“Contrary to popular opinion, there are kids playing the organ,” said Richard Collman, part-time organist for St. Peter Lutheran in Northfield. “The pipe organ is not dead.”
Collman knows this for a fact. He organizes a teen program called Pipe Organ Encounter, which exposes teens 13 to 18 to the organ. This year’s program runs from June 24 to 29.
Twenty teens, including two from Minnesota, enrolled in Pipe Organ Encounter this summer. Collman said half of the teens in the program have no prior organ experience. But to apply to the program, students must have advanced piano skills.
“Transitioning from piano to organ is fairly easy,” said Collman. “The trick is getting the feet to work with the hands.”
Each student accepted into the program takes four pipe organ lessons taught by 17 Minnesota faculty members, including professors and graduates of St. Olaf College. Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault provides meal and boarding, and vans transport the students to St. Olaf in Northfield, which has one of the largest organ programs in the state.
“[The boarding arrangements] are ideally set up,” said Collman. “The program needs a prep school or college campus. They’re used to dealing with teenagers.”
Each day of Pipe Organ Encounters, students experience the organ as a tool for worship during an 8:30 a.m. service at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus. The first evening of the camp, which begins on Sunday, also includes a worship service. However, Collman said students learn organ music is “not just in church.” Ball games, merry-go-rounds, and auditoriums are some of the other places where the organ is used.
During the week, students are offered a recreation night and a tour of the Northrup Auditorium organ at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Collman described the process of showing the teens different organs as an “organ crawl.” He said five to six churches in Northfield share their organs with the students. Those include Northfield United Methodist Church, All Saints Episcopal Church, St. John’s Lutheran, Bethel Lutheran, and the First United Church of Christ.
The Pipe Organ Encounter for Teens students share what they learned during one of the 12th Annual Northfield Noontime Organ Recitals, which Collman founded. The recital, designed for business people, runs from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. at Boe Chapel on the St. Olaf Campus Wednesday, June 27 and also features three St. Olaf students. Six more Noontime Organ recitals takes place at various Northfield locations throughout the summer. Collman said 90 to 150 people attend each performance, which sometimes include free-will offerings.
“It’s not just church-y music,” said Collman. “You never know what you’re going to run into.”
One of the organists playing at Noontime Organ Recitals, who also plans to deliver a talk to the Pipe Organ Encounter teens, is Northfield’s Noah Klein. As a teen, Klein attended four regular Pipe Organ Encounters and one for advanced students.
“I never really knew any other kids who played the organ in my school or in my area, so it was nice being able to talk about that with other kids and see how they’re doing in comparison with me,” said Klein.
The experience prepared him for the next step in his musical journey. He now studies the pipe organ at Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University.