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.

This M.P. Moller organ is a tracker instrument, meaning the keys are directly linked to the pipes through a complex system of rods and levers. 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 bit unusual 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. There appears to be water damage to the organ’s wind chest (where the air comes from that makes the pipes sound). There is also a concern for the electrical system that runs throughout the organ. It is impossible to determine how extensive the damage is without actually taking the organ apart. Yet, in spite of the smoke damage, dirt and soot, so far it seems that the facade and the organ pipes are intact.

What’s next? During the time the cathedral is undergoing repairs, the organ will be dismantled and moved to a safe place for cleaning and restoration. It is going to be a few years before we hear the Grand Organ again, but thankfully, we will hear it!

A printable and expanded version of this lesson, complete with projects for review, is available for free 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.

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!

A day in Hammond Organ history

When U.S. Patent 1,956,350 was issued to Laurens Hammond on April 24, 1934, for an “electrical musical instrument,”  the world of music changed forever.


My first organ was a Hammond.  My Aunt Vina, my school, my church and just about everyone else I knew who had an organ, had a Hammond organ.  Do you know who got the very first Hammond organ every made?  George Gershwin.  Henry Ford was a fan, too.  He purchased six of them.  Hammond organs have been played by major artists such as Count Basie, Fats Waller, Jimmy Smith, Booker T Jones, Gregg Allman, and many, many more, and are still played today by artists and enthusiasts everywhere.

Laurens “Larry” Hammond didn’t start out to invent an organ.  He wasn’t even a musician. He was an inventor.  I, for one, am glad he followed his dreams so that we could follow our dreams and make music happen.