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Bethel Church welcomes new music director

Bethel Lutheran Church music director Michael Schaner plays on the church's newly remodeled pipe organ. The organ was recently renovated for the first time in 60 years. Tribune photo by Ashley White

WILLMAR -- The 85-year-old pipe organ at Bethel Lutheran Church in downtown Willmar recently underwent a major renovation - its first in 60 years.

"They kept what worked, and then really rebuilt what needed to be rebuilt," said Michael Schaner, director of music ministries at Bethel Church.

"There have been some small changes made to the organ over the years, but it really needed this upgrade."

The console of the organ - the part with the controls, keyboards and pedals - was completely rebuilt in the recent upgrade, which was done by former Bethel member Charles Hendrickson of St. Peter.

The pipes, located upstairs at the front of the sanctuary, were also cleaned and worked on as part of routine maintenance.

The organ was originally custom built for Bethel in 1927 and hasn't been updated since 1952. In all, the organ renovation cost around $110,000 and was paid for by the Bethel congregation, which has about 400 members.

"Bethel is known for its excellence in music," Schaner said. "This organ has been here for so long, it's become a big part of the community."

Unlike the remodeled organ, Schaner himself is new to Bethel and the Willmar community. He began as music director in June after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Music this spring with his Master of Music in Organ Performance.

Schaner started playing the piano in kindergarten and has been playing the organ for about 10 years, he said. He will showcase his talent - and the newly remodeled organ - during a free concert 7 p.m. Saturday at Bethel.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Schaner said. "I want to show off this instrument and what it can do."

Schaner will play both classic and contemporary pieces at Saturday's concert. He said that although the organ can be stereotyped as an instrument strictly used for traditional hymns, it can also be used in modern worship.

"The organ is not just an 'old' instrument," he said. "At the recital, I'll be playing several pieces from the 20th century. The newest piece I'll play was written in the mid-1990s."

No matter what era or genre, music is integral to Bethel's ministry, Schaner said.

"It's crucial. Music goes right along with the word," he said. "It's a great way to connect all generations. It's something we can all unite behind. When we're making music as a church, we're creating something so much bigger."

Reach Ashley White at or on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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