Every Wednesday morning, the sound of organ music can be heard ringing throughout Christ Chapel. This prelude is unique to Wednesday chapel and is produced by MaryLou Wielenga.
Wielenga has been playing for Northwestern for 12 years, but her experience stretches far beyond that. She began playing the organ at age 14 and started playing for worship services a year later.
Having remained a dedicated organ player throughout life, Wielenga played at the inaugural recital for the new organ in Christ Chapel in 1990.
Wielenga’s involvement with the organ goes beyond Wednesday morning chapel, though. She plays for various concerts and ceremonies, such as the Vespers concerts, convocations and Baccalaureate services.
An organist and pianist at First Christian Reformed Church in Hull, Wielenga also teaches organ and piano lessons at Dordt College and NW.
“I also love playing the piano, but the organ is unique in its ability for using different colors of sound,” Wielenga said. “It truly is the ‘King of Instruments.’”
According to Wielenga, the organ has only 61 keys, compared to the 88 of a piano, yet it can produce a range of two or more octaves more than a piano.
An organ is capable of producing a diverse range of sounds by creating air vibrations controlled by a combination of keyboards and pedals. Wielenga said this is one of the reasons she has a passion for the instrument.
“The organ has a vast repertoire of music but also a rich and significant body of music written expressly for use in worship,” she said.
It is precisley because of this large body of sacred music that Wielenga plays the organ in chapel every Wednesday morning.
“My prayer is that the prelude would serve as a call to worship for the chapel service,” she said.
Wielenga said she intends for the music to be a time to listen quietly and prepare hearts and minds for time with God.
“It is also important to continue to sing the great hymns of the Church,” Wielenga said. “The organ is an effective instrument to lead congregational singing with its power.”
However, not all students appreciate organ music, associating it with old-fashioned worship services.
“I grew up in a contemporary church, so I’m just not used to that type of music,” said sophomore Kelsey Doornenbal
Doornenbal isn’t alone in her feelings. Many churches have abandoned the organ and hymnals and replaced them with keyboards and projectors.
One of the benefits of the organ every Wednesday is the incorporation of different styles of worship, according to some students.
“I think it’s a good thing to broaden what we experience to relate to other generations and cultures,” said senior Laura Ecklund. “There’s beauty found in all forms of worship, and we can experience God in more than just contemporary music.”
Junior Alex Plagge agrees.
“I really do appreciate hearing the organ on Wednesdays,” Plagge said. “I think it is a nice change from the contemporary stuff we hear every other day. I think the organ has a certain spirit and expressiveness to it that other instruments just can’t match. The only times I ever really feel moved during chapel are during some of the older hymns. They are beautiful songs, and I feel they are generally under-appreciated.”
Along with new worship styles, Wielenga encourages students to learn a new instrument by trying organ lessons at NW.
“Organ technique builds on piano technique but with the addition of other differences, including a magnificent four-manual keyboard pipe organ with 2,987 pipes at your disposal,” she said.
Wielenga said her aspiration every Wednesday morning is to give all the glory to God.
“The music is all about worship, not a performance,” she said. “I prefer no applause.”