Let's turn this...
"You guys have to see this. This organ-in-a-crate-thing is sick!" - Alec, a high school junior to his peers.
"JUMP ON THIS NOW." - Ryan Pongras, music teacher to his colleague (when offered a chance to present it to their class).
"Orgelkids makes the King of Instruments accessible. What is accessible is then lovable." - OrgelkidsUSA.org
Orgelkids USA is a small, fully functional pipe organ designed to teach children of all ages how a pipe organ works. Advent Lutheran's first experience with Orgelkids was mid-March 2019 when we borrowed a kit. It was built 33 times by a total of 460 people. Vincent M. Ryan, Minister of Music at Advent Lutheran Church, Harleysville presented the instrument to 29 classes in local schools and communities before delivering it to its next destination in York, PA. Orgelkids USA, a non-profit organization based in Corvallis, OR, is directed by Erin Scheesele. Originating in the Netherlands, it was brought to the USA by Erin with a lot of help from her son. For the full story, visit orgelkidsusa.org
Some highlights of the Philadelphia area Orgelkids tour included:
- The Adult Sunday School class at church not only built this organ, but did so adjacent to our sanctuary instrument. They were able to compare and contrast the two, even using proper terminology. Are there many parishioners (not involved with an organ build or restoration) who can do so?
- We formed a small instrument ensemble that played along with the organ to lead worship for three Sundays.
- Prior to class, one middle-school teacher informed me that the 8th grade boys would usually rather be elsewhere. My expectations were set to encounter some resistance. Of the 56 students that day, these ten boys were the most engaged! They were attentive from the moment they entered the room, through the building process, playing and disassembly.
- On a Saturday evening, we hosted a Pipes and Pinot party. A relaxing evening of friends gathered for hors d'oeuvres, wine, and organ building (and playing).
- A high school senior was completely and viscerally joyful when the organ began playing. An elementary school student giggled uncontrollably.
- Fifth grade girls were spotted writng down terminology (unprompted) such as mortise, tenon and tusk, as well as the website for OrgelKidsUSA.org so they could learn more at home.
They typical construction began with a life-skills question: "How do you get the elephant out of the jello box?" Answer: "Read the instructions!" 133 pieces were laid out on three tables. Students were given brief instructions and divided into groups. Each group also had clear printed instructions that described every step. Despite some requisite explanation, my goal was to allow the students the room they needed to explore - with teamwork - by doing. Once a group completed a step, they were expected to explain what they did and how it works to the rest of the class. The groups then combined to learn from each other and create the final assembly. They took turns as calcant and organist. The organ was usually completed and played in about 40 minutes.
Ages of the students ranged from 5 to 90, and their backgrounds included musicians, science students, visual artists, organ builders, etc. Depending on the audience and time available, we were able to discuss organ history, ancient woodworking and joining techniques, the physics of sound in a pipe, math, tuning and winder pressure Students were given age-appropriate handouts and worksheets or coloring pages, and invited to visit our church (or to speak to their own church organist) to see and hear a full-sized instrument.
"My sincerest thanks goes to Mr. Ryan for providing this amazing opportunity for our students!" - Eric Stover, music teacher at West Broad Street Elementary school to his students' parents.
Throughout my career, I have been an advocate for teaching children about the pipe organ. Since our first workshop at Advent Lutheran Church in 1997, hundreds of children have explored the pipe organ here and elsewhere. My cousin Noel Kennedy helped me create a coloring book for children; it has been used by children throughout the country.1 I’ve published articles about our workshops as well as the Assistant Organist project.2
Now it is time to take the next step. Word has spread of this amazing project and interest is developing! Possibilities for future workshops include presentations at regional and national gatherings of musicians, visits to classrooms in public and private schools, visits to retirement communities, visits to employers (for team-building exercises), and visits to school district offices to demonstrate the viability of music and the arts.
Now is the time to take the next step. It is time to purchase the first Orgelkids USA kit in the Philadelphia region. Will you help?
See it in action!
Check out this video of Orgelkids in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNGR1ESeNj4
1 “Meet the King,” Noel Kennedy and Vincent M. Ryan. 1999.
2 “Instrumental Thoughts: Meet the King,” in The Chorister, Choristers Guild, Vol L, No 10, April/May 1999.
“The New Organist: Pipe Organ Project in Harleysville,” in The American Organist, American Guild of Organists, Vol 32, No 4, April 1998.
“Assistant Organist of the Day,” in In Tempo, Association of Lutheran Church Musicians, 2016 No 2.
“Assistant Organist of the Day,” in Crescendo, Philadelphia Chapter, American Guild of Organists, Vol LXXVIII No 5, January 2016