Emilie’s organ

Sunday, March 21, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:43 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Emilie Dye’s new organ wouldn’t play.

Her new 29-year-old organ plucked from a classified ad for an estate liquidation, whose previous owner dropped the price when he found out that it would be entrusted to 10-year-old Emilie, wouldn’t play.

The Dyes knew this when they bought it, though, and still believed the instrument was right for them. They called in Jay Parks, a big name in organ repair in mid-Missouri, to come fix it.

It took Parks three visits, during which he sucked the insect shells out of the back, vacuumed the dust and debris, cleaned every part, unstuck the sticky keys and washed what could be washed.

But now, finally, Emilie’s organ — her very own organ, and how many 10-year-olds can say that? — works just fine. Now she can practice at home, no longer waiting around for the church organ to free up.

“It plays beautifully,” says Kay Dye, Emilie’s mother.

Emilie started playing the organ with her grandmother at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Columbia.

“I’ve always loved to watch my grandma play,” she says. “When I was 4, I used to run up (to the front of the church) and sit.”

Emilie started the piano when she was 5, the same week she started kindergarten. Now, her life is filled with music: Mondays, it’s organ lessons with one of her grandmothers, her first organ teacher; Thursdays, it’s piano lessons; Fridays, it’s organ lessons with David Cason from Missouri United Methodist Church.

Her Monday practice sessions are at the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, where Emilie attends school and the family attends worship. “Her feet aren’t long enough to touch the pedals, so I sit with her,” says Emilie’s grandmother, LaVerne Stocker, of Columbia. “There’s really not a lot of organists around.”

“You’re getting pretty good,” Stocker says proudly during a recent practice session. It’s been three weeks since they’ve shared a session — Stocker went to the Bahamas — and Emilie’s knowledge has increased.

“Can I play this?” she asks, flipping through her book. Her hands dance across the keys, pressing the appropriate knob or button, and Stocker’s feet, wearing slipper-like organist shoes, press the pedals.

Later, when enough time has passed that Emilie, fatigued from a day at school, begins to get a little lax, Stocker gently corrects her. “I want you to count,” she says.

Emilie laughs back at her, cheerfully starting again and counting out loud. “One and two and three and four and ... ”

She’s progressed enough to play for the church on Saturday morning, mostly at the early service where she knows everyone’s name. “I’m terrified at second service,” Emilie admits. “They just stare at you.” She plays everything but the hymns.

Emilie, who calls herself an average pre-teen and likes math in school, practices more than an hour a day — sometimes waking up to practice at 5:45 a.m., sometimes playing practice catch-up on Sundays.

“I kill myself practicing sometimes,” she says.

And sometimes, she dreams about adding more music to her life.

“If I could handle it, I could start flute, maybe,” Emilie muses.

But for now she has enough to handle and a strong motivation to continue: Her parents have promised her a horse, contingent on keeping up with her music.

Even more than organ or piano, Emilie loves horses. All horses, any horse — she can’t wait for the year to pass — for her dream to come true. With the certainty of a 10-year-old who wants to be a veterinarian someday, she pines for a Missouri Fox Trotter.

“Horses are better than boys,” her father, Bob, says, sighing.

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