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Church organist has tickled the ivories for 50 years

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Kayla Bunge
May 5, 2008
— The bit of sunlight that streamed through the pastel panes of stained glass seemed to shine only on Nancy Thorson, illuminating her hands as they danced across the keys of an organ.

Fifty years ago Sunday, the 72-year-old woman first laid fingers on the keys of the electric organ at Orfordville Lutheran Church.


“I always loved music,” Thorson said, “especially religious music.”


She was raised in a Christian home, making religious music a part of her life from the time she was a young girl.


In the years of the Great Depression leading up to the start of World War II, Thorson’s mother set aside a few dollars so her daughter could learn to play piano.


Her future husband, T. Francis “Tink” Thorson, lived in Orfordville, and after spending some time there, she soon was playing piano accompaniment for the church choir.


When she heard Orfordville Lutheran Church needed an organist, Thorson had plenty of experience playing the piano but very little experience playing the organ. Even so, church members insisted she was qualified.


Although apprehensive, Thorson agreed to try. She spent hours practicing until she got a feel for the instrument.


The touch needed for an organ is different than a piano, Thorson said.


“It’s very light,” she said, “except if I get excited about something.”


Organ keys require less force than piano keys, and when an organ key is depressed, the note sounds until the key is released. On a piano, the note dies within seconds.


The organ has additional layers of complexity—multiple manuals (keyboards), different stops (sounds) and foot pedals.


“God gave me the talent,” Thorson said, “but I’m still practicing.”


An organist’s technique must be impeccable.


Thorson said if she makes a mistake playing a hymn, she plays it through again.


“And I say to the Lord, ‘I know you’d much rather hear it played perfectly,’” she said.


Pastor Richard Thickpenny said music is important to worship.


“It gives extra meaning to what we do,” he said. “It gives us a means to express ourselves not only as people but as Christians.”


Thorson said by playing the organ she is serving the Lord.


“He gave me a talent, and I’m using it to serve him,” she said.


Connie Torkelson, the church secretary, asked Thorson how long she planned to continue playing the organ.


“As long as the good Lord will let me,” she said.


Thorson said she hopes that means for years to come.


“There’s a lot of music I want to learn and play.”



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