How did you get into playing the organ?
I was six when I started playing hymns in church in Frederick, Maryland, where my father was a Methodist pastor. I started playing for church services semi-regularly when I was in middle school, and by high school I had a regular, paying Sunday job. I originally thought I’d do musical theater and conduct Broadway shows, but when it came to choosing between the piano and the organ, I realized the organ was more interesting.

Why is that?
The organ engages my brain and my curiosity. It’s exciting because it’s a highly complex machine, and no two are alike. So it’s never monotonous, even if you play the same repertoire.

Describe the Goddard Chapel organ.
Historically, it’s a pure statement of where organ building was at the end of the nineteenth century in America. It has the bright and rich tonal qualities that were the highest standards of the day. Each of the stops—they evoke the flute, strings, and reeds—when used alone or in varying combinations allows for a breadth of musical possibility that is similar to that of a modern symphony orchestra. This particular organ is a beautiful instrument. It has real warmth to it. The eight-foot flute stop is particularly lovely and mellow. And while the instrument is small, it has a gravitas that plays off the entire space of the chapel. Unlike a violin or piano, where the soundboard is built into the instrument, the soundboard for the pipe organ is the room itself. The whole building is the instrument.

The pipe organ has a revered place in musical history. Bach, of course, is the pipe organ’s most famous composer, and Mozart called it the “king of instruments.” How would you describe your musical approach to the organ?
I think what distinguishes my playing goes back to my musical theater training. I’ve figured out how to make this instrument, which is fundamentally a machine, speak in a way that communicates broad sweeps of music to a listener’s ear. That can be hard to do, because no matter how hard a key is depressed, the organ produces everything at the same volume. I try to delineate a process that leads to musical expression—call it emotive or passionate. I want to make it really beautiful, to shape the notes the way a great violinist can shape a line of music.

Portrait of Laura Ferguson

Laura Ferguson, senior writer at Tufts and regular Tufts Now contributor, can be reached at