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Where are we headed as organists and churchmen? What is our future?

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  • Where are we headed as organists and churchmen? What is our future?

    Preaching to the choir... Many of us are lucky enough to play organ in a church where the organ is still doing what the organ has done for centuries in church, leading hymns boldly, and providing, as needed, quiet and meditative moments, joyous and exuberant postludes, simple lines for responses, using a wide variety of stops and combinations, tone colors and textures. Making music, in other words. We are REALLY lucky.

    Nowadays, when I enter a church to service the organ, more often than not I see that the organ is being used pretty much like a keyboard gets used in a band, just another instrument that the sound operator blends into the mix of guitars and drums, piano, pop-sounding vocalists, you name it. Frequently, the organ has been disconnected from its own speakers (talking about electronic organs, of course), and the audio has been jacked into the mixer board on one channel.

    The organ sound is heard then, as a dry mono mix, through the house speakers directed out to the "audience." The organist only hears it through the monitor feed that also carries all the other commotion. Some organists are reduced to wearing a headset in order to hear what they're playing, though they then have no idea at all how the organ sounds to anyone else.

    Nobody would care or even notice if the organist used a different registration or a solo stop. All the band wants is some "organ sound" in the distant background. And no kidding, this is what is happening in vast numbers of churches today.

    There are still churches where you find authentic organ playing -- Episcopal, many but not all Catholic, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Mormons. The rare Baptist or Methodist church, and many Disciples churches. Am I leaving anyone out?

    But in much of America, where Baptists and Methodists account for 90% of the churches, the pickings are getting slim. Some of these churches will say that they stopped using the organ in a traditional manner because no one could be found who would play it that way. I often suspect that the pastor or MM or someone in truth wanted the organ gone and replaced with a band. But now, with the organ reduced to a minor side instrument playing music for which it is not designed, with a straight-jacket on the player, whose very volume level is under the control of the sound mixer, they sure aren't going to get anyone to play it who wants to play actual organ music.

    Of course, this movement away from traditional usage of the organ is accompanied by other changes in the way churches worship, with the ancient and distinctively Christian acts of worship such as scripture reading, recitation of creeds, the Lord's Prayer, and communion being relegated to minor places in the service or even left out completely as the crowd is encouraged to just have a good time and let it all hang out.

    I don't know what provoked me to spend time writing this rant. Could be that I just got asked once again if I could help a church run their organ into the sound system. A church where I know the organist, and know that she is capable of playing real music. She may well be on the way out the door. Makes me feel sad.

    I just have to wonder what "church" is going to look like in 10 or 15 years, whether there will be a place within driving distance to hear authentic music and worship with the time-honored acts of worship. If not, I don't know what I will be doing on Sunday mornings.
    John
    ----------
    *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

  • #2
    I really don't care what churches do or don't do. I don't agree with the worship as entertainment approach that many churches are moving to, but that's between them and God. Let's be honest, Martin Luther sought to revitalize the church by changing its ritual and music to make it more accessible to the masses. Many of his hymn tunes were based on secular tunes of his time. Vatican II in the '60s did the same thing centuries later. Frankly, I think the adoption of materialism and political dogma as substitutes at the expense of the avocation of spiritually is a much greater threat to the Christian Church than a drum set on the altar.
    Last edited by Admin; 07-26-2017, 04:10 PM. Reason: fixed spelling and typos
    -Admin

    Allen 965
    Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
    Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
    Hauptwerk 4.2

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    • #3
      Yes I agree with the points you raised John ,two years ago I attended a wedding at Stephens Cathedral, Brisbane, where the pipe organ was played magnificently and they had a wonderful solo singer ,a truly great event.
      Nothing beats the organ in a church service of any kind.

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      • #4
        The least they could do is run each organ channel through it's own channel on the mixer, then send it back out to the speakers it is supposed to go through. They then have the ability to control volume and balance, and choose between a full mix into the band as a minor background instrument, or let it play through the many channels and speakers as a big epic lead instrument. You can play some fancy stuff with church organs.

        I think in 10 years we will hit the peak of wherever we are going. As fast as things are changing (for the worst maybe?), it has to reach a limit, and it will likely be soon, but not too soon. I'm keeping my eye on 2029. Now I'm starting to talk crazy aren't I
        Allen 530A

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        • #5
          You sound like a nutball to me!

          Admin, you have a good point. There are more factors at work in the decline of the church than just the loss of the organ. Politics and dogma are indeed dangerous and deadly to the church, and we are having a hailstorm of both.

          I guess I tend to look more on the musical side of it these days, since I made my break with the political/dogmatic denomination that I worked for for so long. But that is obviously a major point. Come to think of it, the political/dogmatic obsession may actually tend to go along with the anti-organ trend. Not a total correlation, but the primary offender in both may be the same denomination.
          John
          ----------
          *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

          https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
            . . . I just have to wonder what "church" is going to look like in 10 or 15 years, whether there will be a place within driving distance to hear authentic music and worship with the time-honored acts of worship. If not, I don't know what I will be doing on Sunday mornings.
            In my region worship is thriving in the traditional manner at most churches. My former parish has a II/9 Moller that is being expanded next year to 18 ranks; a Methodist church has a III/39 Schlicker, one Episcopal church has a III/65 pipe organ, the university has a III/33 Schoenstein. Another Methodist church has a IV/59 Quimby installed two years ago.

            Other churches have good to excellent electronic organs. Mine, for example, has an AOB (Associated Organ Builders, Auburn WA) installed new in 1989 ... albeit analog technology with a little over 800 individual tuning oscillators, and about 48 speakers over 2 manuals and pedal. There are Allen's, Rodgers (some with 4 ranks of pipes), Alborhn-Gallanti, Baldwin (spinets), and a number of Hammonds mainly in the RC parishes. The main RC cathedral has a III/34 pipe organ.

            My church is committed to providing our parishioners with an excellent music program for all time. We have 4 services, one with piano always, another with piano and organ mixed, the third one with only organ, and a 4th with a praise band (but not the happy-clappy type). I play for 3 of those services each week.

            I truly believe, at least locally, that we will continue to find authentic music and worship for many years to come. I feel truly blessed to be playing on a pretty fair sounding instrument, for what it is technology wise, and being paid nicely for it to boot. My commute to the church is 2.5 miles from home - couldn't be better for this organist of 56+ years on the bench.

            There a good number of churches, like ours, that have varied formats for worship services. There are others that are like going to the theater to see a major production, lights, smoke, haze, 220 decibel volume levels, etc. For me that is not worship, but to each their own; at least they are going to church!

            My biggest concern, John, is the lack of young people coming through the ranks to take our places when it comes time for retirement. Kids to day seem not interested in taking on this kind of commitment in the same manner in which you and I did when we were much younger.

            I have not plans on retiring from the bench just yet. I'm 69 and still love every moment of playing church music. As long as the fingers and toes continue to wiggle I'm good.

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            • #7
              I just took this test https://www.women.com/vanessa/quiz-i..._source=wdc_fb and aced it (15 out of 15)--not bad for an always Methodist/UMC.

              David

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              • #8
                Originally posted by davidecasteel View Post
                I just took this test https://www.women.com/vanessa/quiz-i..._source=wdc_fb and aced it (15 out of 15)--not bad for an always Methodist/UMC.

                David
                I also scored a bulls-eye! And I am neither Baptist nor Methodist....

                Regarding the OP I am of the opinion that the reason why the organ is being shoved aside so to speak is that it is no longer compatible with "modern" melodies and at best even the wording of old hymns are often adapted to suit modern tastes. A worrying fact (to me at least) and as Admin touched on, is the changing of emphasis in musical worship. Trends of "sensationalism" is not foreign in modern worship styles and perhaps nowhere more noticeable than in music. Does this phenomenon not have its roots in the changing attitudes down in the very heart of the individual who would seek out others of like mind to express this change in the way they sing?

                As for myself, I am still quite comfortable with the old style "traditional" hymns, both in wording and melody - heartily expressed with the accompaniment of good organ sounds...

                Nico
                "Don't make war, make music!" Hammonds, Lowreys, Yamaha's, Gulbransens, Baldwin, Technics, Johannus. Reed organs. Details on request...

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                • #9
                  I can't really comment on the situation in the U.S. since I'm not familiar with it at all.
                  Where I live, most churches have pipe organs, and although the number of organists seems to decline, it's seldom that an organ isn't played for the Sunday service. Having said that, the level of musical worship is rather diverse. In my congregation, we have someone who plays the organ in the style of pop piano (....), someone who once had training but seems to have forgotten most of this and me who's trying to make music suitable for both the different instruments and the liturgy. But this takes preparation time and practice, something not everyone has available.

                  What I will try to do is to get some more young people interested in the instrument, but that's a different topic.

                  My biggest advantage is that the church committee thinks very highly of me as a musician and whatever I ask for in terms of money or repairs for the organ, I usually get without any discussion.

                  For the situation described in the opening post, all I can think of is to try and organise recitals (and for this, to get the original speakers back to where they belong) so that people get an idea what the organ could do, and then maybe find a group of people who're willing to support the case for the instrument.

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                  • #10
                    Brag Alert

                    I took the test and TA DA! I got all 15 right. I'm a liberal Methodist. But along with this thread, we need to find ways to get to the kids. We can't wait for them to come. Perhaps more introductions. Even get a digital organ into schools as a traveling concert. Perhaps even a older (but still working ) instrument permanently so they can try it out. We know there are low priced organs out there. Amen (end of sermon)

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                    • #11
                      All fifteen correct!

                      Not bad for someone who spent two years at a Catholic seminary...

                      - - - Updated - - -

                      I have no idea what would bring youth to church.

                      It certainly couldn't be those old folks (nearly my age!) trying to lure them with "contemporary" music.

                      As church membership and attendance dwindles well-meaning people will do anything to get them back. I don't see that as the answer, but am probably in the minority--except here.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Admin View Post
                        Frankly, I think the adoption of materialism and political dogma as substitutes at the expense of the avocation of spiritually is a much greater threat to the Christian Church than a drum set on the altar.
                        Admin,

                        Seldom do I agree with your Spiritual views, but in this case, AMEN!!! I assume you're talking about church politics vs. National politics. National politics aren't allowed in churches (unless it's a Liberal church).

                        Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                        You sound like a nutball to me!
                        I'll let that statement stand for itself.

                        Nutball, the issue with putting the channels of the organ through the sound system, becomes when there's a new guy on the sound board who "mixes" the sound like he thinks it should go, and the organist has no control, whatsoever over the volume or mix on the sound system.

                        If I am ever in the situation to play an organ that's routed through the sound system, I think I'll play softly until they turn it up, and then use Tutti II or Sforzando to see how it affects their system!

                        Originally posted by andijah View Post
                        What I will try to do is to get some more young people interested in the instrument, but that's a different topic.

                        For the situation described in the opening post, all I can think of is to try and organise recitals (and for this, to get the original speakers back to where they belong) so that people get an idea what the organ could do, and then maybe find a group of people who're willing to support the case for the instrument.
                        Andrea,

                        Actually, you're right on topic. I'm finding that so many young people have never grown up hearing the organ played at all, much less properly. Therefore, when they hear it played, it's a new sonic experience for them and they gravitate to it--partially because their parents rejected it.

                        The community band I play percussion for has picked up a Summer music conference for high school students one year, and middle school the next, on a rotation each year. Last year when we played for the high school students, I used my organ at the end of an arrangement of Finlandia (Be Still, My Soul), by Jean Sibelius. The high school students gave a standing ovation. After the concert, a couple of the high school students in the band were checking out the organ to see how it worked--the first time they'd heard one!

                        Originally posted by andijah View Post
                        For the situation described in the opening post, all I can think of is to try and organise recitals (and for this, to get the original speakers back to where they belong) so that people get an idea what the organ could do, and then maybe find a group of people who're willing to support the case for the instrument.
                        Again, I refer you to your previous post. It is difficult to entice people to hear an instrument where they have a pre-conceived notion of what it should sound like. However, if you bring the organ to them, you're much more likely to find new followers of the instrument. I've dedicated myself to bringing the organ to the people (with Band, Orchestra, and other venues), so they can gain a new appreciation for the instrument. Except for Reginald Foort's traveling Möller pipe organ (requiring several tractor trailers), I don't believe there have been too many pipe organs that can do the same.

                        You're on the right track, Andrea!

                        Michael
                        Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                        • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                        • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                        • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by myorgan View Post
                          I assume you're talking about church politics vs. National politics. National politics aren't allowed in churches (unless it's a Liberal church).
                          Surely you jest.

                          Falwell, Robertson, Westboro Baptist, Jim Dobson, Ralph Reed, etc.

                          http://www.alternet.org/belief/10-mo...-organizations
                          -Admin

                          Allen 965
                          Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
                          Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
                          Hauptwerk 4.2

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Admin View Post
                            Surely you jest.

                            Falwell, Robertson, Westboro Baptist, Jim Dobson, Ralph Reed, etc.

                            http://www.alternet.org/belief/10-mo...-organizations

                            You forgot the CDF, formerly known as "The Inquisition." LOL

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                              ... I just have to wonder what "church" is going to look like in 10 or 15 years, whether there will be a place within driving distance to hear authentic music and worship with the time-honored acts of worship. If not, I don't know what I will be doing on Sunday mornings.
                              John -

                              I'm highly empathetic to the sense of loss associated with changing musical trends - all the more so in the context of one's spiritual tradition - but I think your last line seen above reveals the buried headline ... "authentic music."

                              There are certain styles of music that make my head spin with joy and bring me to tears. And there are other styles that make my head spin in the other direction and make me want to toss my breakfast overboard. Different strokes.

                              When music is so closely aligned with life-long traditions, which is typically the case with music heard/played in a religious context, the emotional reactions and deep connections are all the more powerful. Melodies and harmonies heard in our childhood are imprinted in deep recesses and stir all kinds of memories that matter a lot to us throughout the rest of our lives.

                              I don't mean to harp on a single phrase in your well-crafted opening post, but the idea that some music is authentic (as compared to other music) is where I suspect much of the angst is coming from.

                              If modern pop-style music is meaningful (dare I say, even entertaining) to today's congregations, they should go for it. Decades from now it'll likely be regarded as that "old school" music that these future grandparents will sorely miss. You know, that old authentic stuff.

                              The "classics" - whatever that might mean to each of us - will remain so as long as enough people cherish them and share them with others. Beyond that, there's no accounting for taste.

                              My $0.02 - OneWatt

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