My Story

My name is Heidi Bender and in 2009 I decided to become an organist at age 33. This may seem like an unusual decision. I was not a pianist having quit piano lessons about 20 years prior. In high school I played the clarinet in the band but not need continue with it in college.

In February of 2009, my husband and I took Dave Ramsey's financial peace university. One of the lessons focused on careers and suggested follow up reading included Dan Miller's book 48 Days to the Work You Love. An exercise in this book is to write down all the skills you currently have, what skills you might want to have or what you would really like to do. Learning the organ showed up on my “want to do” list having been inspired by watching the organist at my childhood church. 

During a Sunday morning service while staring at the empty organ bench, I felt like God was urging me to become an organist. This meant action would be required. It was time to stop dreaming and start doing!

Just how does one become an organist? First, I needed to a teacher. My church has a pipe organ, but there has not been an organist for many years at my church. I looked online for potential teachers in my area. After a few months, I found the courage to email Michael Gartz, who at that time was organist at Adrian College, my .

I was very nervous for I did not have much skill. What if he said no? Much to my delight Michael agreed to give me lessons. I would have to wait though until the fall semester started for my lessons to be begin. Now that I had a teacher lined up I needed an organ to practice on. My church decided that I could practice on the church's organ. However, all my practicing would need to be done around all other church activities. I was very happy with this arrangement.

During the summer of 2009, I still had fear that Michael would reject me as a student at my first lesson. Would he really be willing to take on a student with not much experience? I didn't know much about the organ or have a clue about the increased difficulty of learning an instrument as an adult. During the summer I ordered my first organ shoes and lesson book which would be needed for my first lesson.

Since I was not enrolled at Adrian College, my lesson time had to work around the schedule of the music students. Also, since I work full time they needed to be later in the day but could not be too late as it needed to fit into Michael's schedule as well. My employer agreed that I could leave a bit early one day a week to have lessons.

Finally, September rolled around and I had my first lesson. Michael was indeed happy to take me on as a student. We started with very easy exercises and Michael explained how an organ works. Amazingly, I was not aware of just how much organ music there is having been exposed to organ music primarily at church which consisted mostly of hymns.

Shortly after my lessons began, the organ at my church began to cipher (the continuous sounding of a pipe, the key of which has not been depressed). This was not good. With my church having gone the praise band route, the organ had not been maintained, nor did they want to spend the money to have it fixed. For a couple of weeks, I practiced the manuals on my parent's piano.

Michael came up with another solution. An electronic organ had been donated to Adrian College by a local church. The college has a pipe organ in the chapel and was not using the electronic organ. Michael checked with his boss, and I would be allowed to have the organ if another teacher at the school (who plays the organ) did not want it. She was not interested and the college said I could have it for free if I picked it up!

This was not a small instrument like those that often show up at second hand stores. This was a full size organ complete with 32 key pedal board (not all electronic organs have full size pedal board). It is a Saville Organ from the 1970's complete with the original speakers. For the first couple of months, the organ had issues adjusting to my house and perhaps the humidity. There would be times when it would not work at all. But for the last 2 years it has been dependable.

The speakers are about 4 feet in height and may have been mounted on a wall in the church.

I have continued to take lessons with Michael. Initially I had weekly lessons during the school year. Now we meet approximately once a month for a 2 hour lesson at Michael's church in Toledo.

With God's help, I will someday been an organist at a church. For now, I continue to improve and take lessons. As my journey continues may it be an encouragement that you can follow your dreams too!

Heidi Bender


  1. It is great you are following your dream. Awesome how you made it all come together.
    Best wishes.


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