CHRISTIAN LENTZ, 29, LOVED music throughout his childhood and studied music education in college, but he never thought he might one day apprentice to become an organ builder.
"I came into the shop and had no idea of what was inside an organ," Lentz said about his first days on the job.
Lentz began working for Nichols & Simpson of Little Rock in January 2005 after Wayne Simpson, the company's vice president, offered him a job. Lentz said it took him some time to realize this was his profession. Then Lentz accompanied Simpson and Joe Nichols, the company's president, to Milwaukee, to help install an organ at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.
"I thought that all the things I worked on for the past month are in this space," Lentz said. "I realized that something I helped create will exist for hundreds of years."
Knowing that many of the pipes he had helped build and tune to the correct pitch were inside the organ cinched the deal for him, said Lentz, who is originally from Neosho, Mo., but has lived in Little Rock for six years.
The idea of being an apprentice is still foreign to him, Lentz said. He said the term applies to his current role at the shop, but he still considers an apprentice to work for an "old-school" profession like blacksmithing.
Joe Nichols, president of Nichols & Simpson, said that while an apprenticeship is an unusual concept in the United States, it is common in Europe.
"There is no school to go to and become an organ builder; you just have to work with a master organ builder to learn," Nichols said.
The company does not have a program for Lentz to follow, whereas German organ builders must go through a process before becoming a master organ builder, Nichols said. A student must first complete an apprenticeship, followed by a period as a journeyman organ builder. The process is completed once the student passes a comprehensive exam.
Lentz's ability to voice pipes--or work with the pipe to create the correct sound--puts him at the level of journeyman, Nichols said.
Lentz said that once he decided he wanted to make a career of building organs, he realized he was lucky to have been offered a spot.
"If you decided you wanted to wake up one day, you couldn't just go to an organ builder and ask them if you could apprentice," Lentz said. "I can't believe I know all this stuff now."
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