Church organist finds joy in directing choir, leading music

Lindsay Strom

Ralph Klute has always been interested in music but never considered pursuing it as one of his jobs. During Sunday and Wednesday church services, he plays the piano and organ and is working to get the senior choir back together that he was both once a part of and has directed for 30 years. When he is not busy playing piano at church, he also works full-time at a forklift company which he has been at for 35 years.

Ralph Klute playing the organ at church
Ralph Klute plays the organ every Sunday at church. ©LindsayStrom2021

(The following story is told by Ralph Klute to Lindsay Strom)

My name is Ralph Klute. I am currently the organist and senior choir director at Whitnall Park Lutheran Church in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. I have been senior choir director since 1989 and a full-time organist for the last 12 years at least.

My mom was Sunday school secretary and office secretary for a while. And then got involved with music there, with choirs. So I was in the kid’s choir and mom did all of the Christmas programs. But that kinda got me into the whole church thing.

In second grade I started taking piano lessons. And that transpired into band. I took band in fifth grade, baritone, so I started that and played that all through high school, through 12th grade. Then in 10th grade, or just before 10th grade, I was subbing a little bit for our organist when she would go down for communion or something like that, or she would try to get me to play more during the summer. And that’s kinda how I got into the whole church music thing.

When Steve Hibbard, which was pastor Hibbard’s son, which was the organist here, his wife was choir director, bell choir director, kids choir director, all that stuff. They decided to move away from the church and that left Whitnall Park without music. So Pastor had asked me that May, beginning of June, would you consider filling in on the organ through the summer until we can find an organist? I said I could probably do that. And then come around August, Pastor comes back to me and goes, we had a really nice senior choir, and you were a part of it. I’m like, yeah. He’s like it would be a shame to sit there and let it go by the wayside. Would you be willing to direct? I said I’ve only directed a kid’s choir at my church in South Milwaukee a handful of times. I said well I’ll give it a shot. I’ve been giving it a shot ever since. 

I did plan on going into auto mechanics because I went to MATC after high school. But that just didn’t feel right either.

I bounced around from job to job for a while. And then finally got employed where I’m at now for a forklift company and I’ve been there 35 years now.

But to actually be in church and doing stuff, I could never see that. I mean I could see myself in a choir, singing tenor or something. But now directing and singing bass because we don’t have enough basses? Weird.

Had I known I was going this route I probably would have changed things when I was in high school, maybe go on for music which I didn’t.

Now I wish I would have gone on because I could have been a more accomplished organist. And I am but I just like having fun. I’ve been through enough organists that the ones that are part of the American Guild of Organists, they’re kind of high-brow a little bit. And to me, that just isn’t fun. I wanna have fun when I’m playing.