What I’ve learned since deciding to take organ lessons

Heidi at Adrian College Organ. One of the first photos of Heidi at pipe organ.
Heidi at Adrian College Organ. One of the first photos of Heidi at pipe organ.

In early 2009, I decided that I wanted to take organ lessons. You can read about how I reached that decision here. After a couple of months of thinking about it, I decided to take action and find a teacher. In this post, I will share how my life has been impacted and lessons I’ve learned since deciding to take organ lessons.

I learned that I can be bold and courageous

In June 2009, I started looking on the Internet for an organ teacher in my area. I checked church websites looking for organists and eventually discovered that Adrian College had an organist. On June 9, with my husband encouraging me to “Just Do It”, I took the risk and emailed Michael Gartz, who was the Adrian College organist at that time.

I was VERY nervous. My fear of rejection was quite high even knowing that the worst possible outcome was that he would say “No” or never reply. I even offered an out in the email asking “Do you offer private lessons in the Adrian area or do you only teach the college courses?”

I do not recall approaching a stranger for anything like this before in my entire life. Michael was not soliciting for students. This was a random email from a random adult with no organ experience.

Within 30 minutes I received a response from Michael stating that he would be happy to give me lessons! I had to wait for the fall semester for my lessons to begin. That summer I ordered the Method of Organ Playing (8th Edition) by Harold Gleason and a pair of OrganMaster organ shoes. And then waited for September to come. If you didn’t know that most organists wear special organ shoes check out this post that explains organ shoes.

Because the fear is gone now, sending an email with such a request seems like such an easy thing to do.  At the time it felt like a huge barrier to overcome. Writing that email proved that I can be bold and have the courage to do things despite having fear.

What I’ve learned since starting lessons:

  • The obvious impact is that I have learned how to play the pipe organ! Even watching myself on YouTube I am amazed that I’ve done it! I still require lots of time to learn something new, but I can play the pipe organ!
  • I have learned the value of persistence and patience I did not know how long it would take to learn to play the organ when I started. I thought I would be proficient in a year or two! My ability to learn how to play was slow. I also had limited practice time. Sometimes I felt very frustrated with my lack of progress. Even Michael thought I might give up! I kept on going knowing that my persistence would pay off.
  • Learning more hymns My assignments have included hymns. As a result, I have been exposed to some that I did not know that are quite beautiful. For example, My Faith Has Found a Resting Place (even my cat likes it!). If I had not taken up organ lessons, it is very unlikely that I would have ever heard them.
  • Organ behind the couch!
    Organ behind the couch!

    An organ will fit behind my couch! When I first started taking lessons, I practiced on the neglected pipe organ at my church. After a month or so, it began to cipher. My church didn’t mind me playing the organ but they were not going to fund any repair work. Michael arranged for me to have an old electronic Saville organ that had been donated to Adrian College. They were not using it and it would soon be in the way of some renovation work. On November 30, 2009 the organ was moved from Adrian College to my living room. My house is not big so we made room for the organ and the large speakers behind the couch.

  • Exposure to live events I have attended many organ concerts and recitals. Hearing organ music is live is an awesome experience. Also, Michael introduced me to Messiah. It’s amazing that not aware of it as it it such a remarkable oratorio.
  • I have discovered that I love to write I started this blog to share my experience with my family and friends. I had not written much before then. Even though I have not always been consistent about updating the blog, I love the writing process and sharing with others. Now that the novelty of becoming an organist has worn off, I want to determine what the focus of this blog should be.
  • Playing the organ will not pay much as I assumed I distinctly remember a lesson at St. Marks in Toledo (Michael was the organist there at the time). Michael mentioned the organist who would be subbing for him soon. This organist had another job besides being an organist. Oh, that was interesting. When I asked more questions, Michael explained that many organists had more than one job and that organists are not often paid all that much.

I don’t know where my expectations came from but this was a wake up call. I started thinking about how I would need to do something else along with being an organist. I read Quitter. I went to the Quitter Conference (and I was bold enough to go alone!). I started reading blogs and listening to podcasts. What else could I do that would would give me the flexibility to have more practice time. My post college jobs have had a one hour commute each way. How much different would my life be if I could eliminate the commute time?

I learned about online business and people making money form their blogs. I found myself inspired by Pat Flynn’s story at www.smartpassiveincome.com. He was let go from his job as an architect and now makes thousands online each month. If I could start an online business, then I could work from home, drive much less, practice more, and write more. In November of 2013 I joined the Internet Business Mastery Academy (affiliate link) to learn how to get started. I have started another website about writing thank you notes – www.tonsofthanks.com. Building online income takes hard work and time. Just like learning to play the organ, it doesn’t happen overnight!

  • I have experienced JOY unlike any other JOY that I have ever felt before. Sometimes when I am practicing and I’m able to play the piece with ease, I am am overcome with JOY. The sense of happiness like nothing else.

The most important lesson learned:

We can make choices and that includes our mindset. We can decide to do something different and to try something new. Lose weight, eat only real food, take up a musical instrument, you name it you can try it! As Henry Ford said “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

If there is something you’ve always wanted to try, do it and see how it impacts your life. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you will be able to check it off your bucket list!


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Website | + posts

Heidi Bender writes about her experiences of learning to play the organ. She started on the adventure in 2009.

She also writes on her website Tons of Thanks, which helps people write thank-you notes. Heidi is also a cat lady who writes at The Joy of Cats.

13 thoughts on “What I’ve learned since deciding to take organ lessons”

  1. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to start. It also helps to break down whatever you are going to do into small steps you can take to move you along the path you want to go. A little work everyday on something really helps move it along.

  2. Heidi,

    You just gave a good little “choices” speech. I can still hear dad saying “choices, choices”.
    He tells me that sometimes yet. I agree we have the choice of mindset but sometimes it is hard to make the best choice. I find losing weight, right food and exercise to be challenges but am making great headway on all of them.
    You are so inspiring.
    That same quote from Henry Ford is on Farmer’s Almanac page a day calender for today. I like it.



    • Hi Mom!

      I agree with you! Sometimes it is hard to make the best choice even when we know its the best choice. change is hard!!! Our habits can be hard to break.

      Very neat that same quote is on your calendar today!


  3. Thanks for a great article. Your positive attitude and encouragement are infectious. Your comments remind me to be grateful for playing the piano and/or organ every day. It is a joy like no other.

  4. Your blog is very inspiring. I am planning to learn the organ after enjoying a career as a opera singer. Because of your writing, I am encouraged to take the plunge…THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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