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Shocking how little the organ can be valued in church...

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  • Shocking how little the organ can be valued in church...

    Most of us are lucky enough to be playing in church where the organ is valued and respected, and where music is fairly well presented with a view to excellence to the greatest possible extent. But that is not the case everywhere.

    I recently got a call to do a quick prep on a "gift" organ that was presented to a congregation that had just built a new church building after the old one was destroyed by a catastrophic water leak. They had built a rather nice new church that seats close to 300, I'd guess. Beautiful inside and out, a traditional "southern colonial" brick building with modern facilities and current technology -- TV screens and such. The project was valued at around $2 million, including a good deal of volunteer labor and donated materials that came from a denominational agency.

    The new church was completed and the "organ" had been set on the chancel, they told me, and they wanted it checked out before the dedicatory service. I had no idea what I was to see.

    I was shocked to find a little "toy" organ from the 80's that barely resembled even a "chapel" organ other than having two 44-note manuals and spinet style pedals. The stop tabs offered a selection of tones such as "jazz organ" or "church organ" or "orchestra" or "piano" and so on. To its credit, the "church organ" sound wasn't really dreadful, but that was the ONLY sound on it that had any possible use in a service.

    The "audio system" of this "organ" consisted of exactly one 8" speaker in the kneeboard. That was it.

    When I mentioned that I could offer a used Allen or Rodgers made for church use for as little as a couple thousand dollars, the reaction was "we can't spend that kind of money on an organ!"

    Hmmm........ you built a $2 million church, and didn't set aside ANYTHING for an organ? Whatever....
    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
    Always great to read about your travels, John. Very sad business this however. Very sad indeed!
    Personal - Allen custom Heritage III 58-Q with 4x H-100, 6x H-200 & 1x B20, Allen Ensemble

    Church - Rodgers 950 3 manual lighted drawknob

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    • #3
      1. What kind of a church is this? What were they using for accompaniment at their former location?
      2. A $1000 price might seem large as a lump sum (they probably have a huge mortgage payment) but they might be more interested in an installment buy. Perhaps a rent-to-buy arrangement?
      3. What is the attitude of the senior clergy toward organ music?
      4. What's the acoustic like inside? If very dry, no organ will sound good there.

      David

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      • #4
        Good questions, David, and pertinent.

        1. Baptist church in a very small town, population under 500, remote area of the state. Church draws 100-150 on Sunday. Typical "family" church with a lot of retired seniors but also working-age adults and a fair number of teens and children. The only Baptist church in town, thus the largest church. They sing with piano and organ (they also got a "gift" piano for the new church, another sad story), and allow anyone who plays a guitar to strum along too if they want. Most likely singing Stamps-Baxter gospel songs, going by the song books I saw.

        2. Oddly enough after such a large project, they don't owe any money on it. Insurance settlement plus large gifts from a prominent local employer, funds they raised, and the huge amount of sweat equity from their own labor and the help they received from their denomination -- they have a very impressive facility but no mortgage!

        3. As far as attitude toward organ music -- typical for this type of church. The organ is "background music" and the piano is the "lead" instrument. Music as a whole is an important part of what they do as a church; they really "enjoy" their music, judging from the enthusiasm I got from the instrumentalists over the "gift" instruments; they can't wait for Sunday to make music! But of course in a church like this music does not serve the same purpose that it does in a structured worship service such as many of us are used to. The old "song service" model -- a hearty good-time session of random gospel singing takes up the first 20 minutes of the service, followed by a lengthy sermon.

        4. Acoustic situation is about average, best I could judge. Certainly not "cathedral" acoustics, as the ceiling was not high enough and there are pew cushions and a tightly-woven carpet. But smooth walls and ceiling, so not as dry as some modern church buildings. Organ would sound decent enough if they had one, and if it were played like an organ.

        So the reason they got this poor excuse for an organ is simply that they don't put any real value on having an adequate organ in the usual sense. To them, this little noise-maker provides enough background for the earnest piano-playing and 30's style gospel singing, so they have no desire to invest any money at all in something better. I imagine that few if any of the folks have ever heard a real organ anywhere, so they have no idea what a proper organ contributes to congregational singing or as a solo instrument. They may even have a mistaken notion that high-church worship is "dead" or "un-spiritual." (I speak from experience -- that is what I was led to believe when I grew up in a church not too different from this one.)

        Hard to argue with "success" -- their little church is surviving better than many; as proud as I am of my own church's structured and well-crafted music and organic worship, we are struggling to keep the doors open, while they are thriving, at least for the present. Situations like this make me sad in some ways, but then I wonder if it would really help if they could be "educated" and their music brought up to "standards." It might even have the opposite effect, who knows?
        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

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        • #5
          Bill

          My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

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          • #6
            organ insignificant

            I whole hardly agree with John about the insignificance of the organ in some churches. I was raised in a Pentecostal church where there were plenty of guitars, one piano player and the small Wurlitzer 44 spinet organ just sat there vacant most of the time until I learned to play it. I was a guitarist myself, but I have heard enough guitar strumming to last me the rest of my life. If I were to have tried playing a hymn in four-parts (SATB), my congregation would not have accepted it as spiritual. The music had to have a driving beat and rhythm or it wasn't wanted.
            Lloyd

            Happily retired organist/pianist from the Church of the Brethren...Allen ADC-4300-DK.
            Home...Wurlitzer (ES) Orgatron Series 20 Serial #11608 (retrofitted with MIDI and VPO-Hauptwerk) with Leslie 44W (shorty).
            Hammond BC Serial #5070 with Leslie 31A (tallboy) tone cabinet
            A.L. Swan antique pump organ (C.1852) Cherry Valley NY
            Member of the Lutheran Church (LCMS): traditional worship. Cleveland Clinic Spiritual Care volunteer with the chaplain's office.

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            • #7
              Interesting points raised by all. Didn't intend for the thread to go this way, but this is a topic worth hashing out some more.

              As I said, I'd be almost afraid to suggest to a church like the one I'm describing that they ought to "improve" their music program. The majority of the people are probably tickled to death with what they have. And they aren't (yet) in decline, as are so many churches with more "legitimate" music. I'm sure there's more to maintaining a church than just having good music, though that would be important to me, if I were looking to join a church.

              I think it is ALWAYS a bad idea for a declining traditional church to start a contemporary service in hopes of bringing in some "new people." It will probably always turn out as Voet described -- some new faces, but they won't integrate into the existing membership. Pretty much the same experience in several churches I know about, even some very large ones. The two services actually constitute two separate congregations who basically refuse to worship together, so what point is there in saying they are part of the same church?

              Is there a solution? I don't know. I would love to think that doing traditional worship BETTER would strengthen an existing traditional church. Upping the musical standards, making sure to sing solid hymns, keeping the organ and/or piano in top playing order, using competent players, polishing up the choir, using a variety of other instruments and ensembles, etc., to best advantage, making sure the service or liturgy is not being done in a boring manner.

              I know at least one church with a very traditional history that is trying to do all the above -- the church I currently serve -- but still attendance is slipping as folks die, an occasional family moves away, our high school and college age kids got spouses or careers or whatever and moved away. Nobody is showing up to take the places of the ones we lose, so our crowd continues to shrink, in spite of "doing everything right" in worship, or at least doing it with more grace, class, competence, and thought than so many churches I could name, such as the above example.

              So I just don't know what is going to happen. I don't think the contemporary movement is going to save us. I think we'll see mega churches come and go, leaving behind hulking arena-size empty buildings, as people get tired of the spiritual pop act du jour, and go looking for more excitement. A lot of mainline churches will one day have to close the doors when they can no longer pay the bills. Perhaps there is a middle ground somewhere, a type of church that will take root and grow in this toxic materialistic culture.

              We'll see.
              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

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              • #8
                John, you make some very good points, but I think it is a mistake to believe decline in church membership is only affecting mainline denominations. It is beginning to occur in evangelical churches as well. There are several examples I am aware of in my city. One recent example is a church who had a nationally known pastor and a thriving congregation. He left and attendance is now a fraction of what it was when he was here. Another large baptist church in town has recently had to sell their campus because the 80 or so regular attendees could no longer afford to keep the building. The property has been sold to a developer. Probably everyone knows of similar situations near to them.

                The fact is that the largest growing religious group in the United States is the "nones"--people who claim no religious affiliation. I am not a sociologist, so I do not know all of the contributing factors, but I don't think music alone has the power to counter this trend.
                Bill

                My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk

                Comment


                • #9
                  Wow, great thread here guys. I've not got much to add right now, but it is important stuff to contemplate.

                  I will say that for the church mentioned in the original post, they would be much better off with a decent arranger / workstation / synth keyboard for their intended usage. Sorta pains me to say that as an organist, but get the right tool for the job already. An old 44 note spinet organ is a joke in any church, at least to my thinking.
                  Regards, Larry

                  At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), FX-20, EL-25 ( X 2, 1 chopped, 1 not ). Allen 601D, ADC 6000D. Baldwin 626. Lowrey CH32-1. At Churches I play for : Allen Q325 ( with Vista ), Allen L123 ( with Navigator ). Rodgers 755.

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                  • #10
                    Has it occurred to anyone that maybe for more and more people religion isn't important anymore?

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Havoc View Post
                      Has it occurred to anyone that maybe for more and more people religion isn't important anymore?
                      Obviously we have to consider that. Personally, I know very fine young folks (under 40) to whom religion as a whole is totally irrelevant, as far as they are concerned. Truth be told, there has never been a complete agreement in our culture about the importance of religion, and a significant portion of people have never had any interest in going to church or taking part in any religious activity.

                      Though I'm a very liberal and open-minded guy, I personally can't escape the need for church or something like it in my life. Right now, my wife and I are "strangers in a strange land" in that we moved six years ago into a city where we knew no one except the folks in the little church we had already begun to serve a year earlier. We have no family here, our kids are grown up and moved out of state, our brothers and sisters live in another part of the state and we might see them every couple months if we're lucky, and we barely know our neighbors -- can call a few of them by name, but we really know nothing about them and don't socialize with them.

                      So, few as they are, and though we only see them two or three times a week, our church family are our only social contacts, except for my days spent with my work partner and the customers we see through the week. I simply don't know who will come looking to find me dead in my own house one of these days, if I lose touch with my church family.

                      I think the world is in desperate need of social groups as a church can provide, and it seems especially sad that churches are shrinking a the very time when people could be most in need of them.

                      Beyond the social aspect, I also subscribe to the "Star Trek" attitude toward religion -- even in that far-fetched world created by Gene Roddenberry, there were occasional nods to religion, as different characters (even Spock and later, Jean-Luc) spoke of the vital need to preserve one's religious heritage and attend to one's religious acts and rituals even when on the other end of the galaxy. I draw strength and vitality, courage, grace, and joy from practicing my religion, even if there doesn't seem to be any logical reason for that.

                      My hope and prayer is that religion will somehow draw back from the unholy alliance with politics that we have seen in recent decades, curiously corresponding with the decline in church attendance. Maybe there's a lesson there that some are unwilling to acknowledge.
                      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


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                        My hope and prayer is that religion will somehow draw back from the unholy alliance with politics that we have seen in recent decades, curiously corresponding with the decline in church attendance. Maybe there's a lesson there that some are unwilling to acknowledge.
                        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
                          Hard to tell of course. But my feeling of that is that the younger people leave (or never come in the first place) because they do not need religion while older might turn their backs in disgust of issues surfacing. But maybe we should in this case also make the distinction between belief and organised religion. They might turn their backs to organised religion but continue to belief. The first group never believed so never felt the need for organised religion.

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                          • #14
                            My choice of reading material may be influenced to some degree by my own prejudices, but I have seen a number of articles in various online religious magazines, blogs, etc., that say young folks (under 40 or so) are highly disgusted with today's alliance between certain branches of the church and a certain brand of politics.

                            My own generation is largely to blame. We aging boomers (I'm 66) are in many places the "default" leadership of the church, and many of my compatriots do not realize the extent to which they are enabling the destruction of the church by allowing the pulpit to be used as a political platform. People outside their little insular culture are not drawn to what they are doing with their churches.

                            This criticism applies to both left and right political groups. Neither has a right to impose itself on people who come to church to worship -- to bless and be blessed, to find sustenance for their souls.

                            I suspect that as a church we lost our way a very long time ago, and the current situation is merely the result of generations of decline in respect for what the church ought to be. It might be said that we went astray less than 300 years after Christ, when the Roman Empire co-opted Christianity as a political tool, and the church never recovered fully.

                            Today's blatant usage of religion as both a commercial money-making entertainment medium and as a political force must hurt the heart of God. A friend of mine coined a phrase back in the 70's to describe what he saw happening to the American church -- "a stench in the nostrils of God." I couldn't say it better myself.

                            The only thing I know to do is to try to do better in my own little corner of the church.
                            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


                            • #15
                              I've been reading this thread with interest. There are numerous reasons for decline addressed here and they are all relevant. I am presently attending a Baptist church where the decline is quite noticeable. The pastor is a sound expository preacher. The music is conservative. Us oldsters won't be there much longer, but we are not being replaced by young families.

                              I'm not wanting to start a theological argument here as I realize we share different religious backgrounds.. That said I am wondering if in these days we are seeing the great falling away prophecied before the Lord's return. So many of the other signs seem to be in place. Mt 24, Luke 21, 2nd Tim 3 etc. I should probably leave it there
                              Allen ADC 1000
                              Large Beagle

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