Discovering the Cradle of Organ Music

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Shayla De Jong ’16, a music major and German minor, spent her Imagine Fellowship in Germany and The Netherlands researching the North German organ tradition, which holds tremendous influence over organ culture. She focused on the instruments of Arp Schnitger, a prolific craftsman who built more than 160 organs.

De Jong grew up outside of New Sharon, Iowa, a town of about 1,300 that remarkably boasted several pipe organists. She started learning the instrument in high school, and by the time she got to college, she was interested in connecting with the wider world of organ music.

So De Jong planned an Imagine Fellowship that would take her to the cradle of organ culture in North Germany and The Netherlands. One of the pinnacles of De Jong’s trip was the time she spent at the St. Jacobi church in the heart of Hamburg, home to Schnitger’s most famous organ. Not only did she get to help tune the instrument, but she was also able to play it.

De Jong also took a master class in Amsterdam with renowned organist Jacques van Oortmerssen, from whom she learned more about the symbolism in Bach’s music and how an instrument’s touch can inform a player’s expressiveness, as well as how to be expressive without injuring yourself (there are many competing tensions in the body while a person plays).

De Jong, who plans to student the instrument in graduate school next fall, says “I like to think of my Imagine Fellowship as an experience that stems off in many directions in my life. It connects my past to my present to my future, to where I’m going next.”

If you had $5,000 to design a learning experience for yourself anywhere in the world, what would you do? This is the question posed to the 10 students that Luther selects as Imagine Fellows each year. To explore giving opportunities at Luther or to help support the Imagine Fellowships, please visit

Shayla De Jong '16