Music Room Skill Sets 1-5

The first five Music Room Skill Sets are now available! The story line running through the entire series is based on my actual students, past and present. Their questions, situations and gentle humor are very real making it easy for students to relate to the Music Room characters. I have lost track of how many times I’ve heard things like, “That’s EXACTLY what I want to know!” or “I’m glad I’m not the only one who needs help with this.” We met AryAnna in Skill Set 3 and EmmyLou in Skill Set 4. Landon comes for his lesson in Skill Set 5.

Each fun lesson has the storyboard cartoons, writing Fun Pages and games. I hope you will consider sharing this link with the music students, teachers and homeschool families that you know.

The links to the entire series (so far) is: The Music Room

[Related: Wondering about the Grand Organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris? Click here and the printable lesson about the organ, before and after the fire, is here.]

I Did It!

After a lot of talk about doing it, I finally buckled down and got it started. I know, it’s just a baby step. I have a long way to go on this journey. But the point is, I started working towards a goal.

Those of you who are taking music lessons from me know that for a couple of years now, I have been developing a music curriculum using cartoon-style storyboards. Feedback from the kids (well, and adults, too!) has been pretty impressive and I have been encouraged to not only continue, but to expand.

So what did I finally do? I opened up a store in TeachersPayTeachers! All of the characters in Maestro Heights will soon be available for everyone to enjoy.

Remember the old TV show, “Lost In Space?” I loved that show, even though every episode ended with a cliffhanger. Maestro Heights is going to be like that for awhile. Enjoy each episode as it is made available, and stay tuned for our next adventure!

Here are the first two “episodes”.

Welcome to the Music Room!

Keyboard Layout

Mini-Course: How Do Organ Pipes Work?

“Why are there so many pipes?”

“But how come you sit over here and the sound comes out over there?”

“Why are those pipes so big?”

“Why are those pipes so tiny?”

“Why are some of the pipes made from metal and others are made from wood?”

“How long do pipes last?”

Right after the wide-eyed “Wow!” when folks first see a pipe organ, I am asked a lot of questions about how the pipe organ actually works. The entire pipe organ is an incredibly complex machine, yet the pipes that produce the sound are quite simple.

Related: A fun printable that explains how all those pipes work together to make a most impressive sound.

Each pipe, individually, is an interesting example of the science of sound, but when we hear all of the pipes together, the result is amazing. That is a lot like our time together here on earth, isn’t it? The things we can accomplish when we work together are truly amazing.

Related: Lesson Outline and video links

Related: The Notre Dame Cathedral Paris Pipe Organ

Related: The History of the Pipe Organ

1912 M.P. Moller, Avon Federated Church, Avon, Illinois

The first settlers in Avon, Illinois, arrived in 1835. In just twenty years, the area grew enough to have a post office, changed its name twice, saw the building of a branch of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) and formed several churches. Among those fellowships were a Universalist Church and a Congregational Church.

The Congregationalist Church in Avon was formed in 1855. Early services were held in temporary locations until a building could be constructed in 1860. Rev. Edward Beecher of First Congregational Church, Galesburg, Illinois, preached the dedicatory sermon. The years that followed were busy with endeavors and growth. The church celebrated its 50th anniversary (1905) with three days of services and celebrations. Rev. C. A.Vincent of Central Congregational Church, Galesburg was one of the speakers.

Some of the earliest families in the Avon area were Universalists, and they often attended services in nearby towns. In 1863, the first regular Universalist Society of Avon was organized. Initial services were held in a local school until a church building was erected. The church was formally dedicated in June, 1867, by the Rev. W. S. Balch of Galesburg. The total cost of the church was $4,000.

The organ in this church was a Mason and Hamlin reed organ, purchased in 1869. Mason and Hamlin organs were considered the very finest reed organs available in their day. Notable composers, including Franz Liszt, created works specifically for Mason and Hamlin organs. The organ was purchased in Galesburg for $153.

In 1906, thoughts turned to a new church building. Since the new church would have the same location as the original, services were held at a temporary facility during the dismantling of the old and building of the new church. In February 1908, the church was dedicated as the “Church of the Good Shepherd.”

By 1912, a committee was formed to acquire a pipe organ for the church. An M.P. Moller organ was selected. It was dedicated in November of that year at a cost of $1,459.99. The old organ, presumably the Mason and Hamlin, was sold to a school for $20.00.

In September, 1928, the Universalist and Congregational Churches voted to unite to form a Federated Church. They continue to meet in what was the Universalist church building.

The action of this organ is a pneumatic style developed by Moller. To this day, the pipes, console, and casework are all original.

The organ produces a clear, strong sound which easily fills the sanctuary. Since the instrument is at the front of the church, the organist sits with their back to the congregation. The mirror mounted above the console helps the organist see what is going on in the sanctuary.

For an organ of this size, it is a nice to find adjustable divisional combination actions (presets). There are two thumb pistons for each manual, very adequate for the organ.

It is significant to note that, like many organs of this era, the air supply to the organ was provided by hand-pumped bellows. It didn’t take too long to see the need for an upgrade, and an electric motor to pump the bellows was installed in April 1914.

One of the charming features of this console is the meter that shows the strength of the air pressure. Imagine the importance of that dial when the organ was being hand-pumped! The more stops that are in use, the more air is needed to make them sound. When the tremulant (vibrato) is added, the meter appears to flit like a butterfly with the changes in air pressure.

The swell division is enclosed and is controlled by pedal (on the right in the above photo). The crescendo pedal, on the left, has a dial on the console to show how much of the organ is being added to the sound. The pedal lever on the far left is sforzando, used to go directly to full organ.

Stop List

Dulciana 8′
Vox Celeste 8′
Melodia 8′
Open Diapason 8′
Flute D’Amour 4′

Dolce 8′
VioleD’Orchestre 8′
Concert Flute 8′
Celeste 8′
Flute 4′


Bourdon 16′
Lieblich Gedacht 16′

Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Swell to Great
Swell to Great 4′
Swell to Great 16′
Swell 4′

Great Adjustable Combinations 1 & 2
Swell Adjustable Combinations 1 & 2

1912 J.P. Moller Organ, Avon Federated Church, Avon, Illinois

The Notre-Dame Cathedral Paris Pipe Organ

The world watched in frozen horror as news broadcasts showed a fire blazing through the Notre Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019. The fate of the historic building and its contents hung in the balance. The damage was extensive, yet somehow, miraculously even, some things survived. Among the remaining treasures in the cathedral is the pipe organ, known as the Grand Organ.

There were actually two organs in the cathedral. The Choir (smaller) organ received significant water damage, but reports are water flowed down both sides of the Grand (main) Organ case rather than into it, sparing it from flooding.

[Related: A printable and expanded version of this lesson, complete with projects for review, is available here.]

[Related: A pipe organ is one of the most complicated machines ever built but the pipes that make the sound are really quite simple. Here is a fun printable to show kids how those pipes work.]

[Related: Did you know the pipe organ is one of our very oldest instruments? A unit study for older kids is available here.]

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 moved 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.