1901 Hinners & Albertsen, First United Presbyterian, Knoxville, Illinois

Cornerstone, First United Presbyterian Church

Cornerstone, First United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Illinois

Standing proudly in the small town of Knoxville, Illinois, is First United Presbyterian Church.  Founded in 1835, the congregation made their church home in other locations before erecting the current structure and moving into it, debt free, in 1899.   The Hinners & Albertsen organ was installed in 1901.




First United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Illinois

First United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Illinois



John Hinners

John Hinners, undated photo

Hinners Organ Perfection Manufactury was founded by John Hinners (1846-1906) of Pekin, Illinois, in 1879. With the first organs built by Hinners and one assistant,  the company grew and became Hinners & Albertsen in 1886, eventually employing nearly 100 workers.  They continued to build reed and pipe organs into the 1930s.  During its history, Hinners built over 10,000 reed organs and more than 2,000 pipe organs.  The first pipe organs were produced in 1890, had only one manual, pedals and mechanical actions.  Hinners eventually built some organs with electro-pneumatic actions, theater organs and a few three- and four-manual organs.  The organ in Knoxville First United Presbyterian Church, however,  is far more typical of the majority of Hinners pipe organs with its two manuals,  mechanical action and hand-pumped bellows.  


Hinners Organ Works, Pekin, Illinois

Pipe organs were and are primarily custom-built instruments.  John Hinners developed stock models of organs, sold them through catalogs and shipped them, primarily by rail, to the customer.  With this model, Hinners is appropriately compared to both Henry Ford and Aaron Montgomery Ward.  Many of these organs went to small, rural churches and the relative low-cost was a strong draw.  The organs were designed to be simple and reliable, capable of being maintained by local craftsman, not requiring a specialized organ service technician.

The Hinners family was active in the Pekin German Methodist Episcopal church where John Hinners served as organist.  He was a self-taught and talented musician who performed many of the dedicatory concerts for Hinners organs, including the one in Knoxville.  Mr. Hinners was assisted at the dedicatory recital by two vocal soloists and a reader of verse. He began the program by playing “Fantasie” by Volkmar,”Prayer from Lohengrin” by Wagner, and “Pastorale”by Flagler. The bass soloist then sang “The Lost Chord” by Sullivan.  Hinners continued with “Marche Funebre” by Batiste and “Song Without Words” by Chantal. The reader next recited “Patsy” by Kate Douglas Wiggin. “Evening Rest” by Merkel, “Marche des Fantomes” by Clark, and “Prayer” by Flagler were played on the organ followed by a soprano solo “Serenade” by Schubert. Mr. Hinners closed the program with “Choeur” by Van den Bogaert.

First United Presbyterian, Knoxville, Sanctuary

The sanctuary of First United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, as it appears today.


The Hinners & Albertsen organ, case work and console

Performing on this instrument is a bit unusual.  Even for an organ with tracker action, it takes some strength to play if any couplers are engaged.  There are some couplers that result in a touch that is so heavy it is not practical to use.


The tonal range is unusual, too.  The manual stops are composed entirely of 8′ ranks.  A complete stop list follows.  The location of the organ requires the organist to sit with their back to the congregation.  There is a small mirror mounted above the console which allows the organist to see what is happening in the sanctuary.

One stop is labeled “Blowers Signal.”  It was used to alert a dedicated soul that it was it was time to begin working the hand-operated bellows.


Behind the facade, the pipes of the great division can be seen.  To the right are the enclosed swell pipes.  The “shutters” on the swell box are controlled by the swell shoe on the console.  


The Swell shoe is delightfully shaped like an actual shoe.

The organ is largely in its original condition. Thankfully, the bellows are now run by electricity.  Below the Great manual is a small keyboard used for a “Chime-a-tron” added as a memorial gift in 1984.  The original pedalboard has been replaced.HinnersConsoleWEB

This charming organ was awarded a citation (#394) by the Organ Historical Society in 2010.  It is a joy to see this historic organ utilized and enjoyed.HinnersOHSPlaqueWEB

Stop List:
8′ Open Diapason
8′ Melodia
8′ Dulciana
8′ Lieblich Gedeckt
8′ Flute
8′ Salicional
8′ Violin Diapason

16′ Bourdon

Great Octave
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great

Swell Tremolo
Blowers Signal

John Hinners and I have a few things in common.  We share a love of organs and the music they create.  We both have traveled countless miles to perform on many different organs.  I’m pleased to say we both have played the organ at First United Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Illinois.


The Eyes Have It

Are you a multi-tasker?  You certainly are when reading music while playing the piano.  Let’s take a look <insert knee slap>  at what your eyes are doing.    Are you supposed to watch the music?  Or your hands?  Or some of each?  Are you getting dizzy from nodding your head back and forth between the keyboard and the printed music?

If that isn’t enough, add the challenge of learning to read a bit ahead of what the hands are actually playing.  My students are probably tired of me using this example, but here it is, one more time:  Let’s say you are going somewhere, oh how about to a piano lesson 🙂 and your lesson is scheduled to begin at 4:00.  What happens if you leave your house at 4:00? You will be late, of course.  You must leave the house before 4:00 to arrive at your destination in time.  In order to play a note in rhythm (in time) you must read that note and get your hand in the correct position before it is time for that note to be played.  Sound complicated?  It is, really.  But I promise, the more you do it, the easier — and more automatic — it gets until the day finally comes when it just happens.   One of the reasons we sight-read every single song we learn here at my studio is to practice the skills of reading and reading ahead.

Check out the link below.  It’s an interesting video focusing (oh, somebody stop me) on the eye movement of a professional pianist compared to that of his student.

What Does a Pianist See?




Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

Philip Bliss, who wrote both the text and tune for this hymn, and his 19th century contemporary, Ira Sankey, are credited with founding the gospel song movement.  Both were part of the Dwight L. Moody evangelistic team, and both sang, led crusade singing, and authored many gospel songs.  Bliss was inspired to write this hymn after hearing the following illustration in one of Moody’s sermons: The pilot of a ship aught in a violent storm searched frantically for the lights that would guide him to safety.  He could see the powerful beam of the lighthouse, but the lower lights along the rocky shore were out, and both the ship and crew were last. “Brethren,” Moody concluded, “the Master will take care of the lighthouse, but we must keep the lower lights burning.”

The link below will open a new window and features the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with an especially  lovely setting of this song.

Let the Lower Lights Be Burning

February 16, 1848: Chopin’s Final Concert

Frederic_Chopin_photo-713x1024Born in the Duchy of Warsaw (present day Poland) and raised in Warsaw, Frederick Chopin (1810-1849) settled in Paris by the time he was 21 years old.  His musical compositions are primarily for solo piano and remain among the most popular selections for students, artists and audiences.  While admired for his technical virtuosity at the piano , he was generally in poor-health throughout his life.  He was in Paris when died of tuberculosis, just 39 years old.

Chopin preferred intimate salon performances over concert work, and only gave about 30 public performances once he move to Paris.  The last of these performances was in London on February 16, 1848.  The occasion was a fundraising concert presented by Literary Association of the Friends of Poland to aid the several hundred Poles that had fled to London in the wake of the November Uprising of 1830.  The “Annual Grand Dress and Fancy Ball and Concert” was a grand and lavish evening.  Chopin was one of several performers for the concert portion of the evening and his appearance was scheduled between operatic vocalists.

Chopin performed on a Broadwood grand piano and felt he had done well.  The audience agreed, giving him “much applause.”  Others described his playing as  “like an angel” and “most brilliant.”  Even though he was frail, his artistry was appreciated as “that pure and vigorous style which has already earned him admiration is musical circles.”  After his performance, Chopin left the event early and collapsed when he arrived home. 

Many examples of Chopin’s music are available on YouTube.  Click here to go to one extended playlist.




Join the Ranks!


Combining my interest in history with performing on a magnificent organ seemed like a great idea, so when Mike Hobbs, from the Civil War Round Table, asked me to provide a program for them I quickly agreed.  I had absolutely no idea, however, how this event would grow…and grow…and grow over the next days and weeks.  What started out as a simple program for a local group has become a much larger event with TV, radio, print and social media coverage.

Click here to watch a KWQC TV Channel 6 segment from “Fran Riley Features…” about the concert.  After watching the video, scroll to find a gallery of photos they took while on location.

During the taping of that segment, John was in the church balcony and took a few photos of his own, shown below.  (Thanks to my daughter Lisa for the great title to the program!)

Thanks to everyone who helped spread the word:  Fran Riley and Channel 6 KWQC, the Galesburg Register-Mail (click here to see the article),  WGIL and Terry Cavanaugh, and all my friends and family (love those Facebook shares!).

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Counting Aloud

Sometimes we run across some wisdom gem or quote or insight that we just have to share with everyone else.  It is especially exciting when that gem happens to back up something we believe and have tried to convey to others, as in,”See?  I TOLD you so!” If you have ever ‘liked,’ ‘shared’ or ‘retweeted’ you know exactly what I mean.

First the back story:  Just a few hours ago, I was talking with a piano student (“JH”) about the need to count aloud.  He knows he should, but it isn’t easy for him, so it is an exercise that tends to get dropped.   I told him of a conversation I had (decades ago) with some other music students. These adult-but-beginners had gathered at my house for a spring potluck.  There was no need to scare everyone off so we didn’t call it a recital, but that is really what it was.  Over lunch, these students and friends were comparing their challenges of music study.  Just as I walked by, I heard one say how much she hated to count out loud.   The one seated next to her added, “Gail makes you count out loud, too?  I thought she only did that to me!”  And so it went around the table, having to count aloud being the great equalizer.

JH smiled and nodded in total agreement and understanding with students he had never met, promised to try to work on it, and we moved on.

A short time later, I was looking through my personal library, and opened a book given to me years ago by a dear friend, Karen Kaiser. It fell open to a page that has the following:

It is always difficult to count aloud, since one has so much to think about, but it is absolutely indispensable.  The author has taught music for twenty-five years, and he has never known a pupil who did not count aloud to do good playing.   When a piece is well learned then he may keep time mentally, but he must think the one, two, three, four, or whatever the time may be, seeing critically that the notes correctly fill the time.  Of course you will hear fine players and you will not see them count, but if they are really fine players they are certainly keeping the time.  You may want to know when one will not need to  count.  It will be when he can live without eating [emphasis happily mine!]. Don’t ask your teacher to count for you; it will do you no more good than if you asked him to eat for you.  But the mere speaking of the counts is valueless unless you think the time of the music; and bring every note in its proper relations to the count.”

Reed Organ Method Book, 1891

Reed Organ Method Book, 1891

This gem is by Charles Landon, from his book “Landon’s Reed Organ Method,” published in 1891. Yes, you read that correctly: a 1891 lesson book for REED organ, as in pump organ, or parlor organ or the charming little oak or mahogany organs that you see in antique stores that sound like overgrown harmonicas.  This makes his advice either very outdated, or perfectly ageless.  I’m going with perfectly ageless because it is exactly what I believe and have found as true.  Besides, we all can use some affirmations from time to time. 😉

Keep counting aloud, everyone!


Selecting a Portable Keyboard

There are so many wonderful keyboards and digital pianos on the market that to choose one can feel overwhelming.  The question is really, “What kind of keyboard do I need to begin piano studies?”

In an ideal world, we would all have pianos with 88 weighted keys. While the debate between preferring acoustic or digital/electronic continues, having a piano that is totally functional and in tune  is absolutely necessary.  Does that seem obvious to you?  Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t appear that way to everyone.  I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve had conversations that included things such as “most of the keys work” or “my mom had it tuned when I was taking lessons, about 15 years ago,” or “he is just a beginner, so it’s good enough.”  You get the idea.

As much as I want all students to have a full-size piano, I understand that it is simply not always possible.  We need to talk about the next option: portable keyboards.  Before I get blasted by people saying keyboards are never acceptable for beginning piano studies, please know that I am being realistic here.  I would prefer to have students begin with a keyboard than never learn the joys of making music at all because they didn’t own a piano.  And honestly, I would prefer that they begin with a keyboard and not a broken down, never-can-be-tuned acoustic piano simply because it is a ‘real’ piano.

Getting down off of my soap box now, let’s talk about keyboards.  What brand?  I have personal preferences, but that is not what matters.  How much should it cost?  That depends on so many factors beyond the scope of this post.  Here, however, is my list of what I consider minimum standards:

  1.  At least 61 keys, but more is better.  Make sure the keys are ‘full size’, meaning they are the same size as piano keys.  Some keyboards have keys that are a little narrower or not quite as long.
  2. Touch sensitive (or velocity sensitive or whatever the manufacturer calls it). This means that when you strike the key with more weight, it produces a louder sound; less weight creates a softer sound.
  3. A sustain pedal.  This is a footswitch that plugs into the back of the keyboard.  While it is most often called an accessory, I consider it an absolute necessity.  Even if your budget requires you to buy the pedal later,  be sure the keyboard will accept a pedal.  Not all of them do.  (A button marked ‘sustain’ is not the same thing.)
  4. AC adapter.  Keyboards are battery hogs, and regular daily practice is super important.   It is pretty discouraging to hear a student tell me he couldn’t practice because the batteries died.
  5. A stand.  The keyboard should be placed at the correct height so that the proper playing posture becomes a part of the practice habit.  I have students that slump over the piano in my studio because at home they practice on a keyboard sitting on a bed.  Not good.  Along with the stand, you will need a chair or bench at the correct height.

Hope this helps. Got questions?  Ask away!

The Light of the World Is Jesus

Philip P. Bliss (1838-1876) was one of the five children born to John and Lydia Bliss.  Their log home, typical of the early settlers of northern Pennsylvania, was filled with love and Christian teaching, but formal education was scarce.  Early in life, Philip developed a passion for learning and for music, and took advantage of whatever opportunities came his way.  He became a teacher at age 18 and about that same time began his first formal music studies.  His musical gifts, including a strong baritone voice, developed quickly and by 1860 he was teaching music.

In 1864,  Root & Cady, of Chicago, Illinois, published a song by Bliss. The payment he requested and received for the song was a flute.  Bliss soon became friends with George F. Root, composer of many Civil War songs, including “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” and several hymns.   During the next years, Bliss worked for the publisher and with Root, leading singing conventions, teaching and giving concerts.

In 1869, a meeting took place which would change gospel music forever.  Bliss described it as follows: “One Sunday evening, my wife and I went out for a walk, before going to church… we came upon the open air meeting. I was at once attracted by the earnestness of the speaker, who, I was told, was [Dwight L.] Moody, and, waiting until he closed with an earnest appeal for all to follow him to the theater, we decided we would go, and fell in with the crowd, and spent the evening in his meeting there. That night Mr. Moody was without his usual leader for the singing, and the music was rather weak. From the audience, I helped what I could on the hymns, and attracted Moody’s attention. At the close of the meeting, he was at the door shaking hands with all who passed out, and as I came to him he had my name and history in about two minutes, and a promise that when I was in Chicago, Sunday evenings, I would come and help in the singing at the theater meetings. This was the commencement of our acquaintance.”

In July, 1870, Mr. Bliss became leader of the choir of the First Congregational Church of Chicago, and shortly afterwards, the Superintendent of the Sabbath school. He continued to hold both of these positions for about three years, resigning only when his work as a singing evangelist took more of his attention.  In November of 1876, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss went to Peoria, Illinois, for a series of meetings and services with long-time friends and colleagues.  By mid-December, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss returned home to New England to spend Christmas with their sons, Philip playing the part of Santa Claus.  Plans were to return to Chicago for services with Moody, then on to England.  Bliss never made it back to Chicago.  On December 29, 1876, with the children safely at home, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss were in a train accident that took their earthly lives.

Bliss wrote many of the songs that Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey used during the great 1870s revival in England.  “The Light of the World is Jesus” w as written for such a revival meeting and was first sung by Sankey.  Bliss biographer Major D. W. Whittle said, “It came to him together, words and music, one morning while passing through the hall to his room, and was at once written out.”  The text is based on John 8:12.

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  John 8:12 KJV

The Light of the World Is Jesus

The whole world was lost
In the darkness of sin,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Like sunshine at noonday,
His glory shone in.
The Light of the world is Jesus!

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
Once I was blind, but now I can see:
The Light of the world is Jesus!

No darkness have we
Who in Jesus abide;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
We walk in the light
When we follow our Guide!
The Light of the world is Jesus!


Ye dwellers in darkness
With sin blinded eyes,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Go, wash, at His bidding,
And light will arise.
The Light of the world is Jesus!


No need of the sunlight
In Heaven we’re told;
The Light of the world is Jesus!
The Lamb is the Light
In the city of gold,
The Light of the world is Jesus!


Great Is Thy Faithfulness

In 1923, Thomas O. Chisholm wrote a poem about God’s faithfulness to us,  based on the scripture found in Lamentations 3:22-23.

It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

Unlike many hymns that are inspired by a specific event,  Chisholm didn’t need a crisis to fully realize God’s faithfulness because he recognized it throughout his life.

Chisholm sent the hymn to a musician friend, William Runyan, to have it to music.  Runyan said, “This particular poem held such an appeal that I prayed most earnestly that my tune might carry its message in a worthy way, and the subsequent history of its use indicates that God answered prayer.”

Let us begin every morning in the joy and assurance of God’s faithfulness and love.

Called As Partners in Christ’s Service

There are things in my life that remind me of the people in my life.  It could be a recipe, a style of shoes, a particular color, most anything really.  Often, it is a song. In some of the churches I have served, the pastor selects the hymns to be sung by the congregation.  Pastors, just like everyone else, have favorite songs.  A few years ago, I had the honor of serving with a pastor named Joe.  He selected this song a lot, and now every time I play it, I am reminded of our service together. Joe and the the text of the song have the same message:  we, as children of God, are to work together to be the love that God is.  Joe chose well.

Jane Parker Huber (1926-2008), daughter of Presbyterian missionaries living in China, wrote the text for this hymn.  It, along with other hymns she wrote,  can be found in the 1990 Presbyterian Hymnal, the Chalice Hymnal, the Covenant Hymnal and more.

Huber wrote texts to be used with familiar tunes.  For this hymn, the tune BEECHER was used. John Zundel (1815-1882), composed the tune in 1870 to be used with the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”. Although the hymntune is sometimes called ZUNDEL after the composer, Zundel named it BEECHER after his pastor, Henry Ward Beecher. Beecher was the pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church in Brooklyn, New York, and Zundel was the organist.

Henry Ward Beecher was part of an outspoken family well-known for their abolitionist views and advocacy of social reform. A sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  A brother, Edward Beecher, was also a preacher. Dr. Edward Beecher was the first pastor of First Congregational Church in Galesburg, Illinois, a town active in the Underground Railroad.

The First Congregational Church was the first brick church built in Galesburg, and quickly became known simply as “the Brick Church” and much later as “Beecher Chapel.”  When the tall spire that soared over the town was destroyed by a tornado in 1858, Henry Ward Beecher went on a speaking tour throughout Illinois to help raise funds to repair the church pastored by his brother Edward.  Among the members of the church was Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke.  It was the preaching she heard in the Brick Church the led her to leave the comfort of her home in Galesburg and begin serving the wounded soldiers of the Civil War, saving literally thousands of lives.

In 1895, First Congregational and its mother church, known locally as “Old First Church,” recombined to form Central Congregational Church.  As a result of this union, an exceptionally fine Richardsonian Romanesque church was built in 1898.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is, without a doubt, one of the most significant landmarks in Galesburg.  One of the beautiful stained glass windows at Central is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Edward Beecher.

Detail of stained glass window in the South Room, Central Congregational Church, Galesburg, Illinois, memorial to Dr. Edward Beecher

We, indeed, have all been “called as partners in Christ’s service.” Jane Huber, John Zundel, Henry Ward Beecher, Edward Beecher, my friend Pastor Joe and countless others have certainly effectively served as partners in Christ by informing my faith journey.   Now when we sing “Called As Partners in Christ’s Service”  I am reminded that this partnership spans years as well as miles.  I think of Pastor Joe and his love of God, and of the Beecher family and their influence on America and in my hometown, Galesburg.  I pray for the church where I now serve as Director of Music/Organist, Central Congregational Church.