Touching God: Young Musician is Inspired by Her Faith


Marley Sensenderfer

Abbey Kelley-Lanser has a burning passion for music at a young age.

The first low, resonant notes sound from the pipe organ at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church after senior Abigail Kelley-Lanser sits down at the bench and begins to play. Pleasantly chattering churchgoers stream in through the doors, filling in the pews as colors reflect across their faces from the brilliant stained glass windows that adorn the walls.

The sun is sitting high in the sky, and it streams in through the ornately carved openings in the ceiling. Kelley-Lanser continues to sit, calm and composed, at the organ bench, her hands shaping notes into music for all of them to hear and enjoy.

Her posture is straight and erect, showing her level of precision and control. Dedication to her work is evident with every sharp stroke of her foot against a pedal or graceful switch from the upper to lower keyboard. Many wonder how she does it, but she tells no secrets.

Her fingers gently press down on the ivory keys as more music spills out from the grand instrument, filling the space. As she plays, Kelley-Lanser can feel her mind slipping back to one of the first times she touched the piano in her childhood home.

She’s five years old again, sitting on the piano bench with her grandfather as she usually does when he plays. Her little fingers plunk out some semblance of a rhythm, surprisingly decent sounding for a young child, though she has little understanding of notes or music theory.

“Is that you, dad?” Mrs. Kelley called from the other room, used to hearing her father’s music.

“No,” her father responded with shock, “It’s the kid! She needs lessons!”

A smile forms on Kelley-Lanser’s face as she thinks back to that day, the one that started her on her journey to becoming the musician she is today. Everyone had said that she was too young to start learning, but she remained determined to succeed and began lessons soon after that experience, something she continued well into her teenage years.

She’s played a few instruments over the years, including the violin, but the piano has always been her favorite – that was, until she began her love affair with the pipe organ.

Originally, the plan had been to pursue the piano and use it as her instrument to audition with when presenting herself to colleges, but then her pastor and the organist at her church both suggested she participate in a Pipe Organ Encounter (POE), a week-long intensive program for young people where they are exposed to the organ and given classes on how it works and how to play it.

“That POE was what gave me the idea to start playing the organ as my main instrument in college,” Kelley-Lanser said. “And maybe to become a church organist in the future.”

She has already played during a few services, but admits she doesn’t want to make it a weekly job for herself just yet. As a senior, she has many other responsibilities, such as singing in the chorus and performing with the drama club. She is also in Noteworthy, an extracurricular women’s singing group where she is piano accompanist and a singer.

“Abbey is an excellent worker,” said Mr. Isaac Brody, the school chorus director and club advisor for Noteworthy. “She’s a very creative performer and it has been a pleasure to work with her these last four years.”

Under his guidance, she has learned to express more emotion through her voice and the way she plays her instruments.

“Music is something that I think touches people in a different way than most other activities,” Kelley-Lanser said. “You can’t prevent it from touching you on a spiritual level. I sing because it’s a way for me to feel God.”

She also noted that playing or listening to music gives a person a sense of spiritual and emotional wisdom. One of her best friends, senior Chandler Thomas, said that she is one of the wisest people he’s ever met.

“She is definitely an old soul,” Thomas commented. “[She’s] for sure wise beyond her years.”

Having known each other since seventh grade, Thomas and Kelley-Lanser have had many experiences together, the most memorable for him being when they would sit together at her piano and write some songs of their own, or just play their instruments together in comfortable silence.

In middle school, both played the violin and helped one another practice their skills. With Kelley-Lanser’s talent for music, she was always happy to help if she had the time.

“She’s always been super busy,” Thomas said. “It’s always hard for us to find free time to hang out. But, when we do, it’s a good time.”

“I’d say she’s a very unique person,” he continued. “She’s very supportive of me. When I was in the middle of ninth grade, I had to find a whole new friend group. She was the only one that stuck around, which showed me that she was a true friend. I knew I could trust her.”

“I value people,” Kelley-Lanser agreed. “I want everyone to know that they can get past all of the hurt in this world, because everyone faces a lot of it. We’re all created in the image of God as blessed and beloved creatures. One day, we’re all going to completely understand that, and that’s going to be a glorious moment.”

Her faith is something that drives her. Through the church, she says, she finds her own life’s meaning and can see the inspirational women in her life.

Her church’s pastor and organist are both females. She cites them as the ones who got her into organ playing in the first place. They are her inspirations along with her parents, who have always provided two daughters with a strong foundation of Christianity. Kelley-Lanser is thankful to all of them for introducing her to the goodness of church life and her passion for music.

Eventually, the music comes to an end. The notes slowly begin to decrescendo and fade under the harsh lights above her book of sheet music as her fingers still on the keyboard on the middle level. The rush of adrenaline peaks then fades and she smiles, feeling completely at peace with herself and one with the other members of the congregation.