowned Rein Pirn of in Boston’s Acentech. Mr. Pirn skillfully created a technically-advanced acoustical design which ensures that the full range of sound is reflected to each seat from all points on the stage. Each of the surfaces within the hall is solid, ensuring the maximum amount of reverberation time. Utilizing the hall’s seven movable acoustical curtains, the reverberation can be adjusted to ideally accommodate each performance genre. Closed or partially closed curtains lead to a dryer environment which is suited for a vocal or instrumental soloist, chamber ensemble, and choir. Fully opened, the curtains produce a reverberation that is comparable to a cathedral, which complements our Fratelli Ruffatti pipe organ.
To fully appreciate the hall’s acoustics, one must experience them first-hand. However technical specifications also point to their superiority. In a study comparing the acoustics of the world’s finest concert halls*, the author concluded that “Spivey Hall, with its 1-IACC (E3) (the measure of quality, according to the authors) of 0.80, would rank well above the best!”
* “Interaural cross correlation, lateral fraction, and low and high-frequency sound levels as measures of acoustical quality in concert halls”. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Volume 98, Number 2, Part 1, August 1995.
Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ
The visual centerpiece of Spivey’s breathtaking design is the Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ, a 79-rank, 3-manual, 4,413-pipe organ, built and installed by the firm of Fratelli Ruffatti. The organ was not in place when Spivey Hall presented its first concerts in 1991, but was well under construction several thousand miles away, in Padua, Italy.
Spivey Hall’s organ was the vision of Emilie Spivey, an accomplished church organist, philanthropist and friend of famed organist Virgil Fox. Mrs. Spivey, who was enamored by the instruments created by Italian organ builders, Fratelli Ruffatti, commissioned the firm to design the organ for Spivey Hall.
The company responded with a masterpiece: a 79-rank, 3-manual, 4,413-pipe organ housed within a faux marble and gold leaf casework standing 50 feet high and 37 feet wide. Designed for maximum versatility, the organ’s ranks flatter the modest, straightforward tunes of the great Baroque masters, flamboyant colors favored by 19th-century French organists and the subtle shadings of the modern repertoire.
The instrument was disassembled and shipped piece-by-piece from Padua. Supervised by Piero Ruffatti, Widener and Company installed the organ between November 1991 and April 1992. Tonal adjustments continued right up until its official dedication in May of 1992 with three concerts: two by the highly acclaimed British organist Gillian Weir, and the finale which joined the great talents of Robert Shaw and his Festival Singers with organist Norman Mackenzie.
In 1998, when The Royal Bank Calgary International Organ Festival & Competition chose Spivey Hall as the site for its North American Selection Rounds, Spivey’s stature in the organ world fully came in prominence. The event was a great success, so much so that the quadrennial event returned to Spivey Hall in May of 2002.
In 2005-2006 Spivey Hall joined the Riverside Church in New York City in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of Virgil Fox. His friendship with Emilie Spivey and unique performance style influenced the design and voicing of Spivey Hall’s magnificent Fratelli Ruffatti organ. The Legacy Series showcased distinguished artists whose talents as concert organists befit the reputation of Virgil Fox, one of the instrument’s legendary virtuosos: Hector Guzman, Paul Jacobs, Richard Morris and Hector Olivera.
The Albert Schweitzer Memorial Organ is maintained by Tommy McCook of Widener & Company.