Studying the organ is not a typical college major, but for Samantha Koch, 20, it is exactly what she wants to be doing. She didn't always know that playing the organ would be her passion, but she has always had a talent for music.
At age 5, Koch began taking piano lessons. She has a talent for the instrument and enjoys playing. She even considered majoring in piano, but a mission trip to Mexico changed that.
The summer before her senior year in Myers Park High School, Koch took a mission trip to Mexico with her church to build homes for needy families.
Koch was working on a roof. It was a sweltering day and she became dehydrated. She was given fluids and packed in ice to bring her body temperature down. Koch recalls it to be an uncomfortable experience, but she knew she was going to heal.
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This was also the night that her group was going to celebrate the success of their trip. The organist at her church, Susan Talley, stayed behind to keep her company. Throughout the evening Koch started to feel better and chatted with Talley about life and music. Talley shared that she was concerned about the lack of young organists in the world.
Her passion for the instrument was contagious, and Koch, half jokingly, said she would do it; she would learn to play the organ. Koch started taking lessons the very next week under the instruction of Talley. Her passion for the instrument grew quickly, and within a few months of studying, she knew it was what she wanted to pursue.
"I received a scholarship from the American Guild of Organists for one year of organ lessons," said Koch, who lives on Yachtman Drive. This enabled her to continue her studies with Talley during her senior year.
After high school, she was accepted into the organ program at East Carolina University where she studied under Janette Fishell, a professor she greatly respects. After a year, Fishell was offered a position at Indiana University, one of the top organ major schools, and Koch decided to transfer.
She will be a senior this August at Indiana University and still studies with the same professor. This coming year, she has the opportunity to study on a new, $3 million organ. She will be in the first class to use it.
This summer, Koch is working for Great Falls Presbyterian Church in Great Falls, S.C. She plays for their church services on Sunday as well as for the choir each Wednesday. She also keeps up her skills on her electric organ at home.
But working in a church environment is not Koch's only goal. Her true passion lies in new music, music created by people who are still living.
There is a lot of new music that is being written right now where organs are played in collaboration with other instruments. "I want to develop a unique avenue where organists can collaborate with other instruments, instead of just being a solo instrument," said Koch.