Annamarie Collins (Peggy Newton photo)

It all started with Grandma.

And with Grandpa, too.

Next thing you know (okay, ten-plus years later), Annamarie Collins is a dual major at Northwestern University, working on degrees in both engineering and in music, and winning a scholarship to focus on pipe organ performance and liturgical music at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, home of the century-old Opus 327 Skinner church organ.

Annamarie comes from a musical family in Philadelphia, in fact, in a church musical family.

Grandma Marian Collins was Annamarie’s first piano teacher. Grandpa Adrian Collins was the organist at St. Francis De Sales Church, where Annamarie’s parents were in the choir.

“I grew up with this being the norm,” says Annamarie, who is now 20.

After starting piano as a child, with Grandma as the teacher, Grandpa gave her a gentle verbal nudge to try a one-week program to find out about the organ.

“I kind of resisted going,” Annamarie recalls about her then 14-or-15-year-old self.

But after attending, her reaction changed to “wow, this is amazing.”

Annamarie went to Interlochen, the famed music camp in Michigan, and while she got in as a pianist, she was also able to take organ lessons.

Back home, she started following in grandpa’s footsteps, playing the organ in church.

And now, as the scholarship winner at St. Luke’s, Annamarie will be able to learn even more from church organist Peter Morey, in what the church calls “a unique musical ministry.”

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

The scholarship itself is named for the Opus 327 church organ at St. Luke’s, a musical instrument whose 100th anniversary will be celebrated next month with a variety of events.

Designed by Ernest Skinner, of the Skinner Organ Company, the church says the Skinner organ has “extraordinary artistic, technological and social significance, and is a cultural inheritance to be passed on to future generations.”

Annamarie Collins is part of that process.

Besides putting in 5 to 15 hours a week learning with scholarship duties — lessons, helping with services, attending all full choir rehearsals, and ultimately playing the organ during some St. Luke’s services, Annamarie, an NU junior, will still have plenty of class work in her five-year, dual-major program.

Long-term, Annamarie sees engineering as her career, with church music as a part-time portion of what will likely be a very busy life.

“People in my family have done this before,” Annamarie says, noting that her father was both an attorney, a trumpet player and a member of the church choir.

Annamarie had to audition for the scholarship and was able to do so on piano. St. Luke’s, she says, was more interested in someone with passion and potential than necessarily an expert in pipe organ performance.

There are, of course, many similarities between piano and organ. But Annamarie says that while piano is “by yourself,” playing organ in church “is not really about you, but it’s about the group. It makes you part of something bigger.”

And as for the folks who launched this pianist-scholar-church organist on her path while she was a child, Annamarie says right now, both grandparents are “very excited.”

They’re “proud of me,” she says.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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