Organs and Organ Study

Organ study at MLC prepares students to serve as organists in Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod churches. Students study the playing of hymns, psalms, liturgies, choral accompaniments, and service literature appropriate to liturgical Lutheran worship.

The number of students enrolled in organ courses at MLC is very likely the highest of any school in the United States that offers organ lessons. Enrollment has been stable at about 100 students per semester for many years. Students range in ability from beginners to advanced players. Opportunities exist to perform publicly in studio recitals, campus chapel services, concerts, and congregational settings. Approximately 50 students play for chapel services during a semester, with some doing so several times.

The organ facilities at MLC are extensive. Currently 17 pipe organs are available on campus, representing one Canadian and seven American builders. These organs range from smaller practice instruments to two contrasting 3-manual instruments in performance spaces. The largest organ on campus is a 57-rank pipe organ built by the Schantz Organ Company. Designed specifically for Chapel of the Christ, it was installed in 2010. Although informed by European organ design of various periods and locations, the organ is influenced especially by American organ building of the late 19th century to the present. The second largest organ on campus is the Backer Memorial Organ located in the Wittenburg Collegiate Center Auditorium. This 42-rank pipe organ, built by the Casavant Organ Company, is designed in the neo-Baroque style.

Organ and Organist

The Reuter Steinway Piano at MLC

Reuter Steinway Piano

The Reuter Steinway was purchased for $850 through the fundraising efforts of Fritz (Fredrick) Reuter, the first full-time, called music professor to the campus, who began his duties in 1908. The money was contributed by congregations where Reuter’s male chorus had sung.

Reuter was a noted musician, teacher, and composer. He taught 32 hours of music classes and rehearsals every week. Every student of Reuter could trace their music teachers back to Johann Sebastian Bach through Reuter, who had studied with reputable musicians and composers in Germany. In fact, at St. John Lutheran Church in Frankenmuth, Michigan, there is a stained glass window that pictures Fritz Reuter standing next to J. S. Bach.

Recent research by our Schmitt Music consultants of Bloomington, Minnesota, indicates this Steinway is a 7’ B model, constructed in 1908, serial number 133305.

In 1944 Professor Emil D. Backer, Reuter’s successor, sent the instrument to the Steinway factory in New York for repair and rebuilding, a project funded by the music department. The Reuter Steinway returned to the campus in 1946 as a virtually new instrument and continued to serve as before. It moved to a Music Center studio in 2004.

With the construction of Chapel of the Christ, Dr. John Nolte, the music division chair, sent the instrument to Kenneth Hannah of Stillwater, Minnesota, to be renovated again. The music division covered the $20,500 cost of the project. The piano was ready for the dedication of the chapel in 2010. Since then, it has been used several times each day as an instrument for student- and faculty-led worship, for various rehearsals, and for individual practice sessions.

Fritz Reuter will be inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame on April 19, 2024, the centenary year of his passing. His granddaughter, Margo Martens (a former resident of New Ulm), has helped MLC and the MMHF prepare a special remembrance of Reuter for the occasion, including a professional recording of a lullaby written by Reuter for her father, also named Fredrick, or “Fritz.” The lullaby was written for piano, and Margo is the performer on the recording. The MMHF museum could possibly be the future home of the Reuter piano. The piano is significant to both MLC and New Ulm history.

You might be familiar with a hymn that has become a type of “anthem” for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage.” The music for this hymn was written by Fritz Reuter, and the tune name is REUTER.

The “Prange/Busse” Steinway Concert D Piano

Steinway D

The Steinway concert grand piano was dedicated during the MLC Homecoming service on October 13, 2019, in which choirs sang and piano faculty took turns playing the instrument during the service. It is a 9′ grand, a 2019 model, serial number 611513.

In the proposal to the MLC Administrative Council for purchasing the piano, Professor Grace Hennig wrote: “In an informal conversation with friends, I was made aware of a charitable foundation that manages funds from the estate of my friend’s uncle. This past November (2018) I learned that the couple was not only in a position to help purchase but were very interested in funding replacement pianos. . . . They chose to focus first on the chapel and a top-quality piano for that space. . . . They proposed the gift to their foundation’s board of trustees, and the board voted for a gift of $100,000 for the new piano.”

The donors asked about dedicating the Steinway D to two music teachers and dear friends. A gold plate inside the piano pays tribute to these two teachers: “In celebration of Martin Busse and Mary Prange’s teaching ministries. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

The remaining monies for the purchase of the piano came from the MLC music department funds, MLC Mission Advancement Office funds, MLC President Mark Zarling’s funds, and other donors in order to reach the piano’s purchase price of $143,707.

Five people flew to the Steinway Warehouse in Queens, New York, for the piano selection process: Alice Tillman (Schmitt representative), Dr. Bethel Balge (pianist and piano instructor), Professor Adrian Smith (music department chair), Professor Grace Hennig (piano instruction coordinator), and her husband, Professor Brian Hennig (theology).

Dr. Bethel Balge played several Steinway concert grands before settling on a selection. The piano arrived March 27, 2019, and President Mark Zarling, also an accomplished pianist and organist, was the first to play the instrument after it was assembled in Chapel of the Christ. He played a hymn, “Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me.” Professor Grace Hennig played while a small gathering of students and faculty sang “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage.”

The rationale for placing a concert grand in the chapel included the concern for the heavy wear the Reuter was receiving through student and faculty use, along with the desire to model excellence in worship and performance with the best piano MLC could obtain. This motivation was very similar to Reuter’s own desire to acquire the best possible piano for the college over 100 years ago.

The Steinway D today is featured in the pinnacle music and worship events of the school year, including Homecoming worship, the Christmas concert, Lent Vespers, faculty and student recitals, the honors recital, ProMusica MN Chamber Series, and more.

Daily use would significantly reduce the life of the instrument; therefore, similar to Grandpa’s beautifully polished “Sunday” car, the “D” is used less frequently than the Reuter, which is right now our “workhorse” piano in the chapel. The Reuter will eventually need replacing, so that it can be kept in fairly good condition as a piece of MLC history.