MINNEAPOLIS, MN (February 2, 2010) – Gordon “Gordy” Ahlquist first started playing organ during worship services for First Covenant Church when he was a teenager.
The trustees told Ahlquist, “If you play for the church, we’ll allow you to practice the organ for free.” That seemed like a good deal to Ahlquist because he had to pay 25 to 50 cents an hour to practice at the MacPhail College of Music.
“So I started out playing music for Sunday school,” says Ahlquist. “Once I got more proficient, I did the midweek service.”
That time stretched out to 52 years for Ahlquist, who has reached the finale of his career of playing the organ at First Covenant. On Sunday, the church hosted a retirement celebration for the 87-year-old.
Ahlquist grew up in the church, the son of Swedish immigrants. He served in World War II as a cryptographer—a specialist in encryption and decoding messages. Overseas he had no access to a keyboard for two years, but after landing in Manila, Philippines, a group of soldiers started the GI Gospel Hour and asked him to be the pianist. The ministry eventually grew to be the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade, later becoming SEND International.
Ahlquist returned from the military and served as choirmaster at two churches, but then the position at First Covenant became available. In addition to playing for countless worship services, weddings, and funerals, Ahlquist has been the organist for special events like Handel’s Messiah and a multi-choir Christmas concert. He also accompanied many artists during concerts.
When he was eight years old Ahlquist started playing piano. “Each lesson cost 75 cents, so it was a sacrificial thing for my parents,” he recalls. “Mr. A.E. Anderson came to my house. He was very stern. If I didn’t know my lesson…well I got his displeasure.”
But music has been more than a pleasure for Ahlquist, who had a “double career” in business and as an organist. He eventually became a senior analyst at Dunn & Bradstreet. “But music was my delight.”
Ahlquist says J.S. Bach was his favorite composer “because he was a great musician and a great composer. He would have a theme for the right hand, a theme for the left hand, and a theme for the pedal—a trinity.”