Why I Play and Teach the Pipe Organ

                                                                                by Davis Folkerts


A pipe organ is a keyboard instrument.1 The musical sounds are produced when pressurized air2 blows through pipes3. The pipes range in size from 16′ (4.9 meters) or even sometimes 32′ (9.75 meters) for the lowest pitches4 to pipes smaller in diameter than a ball-point pen and only a few inches (approximately one-half decimeter) long. There are many different shapes and materials used in organ pipes to produce various tone colors5. The very smallest pipe organs have only one keyboard. Pipe organs with two or three keyboards are very common. These instruments also have pedals6, which are 6 or 7 wooden keys7, each 30 or 32 inch-long, to be played by the player’s feet. Each pipe can sound only one pitch. An organ keyboard typically has 61 notes8 requiring 61 pipes, one for each note. However, because pipe organs need to produce more than one color of sound, there need to be numerous rows of pipes (61 in each) resulting in instruments that have hundreds and often thousands of pipes.



Pipe organs are found in a very large number of American and European churches and in some large concert halls9. Sometimes the larger pipes are used at the front of the instrument to produce a beautiful design10. There are many different designs that can be made from theorgan1 pipes in this way. Sometimes all of the pipes are hidden behind a screen11. In China there are also some wonderful pipe organs including the Forbidden City Concert Hall, the Beijing Concert Hall, and China National Radio Station. A very large pipe organ has recently been installed in the Oriental Arts Centre in Shanghai. It has five keyboards plus the pedal keyboard and more than 6,000 pipes. You can see it in the photo to the right.


For me it all began12 when I was a very little child only four or five years old. One of the most important church festivals is Christmas. In the village where I grew up the young children all learned Christmas songs and little Christmas poems to perform in a special   Christmas program. All the children would form a procession13 to come from the back of the church to the front. Everyone in the whole church would be singing, accompanied by the pipe organ14. As we walked up to the front of the church we passed close to the pipe organ. When I was closest to the organ I could feel the vibrations15 of the lowest notes through the floor. I was very excited by this sensation16 and decided I wanted to learn to play the organ because it had such a big and wonderful sound.


To learn to play the pipe organ it is first necessary to learn to play the piano well. If anyone tries to learn to play the organ without first developing17 strong keyboard skills18, that person will become discouraged19 because it will be too difficult. For that reason I began to take piano lessons when I was just six years old. I had a lesson each week and was expected to practice my lesson for 30 minutes each day. My parents, especially my mother, did not let me skip20 days or practice less than the required 30 minutes. Most days I was very happy when I was practicing, but some days I would much rather21 be outside playing ball22.


I learned piano technique23 quickly and learned many, many songs by the time I was twelve years old. To my great joy24 I was allowed to organ2take organ lessons during the summer. The church was one mile (1.6 kilometers) from our home on a farm at the edge of our town. Each day I would ride my bicycle to our church to practice the organ for one hour. Then I would ride back home to do the work my dad had for me to do on the farm. Each summer from then until I graduated25 from high school six years later I looked forward to my organ lessons. The photo to the right shows the organ I first learned to play. During the school year I would take piano lessons because I could practice the piano at home when there was not time enough for me to go to practice on the organ at church.


When I went to Central College26 I chose music as my major course of study, and took organ lessons all four years. Then I went to graduate school27 and had two more years of organ lessons in New York City. By that time I was married and starting a family28, so I needed to work and earn money. I had a job as director of music29 in a large New Jersey30 church for a short time, and then there was an opening to teach organ and other music courses at Jamestown College31 in the state of North Dakota32. I enjoyed that until I was invited back to Central College to teach. That was in the year 1967. I taught music at Central College until I retired33 in 2000.


Now I am almost 70 years old, but I still love to play the organ. I play a recital34 every month and frequently play the organ for church services. I also play the organ or the piano for three Central College choirs35 as their accompanist36. I have played many organs in many places. Some of them were very large and some of them were very small. I am very happy that I had the opportunity to have a career37 in which I could play the organ so much. I still love it, perhaps now more than ever.


organ3To the left is a photo of a modern organ that was built in Iowa by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd. It is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can see the large pipes at the front of the organ case38. You can see three keyboards and the pedal keys played by the organist’s feet at the lower right.














1. keyboard instrument (键盘乐器): a musical instrument with an arrangement assemblage of keys, usually black and white, which are struck or pushed by the finger tips to cause a musical sound to be produced.

2. pressurized air (压缩空气): the compressed air of a pipe organ, which is forced through the pipes to cause a musical sound when the key is struck or pressed down.

3. pipes: long, hollow tubes of metal or wood

4. pitch: highness or lowness of sound (高低度,声调).

5. tone colors: the quality of tone produced by a voice or musical instrument (音色,音质).

6. pedals: oblong key or lever pressed by the foot in the playing of an organ or other musical instrument ( 乐器的踏板).

7. wooden keys:(乐器踏板)木制键

8. notes: sounds produced by the voice or musical instruments (音,乐音).

9. concert halls (音乐厅): areas built for the purpose of playing and hearing musical performances.

10. designs n. patterns developed to look attractive (图案).

11. screen::屏幕,隔板

12. “it all began”: an idiomatic expression telling when something started.

13. procession: a group of individuals moving along in an orderly, often ceremonial way (队列,行列).

14. accompanied by the pipe organ: 由管风琴伴奏

15. vibrations:振动

16. sensation: a feeling (感觉).

17. developing: forming (strong skills or capabilities).

18. keyboard skills: talents or ability to perform well on a musical keyboard (键盘弹奏技能).

19. become discouraged: be made to feel hopeless about something (丧失信心).

20. skip: 逃避,不做

21. would rather: prefer to choose or do (宁可,宁愿).

22. playing ball: playing baseball, the favorite American sport of most children in the U.S. ( 打垒球).

23. technique:技术,技能

24. to my great joy:令我欣喜若狂

25. graduated:毕业

26. Central College: an undergraduate college located in Pella, Iowa.

27. graduate school:研究生院

28. starting a family: an idiomatic way of saying “to begin having children”.

29. director of music: a person in charge of a musical program.

30. New Jersey:新泽西州

31. Jamestown College: a small liberal arts college in North Dakota.

32. North Dakota:北达科他州

33. retired:退休

34. recital n. a performance by one or a few individuals given as a public exhibition of skill.

35. choirs:合唱团

36. accompanist:伴奏者

37. career:事业

38. organ case: 风管箱



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