Landmark Organ Sound, Performance, and Luxury
by Barbara Alexander & Tom Ronk
I was born and raised in Georgia. I got married and moved to California in 1956. I have three beautiful daughters (who also live in CA), three wonderful sons-in-law and eight delightful grandchildren… and I still have that Georgia drawl, y’all.
My introduction to the organ was in 1981, when I promised to play for the wedding of my daughter’s best friend. I thought I would be playing the piano, which I’ve been playing since age nine, and began practicing diligently. Then, three weeks prior to the wedding I learned there was only an old organ in the church. Kathy said I just had to play the organ. Luckily for me, Gus Pearson had just opened his piano and organ store, Keyboards Etc. in Auburn, about two weeks prior. So, I went racing over to his store and asked if he could teach me to play organ in three weeks. He not only worked with me, but also drew the shape of the drawbars I was to set for each piece, and wrote a note at the top of that page, “Don’t forget to hold down the switch until the tubes warm up.” (That should give you an idea about how old that organ was!)
I was hooked. Playing on that old organ gave me a thrill. I bought the much newer organ Gus had rented me to practice on for the wedding, and I’ve been upgrading ever since. I won’t ever forget the first Roland organ I heard. It was at Music Exchange in Newcastle. Whoever was demonstrating it turned on the mandolin and that sound was so realistic it made the hair stand up on my arms. “I’ve got to have that organ!” I thought. Tom and I started out with the AT-70, then the AT-90S and when Roland® introduced the AT-900, we both knew we had to have that organ!
Karen Ramirez and Gregg Isett make learning music and playing the organ so much fun. We are there so often and feel that Music Exchange is our home away from home. When they announced the local Roland Music Fest at the store this year, Karen asked if I would enter the competition and said she simply would not take no for an answer . Karen and Gregg kept saying, “It’s just for fun,” so I decided to do it just for fun. I told myself I really didn’t care if I won or not and I never expected to win. I was totally amazed to feel such a thrill when I won in my division (Advanced Hobbyist). My trophy has pride of place on the AT-900, and I still get little goose bumps every time I look at it. And now I get to go to Las Vegas to the Semi- Finals! What a kick! I can hardly wait!
Yes, learning to play the organ changed my life in many wonderful ways. Tom and I have been on some wonderful trips with Music Exchange: cruises to Alaska and the Mexican Riviera; trips to Branson, Nashville and Memphis; more locally, our own extravaganzas to Granlibakken Resort (Lake Tahoe) and Konocti Resort (Clear Lake) and really fun bus trips to “nobody knows where.”
I have many long-term friends through our mutual love of the organ, and I make new ones at every organ event we attend. People who own organs are the best people in the world.
I was born in Elk Grove, lived in the Town & Country area of Sacramento through grammar school, and then attended Placer High School in Auburn.
Spent three years in the Army in California and Germany, after which I came home to Sacramento, and married in 1967. After working in the TV/Appliance business and the RV field, I graduated from Sacramento State University, and found my niche as a programmer analyst for the State of California. I retired two years ago after 33 fantastic years.
I have three terrific sons, two great daughters-in-law, and seven wonderful grandchildren, who all still live in the Auburn area. Barbara and I enjoy spending time with our kids and grandkids.
As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to play the organ. From church organs, to pipe organs, to orchestrions, I am enthralled with the mechanics and sound of these instruments. As a very young child, I tried music in the form of a trombone – which I ended up with, only because it was the only instrument left in the music room after all the other students had chosen theirs. Being a person who doesn’t deal well with the abstract, I gave that up very shortly – much to the relief of my parents!
From then on, I enjoyed listening to most kinds of music. As two of my own kids entered middle school, they showed an interest in music, and so I was introduced to a saxophone – twice. In helping them, I almost learned to play. I felt really good about that and was very disappointed when they weren’t willing to perform the necessary practice and eventually gave up.
I never lost that nagging feeling of wanting to learn how to make music myself. I eventually bought an old used organ and made arrangements with Barbara to begin teaching me. But, life got in the way, and learning to play was put off again.
After my second used organ, Barbara was able to start teaching me, and I began to learn a few things about music. She was amazed to learn I couldn’t even read music. So, reluctantly, we decided to put first things first. Barbara then suggested she might not be the best one to teach me and recommended attending the classes that Music Exchange offers. That changed my music life!
Through Karen and Gregg, I learned to read music and understand chords. The quality of instruction, hands on experience, and camaraderie with the other students made it hard to wait from one class to the next. Soon, I was learning a song – America the Beautiful – on our AT-90S! I was so excited! The built- in rhythms made it so much easier, and made me sound so good! Then, the AT-900 was introduced, and we had to have one. Any needs or wants I had were satisfied with the new instrument. I had missed the drawbars from the older organs, and was absolutely delighted to have them back! More rhythms, bigger screen, unbelievable sound quality, and so much easier to figure out. Everything is organized and logically set up. I love discovering new sounds and new ways to achieve great results.
I used to think I didn’t have a musical bone in my body, but now I know that all I have to do is sit down and play on our AT-900!