THE ‘KING OF INSTRUMENTS’: Junior Joseph Huang plays the pipe organ

15min

For the interactive graphic above, click one of the blue buttons to learn about a part of the pipe organ and its function. 

How did you become interested in playing the pipe organ?

My mom introduced me to the pipe organ about three and a half years ago because she wanted me to play a second instrument after piano being my first. I wasn’t very interested at first, but when my organ teacher, Dr. Charles Goehring, a retired director of St. Luke’s music ministries, introduced me to the pipe organ at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church of Indianapolis, my life in the musical world was changed forever because when I look at the organ console, which is the body of the organ that contains the keyboards and pedals, I was captivated by its embellishments of its drawknobs and keyboards and pedals. From that point on, I became really eager to learn the organ.

Why did you continue to play?

I consider the organ as the king of instruments, and it is considered the most powerful instrument to be controlled by the human body alone without the usage of computer. I love the organ because of its variety of sounds and its power. This instrument can drown a lot of the other instruments, which gives me the sense of supremacy, and playing the organ also provides me a really fun challenge because I have to multitask a lot: I not only have to play the keyboards with my hands like a pianist, but I also have to play with my toes and heels in order to play the pedal parts. When I first started playing the organ, I thought that playing the feet parts was literally impossible to achieve, but practice makes perfect. The more you practice, the more confidence you’ll gain, (and) the more confidence you gain, the more opportunities you achieve. My main purpose of continuing playing the pipe organ is basically for service playing at churches. There are many churches around the world that are changing from traditional services to contemporary services, which tells me that the traditional music is dying out in our modern society (and) being replaced by contemporary music, and I want to continue organ playing so that this instrument will not be forgotten and that it will always remain as the king of instruments.

Why do you think the pipe organ is the king of instruments?

Because it’s one of the only instruments that can produce a wide variety of sounds like a piano produces one type of sound, which is the piano itself, while the organ can produce trumpet sounds, flute sounds or string sounds, which is very versatile.

Junior Joseph Huang plays the pipe organ located in St. Luke's United Methodist Church. He said he wanted to continue playing it in order to show that it is not just for religious purposes. KYLE CRAWFORD / PHOTO
Junior Joseph Huang plays the pipe organ located in St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. He said he wanted to continue playing it in order to show that it is not just for religious purposes. KYLE CRAWFORD // PHOTO

What have you learned from playing the pipe organ?

I have learned numerous things that are essential to me. On my first organ lesson, I was told to differentiate the piano and the pipe organ. For example, the piano has 88 keys, while the organ typically has 61 keys per manual, (which) you guys call it a keyboard, and the organ also has 32 pedals on the pedalboard, and I also learned that every single pipe organ is unique, and they’re unique due to their environment in the sanctuary of a church or a music hall and the number of ranks or sounds they’re comprised of and the number of different drawknobs that are on the post, and etc. I believe that a reason that the organ has really low popularity in our modern society is because of the misconception of it just being a religious instrument, but the pipe organ is not only just for religious purposes. It can also be used for secular purposes too. Most people do believe that the pipe organ is only used as a church instrument. It can be, but not always. There are many music schools in the nation that have pipe organs in their campuses, which means that they also provide organ majors, and surprisingly, IU has an organ department, and in fact, IU currently has the largest organ department in the nation. I also gained a lot knowledge of the musical world by going to the Pipe Organ Encounters Advanced (POEA), which is hosted by the American Guild of Organists (AGO), which is an organization of academic, church and concert organists of the U.S. In the camps, I have learned a lot about the history, time periods, composition, improvisation, practice techniques, various organ designs, etc.

Do you plan to continue playing?

I still haven’t decided yet, but I guess it might be a little bit challenging to get into (the IU program) since it does have the largest organ department, which means that there are a lot of competitors to get into that school. Well, we’ll see. I’m not certain whether or not I’ll major in this in college, but in the future, I want to serve at church and worship through my passion of organ playing to influence as many people as possible musically.

What does playing the pipe organ feel like?

Whenever I sit on the bench and start playing the instrument, I felt nervous, naturally, and also kind of prominent. I believe that almost every musician around the world will get nervous at most of their performances unless they have a lot of experience, and I rarely accompany a congregation of a church through hymn playing, but every time that I do that, I felt like I’m like the leader of that particular moment, leading the congregation to sing the hymns. Basically, it’s the more you practice, the more experience and the less stress you have of playing the organ.

How often do you lead church congregations?

My organ teacher, Dr. Goehring, asked the church if they could have me as a guest organist. So yeah, basically I’m a guest organist to many churches; I’m not stuck to one church.

What other churches have you played at besides St. Luke’s?

I did play at the CCCI, the Chinese Community Church of Indianapolis, last year for their candlelight service, and I’m planning to do that again this year too. I also played at First Baptist Church which is not far from St. Luke’s. I also played at a church in Brownsburg; I don’t remember the name of it though. I also played at Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis near downtown.

What do you think has had a major impact on your playing?

My parents, teacher and organ friends gave me a lot of confidence in organ playing, and when I started playing the piano at a very young age, I used to hide under the table because of my fear of playing the piano, and then thanks to my mom, I managed to overcome that problem with her assistance, and I have become more extroverted in both piano and organ performance.

Do you have any other comments or thoughts that you’d like to share with readers?

I believe that when a lot of people think of the word, “pipe organ,” they basically think of it as a church instrument, but that is not true. It can also be played for secular pieces like I said. Just don’t think of it always as a very religious instrument. It can played for fun too, (and) I hope I can demonstrate that.

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