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Maybe things are better than we think

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  • Maybe things are better than we think

    There have been many posts about the precipitous decline in the sales of digital organs in recent years. However, I wonder if things are as bad as they seem. This thought has come to me as a result of my experience converting my digital organ to a virtual organ. I believe that the numbers reported in the music trade publication may be an incomplete picture.

    While there may in fact be a general decline of the total market, there is a segment that is not reported in the numbers. Churches, auditoriums and private individuals who go virtual do not appear in the statistics. It virtual organ sales could be counted, things might not appear so bleak.


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

  • #2
    I think another way to look at this is the number of new organ students. I'm not a new student. Took lessons from 5 to 18, played for my own enjoyment till mid-thirties, didn't play at all for almost 20 years and started lessons 2 months ago to make me do it right. My teacher has 40 students and I'm the only one playing organ. He tries to get other students to play the organ and they all say it's to hard. Two other teachers in the area, both of which I had when younger, also only have piano students. When I took lessons of the one she had a 50:50 mix 37 years ago. So between them 200 piano students and one organ student. I think that says a lot about the decline of organ sales.


    • #3
      I hear you about the sales perhaps not being quite so bleak as we've heard/thought, but church organ usage certainly has fallen drastically since I started my career (1970). I can walk to a beautiful Lutheran church that had a fine traditional music program, and a fine large analog Allen organ installed 1969. The organ and traditional music were ditched for a "praize band" some time ago. An equally short walk in the opposite direction takes me to a United Methodist church that had fine traditional music, and a fine digital Allen. Both have been ditched, also for a band. This sad story has played out all around the country; so I conclude that regardless of virtual organ presence, organ music in church is a fraction of what it once was- certain areas like NYC excepted. So sad.


      • #4
        There may be another aspect that may come to play. There are a plethora of churches that have existing organs that are working correctly, and though some may be decades old, doesn't really translate into replacing and buying a new one. There are a substantial number of churches, mine included, that have very fine analog organs - they are working perfectly (the AOB at my church is approaching its 30th year in constant use) and a church is likely to say "if it ain't broke, why fix/replace it?"

        My former church had a II/9 Möller that was installed in 1979. They are enlarging the organ to III/22 - a nationally known regional builder is doing the work. There are other organs in this area that have been augmented as well - those additions are important but not being counted in the total of new organs being installed.

        Our AOB is doing fine - it has not had any major problems since it was installed in 1989. I love this instrument - to my ears its total ensemble sound is incredible and is much much warmer than any digital organ I've heard over the years. The digital organs are too perfect - nothing ever goes out of tune.

        Another aspect is relocation of a pipe organ. A church where I play an annual hymnfest has a transplanted III/30 Möller that was originally in Wisconsin - it's now in Sierra Vista, Arizona. These organ that get moved are also not in the total count.

        I agree that there are not enough young people coming up through the ranks - there are just too many distractions in this day and age - too many electronic playthings - too many distractions that seem to be more fun than playing the organ. We hosted a Pipes, Pedals and Pizza event as part of our local AGO chapter events ... three kids showed up. They were glad they did, and seemed to be very enthusiastic about the organ and were given instruction and a chance to play as well.

        Churches need to be receptive to young people wanting to play the organ. There are a few churches where a DoM refuses to let anyone touch their instrument. That's just plain wrong - the instrument belongs to and is owned by the church, not an employee. Granted the DoM or Organist is entrusted with the care and maintenance of their instruments, but to flat out refuse a genuinely interested student to even try to play the organ, with their supervision, is just not acceptable, imho.

        I love my profession. I started playing in church at age 13 - and now, 58 years later, still love every minute of it, and that's not going to change, well at least not until the fingers and ankles stop working altogether. I'm fortunate that my church is a mere 2.5 miles from where I live.

        I have known a couple of colleagues who got let go when a new pastor arrived. One church had a very decent pipe organ and a prospering music program. The new pastor took his position, immediately fired all the music staff, put a for sale sign on the pipe organ and went "happy-clappy" with all the services. The church completely folded about 5 years later.

        Our church has four unique and quite different church services ... I play for three of those, one solely on piano, one either piano and/or organ, and the main service strictly organ. The fourth service, for which I have no playing responsibilities for is led by a praise band in a different building on our church campus.


        • #5
          beel m ^^ sees about what I see in my part of the country. It looks very bleak indeed. But my part of the country isn't the whole picture, as our regions happens to be dominated by a single religious denomination that has basically turned against traditional worship and come out in favor of what I can only call "the Sunday stage show" model of "worship." This large influential denomination once featured a massive commitment to traditional worship -- publishing some of the finest hymnals ever printed, promoting the organ with dedicated magazines and a growing library of fine music, encouraging the graded choir program in every church with excellent teaching materials and highly-developed methods taught in numerous regional workshops and camps, and offering quarterly editions of fine choral music in several levels ranging from easy to difficult.

          Now this same denomination features almost nothing but high-powered big-name entertainers on the program whenever they hold a regional or national meeting, with hymns almost never sung unless incorporated into the "set" by one of the Christian pop stars. Workshops are full of hints and tips on starting your own praize band, building and operating a massive sound and lighting system, teaching children and teens to "move with the groove." Their VBS music used to be elegant and stately but now is pure rubbish, throwaway and tawdry. Graded choirs are out, adult choir materials are very limited, and organ music has disappeared from their stores and online offerings.

          Little wonder that their churches are discarding organs at an alarming rate and nobody is interested in learning to play the organ any more in these churches. I am growing more and more doubtful that they will ever find their way back to "real" music in these churches. So sad.

          I do hope that things are not really this bad all over. It's heartening to see fine music still being used in worship at our nation's large cathedrals as well as in the cathedrals and revered places of worship in other parts of the world. Just maybe one of these days good sense will return to my part of the world, but I'm not holding my breath for it!
          *** 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!


          • #6
            When I was active in the AGO 30 years ago it had 30k members -- now it's down to 10k. Despite younger generations doing some fantastic work in classical organ, Western civilization is being systematically smashed to pieces e.g. vulgarized. Many of these young folk (well, most arts people) embrace the trendy "values" that are driving it, but fail to make the connection.

            The arson at Notre Dame isn't a unique freakish case thousands of miles from where most (?) of us live, it's emblematic of the deadly serious war on Christianity, high culture and everything else that clashes with the Agenda. Anybody who doesn't like this happening had better get personally active in fighting it -- because our entire way of life is down for the count


            • Larrytow
              Larrytow commented
              Editing a comment
              I don't know which Notre Dame you might be referring to here, but in the interest of accuracy, I think it should be pointed out that the cause of the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was NOT arson.

          • #7
            After the displaced discussion about build quality of digital organs I decided to be silent about any observations from Holland. Maybe there's another guy who will do. If it is of any interest at all in a US forum.


            • Victor Jules
              Victor Jules commented
              Editing a comment
              Please tell us what's on your mind -- if not here, in the 'Grease Pit' (and let us know).

            • jbird604
              jbird604 commented
              Editing a comment
              Actually, Dutchy, your observations from Holland would be very appropriate and welcome in this thread! I think I recall that you have said things are quite different there than in the US.

              I do know from my travels in the UK that things are pretty different there as well. While the churches in the UK are not totally immune to the ravages of the pop-worship movement, there continue to be large numbers of people attending the glorious and fully traditional services in the large churches and great cathedrals, and the majority of the parish churches are holding fast to traditional worship though their attendance is often small. With far fewer "evangelical" churches than in the US, the UK has not been so inundated with churches filling up their services with top-40 hit songs in place of the hymns.

              I hope you can report to us that traditional worship is still going strong in your country too!

            • Admin
              Admin commented
              Editing a comment
              I'm sorry that you appear to believe that your comments in another thread were "displaced" in an effort to stifle discussion. They were not. I stated clearly that your comments and those of others regarding the Allen vs Europe were moved to their own thread because they were off topic for a question regarding a choice between two models - neither of which was Allen or, for that matter built in Holland. I also pointed out that there were already multiple existing threads on the build quality issue in which to continue that discussion. Indeed, had it been my intent to censor your opinion I simply would have deleted the off-topic posts entirely. In fact, I provided a link in the original thread to the new one, so that anyone interested in continuing the discussion could do so.

              As I pointed out, this particular discussion has tended to become jingoistic, rancorous, and personal with people taking personal offense and attacking each other. I moved just such a thread from General Chat to the Grease Pit just a few weeks before for these reasons.
              Last edited by Admin; 06-14-2019, 09:39 AM.

          • #8
            Our church is located in a small mountain town of 1300 people. Our church attendance is probably broken down with 50% being reasonable locals and the rest driving great distances to worship our Lord and Savior. Our Church is 100% Traditional/Fundamental, no exceptions and a Sunday attendance of roughly 130 people.

            Our church music is from Piano and a Older Lowery organ. An older lady plays the organ, though she is not an organist. Our music is 100% hymns of the faith. The older lady who plays the Lowery does not, nor want, nor know how to put on a concert. Thats not important, we are there to worship our Lord. In fact the older lady that plays the organ never changes stops, she leaves the “Church Music” button pushed at all times. And thats OK. Most don't even know I play and have a Allen
            705D in my home. I would never consider horning in the the lady that has played for years.

            Our church is constantly growing, soon we will have to go to two services on Sunday morning. We are the only true Traditional/Fundamental church within 50 miles. All others have gone Garage Band and Happy Clappy.

            The sad part. There are no up and coming young folk that play the organ/piano to replace the older lady some day. And I am 76 so when Jesus calls me home, what happens to the organ part of the service ?

            1871 Estey Cottage Organ. ROS Reg#5627


            • #9
              OK, nice to hear some of you want to know about the ‘organsituation' in Holland. I think here the situation is mixed too, but maybe better than with John or 74corvette.

              At the plus side:
              • There are still young people who want to play organ, in my church recently two 20 year old boy's play in the service once a month. In other churches the situation is analogous. There are still youngsters who want to play out beautiful instrument.
              • On a recent organ course ‘service playing' there were among 24 participants at least 10 less than 30 yrs old.
              • There are still young people here who plays very good and want a carrier in professional organ playing (although their number has rapidly declined last two decades).
              • Especially in the more ‘orthodox' churches the organ is still he main Sunday service instrument, mostly without discussion or doubts about is quality or functionality (which does not mean, of course, that the church members are always fond of their organist).
              • There are still new organs build, sometimes rather large ones (see i.E., Van den Heuvel Orgelbouw)
              • The number of members of my own organists' association is stable last 15 years or so.
              • There are at least two specialized organ journals (both with stable number of readers), plenty of organ concerts and plenty good restored historical organs. Also many good maintained new ones.
              • In great town churches there are still classic services, with much room for the organ.
              • There are in our little country at least two dealers who sell only digital and VPO organs, at least two relatively big VPO builders/sellers and at least three dealers who sell DO besides piano's and other instruments.
              • Regarding organ sales, Noorlander has recently opened a new large building - sales are growing! (indeed, VPO-Hauptwerk - Voet may be fairly right!).
              • The Dutch Hauptwerkforum ( is lively and has >1000 members, some very active. For such a little country I think this is not bad (and again support fot the vision of Voet).

              At the down side:
              • Here too are Evangelical churches who changed to gospel bands, beat music etc; the Evangelische Omroep (radio, TV) has nearly completely abandoned the organ.
              • The Dutch conservatoria has very little organ students from Holland (most come from Korea or so). Some 20 years ago this was far better.
              • Many churches has to close due to secularization. This means less organ playing. Town churches are closing for worship too. Very sad.
              • There are much less organ dealerships nowadays, compared with, say, 20 years ago.
              • On concerts and excursions most heads are white or bald. Less youngsters nowadays. Nevertheless, many of them still play the organ and sometimes very well, as I know personally and have seen on YT.
              So in the Netherlands the picture is mixed too. In general I feel not too pessimistic. The number of organ players and lovers declines, I'm sure. But, there remains still a group of young (< 25 yrs old) organ players - and mostly they play good.

              Well, I'd much to say, hopefully it was a pleasure to read.

              Regards, Dutchy


              • jbird604
                jbird604 commented
                Editing a comment
                Good report. Thanks for the information. It's encouraging to hear that there are still many young people interested in traditional music and in the organ. I continue to read articles and hear reports that a lot of young Americans are completely burned out on "contemporary worship" and are returning to traditional services. That sounds good, but the numbers don't necessarily bear this out, as church attendance overall continues to decline quite steeply, with only the "pop" music churches still holding pretty steady. I keep wondering when we'll see a general increase in attendance for Episcopal and other churches where genuine liturgical worship with organ and choir are found almost exclusively. So far nothing to talk about.

                As I mentioned up above, I do get the sense whenever I vacation in the UK that there is very little interest there in the pop music worship that is "all the rage" in American evangelical churches. Of course, church attendance has declined greatly in the UK as well in modern times, but I still find it heartening when we attend Evensong or a Sunday Choral Eucharist at one of the great cathedrals and see such huge crowds of folks. Sometimes extra seating has to be provided to accommodate the crowds wanting to attend one of these glorious services, and that has to be a good sign, even though attendance at the smaller parish churches is not doubt rather sparse.

              • Dutchy
                Dutchy commented
                Editing a comment
                Thanks John for your reaction.

            • #10
              One thing that gets overlooked in the discussion of church music is why the shift away from so-called traditional worship to praise bands. After all, traditional hymn singing has been a fixture since Luther. I see the shift as response to the declining influence and importance of organized religion among the generations following mine (boomer) and an effort to lure the younger generation back to the collection plate.

              The survey below contains some interesting data. For example 35% of those in the age group 30 - 49 say they seldom or never attend church as opposed only 15% in the 65+ group. Interestingly in the 18-29 year old group the percentage of seldom or never responses is 26%, but is offset by only 17% of those in that age group attending church on a weekly basis.

              The survey analysis has this to say (emphasis is mine):
              "It's interesting to note the demographic born between 1968-1987 is the one you're most likely to find in church on a Sunday morning. That's followed in succession by the 50-64 and the 65+ groups.

              We see a significant drop off in the group born between 1988-1999. They're almost half as likely to attend church every week, and only one out of four of them attend occasionally (the same as the number that never attend). It's no wonder that there are so many discussions and blog posts exploring the reasons Millennials are leaving the church. It's the most pressing issue for the American church in the 21st century.

              The church isn't going to reach this generation by attempting to speak their language or become better at entertaining them. That might have worked with Generation X because they had inherited so many of their values from the previous generations.

              The world that Boomers and Gen Xers grew up in had more similarities than differences. Millennials have grown up in a tech world that bears little resemblance to previous generations. We need to examine the ways that this generation sees the world differently—and then find areas where we can identify with them and demonstrate how the gospel is aligned with them."

              The link contains additional survey statistics as to why people do or do not attend church which you can read for yourself. Although nearly 50% of church goers rate music as a positive motivator for church going, its either not a factor or a minor consideration for the other half.

              This indicates to me, that a return to more traditional music in church is not on the horizon and will not be as long as church leadership believes the way to increase church attendence is making worship a more secular, entertaining experience.
              We looked for answers about the state of church attendance in the US—and we came away with a helpful understanding of Americans worshipping habits.

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


              • samibe
                samibe commented
                Editing a comment
                Thanks for the link. That was a fascinating read.

            • #11
              I have no statistics for Holland but the general opinion in my environment is that orthodox churches are keeping steady (and keeping classic kinds of worship, including organ) wile 'progressive' churches are loosing menbers rapidly.

              It is thought by some this has theological/metaphysical reasons: when one believes God really exists and the Bible is His word, that can have profound effect on the mind of believer.
              At the other hand, when God does not exits, or when the Bible is not His word but only one of many human stories about God, then the reason for believing rapidly declines.
              At least this is the opinion of some sociologists in the 'orthodox' chuch scene.

              Just before I would post this, I read in the newspaper there was a survey from European Values Study which in part support this:
              - less and less Dutch young people pray and go to church; religion is less relevant for them.
              - but this does not hold four youngsters in orthodox churches ('reformatorische kerken') and olso not for young Muslims.

              Regards, Dutchy


              • jbird604
                jbird604 commented
                Editing a comment
                Dutchy, your observations seem born out in other situations and places, for example here in the US. While what we call "mainstream" churches (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples, Methodists) are generally declining in membership, the "evangelical" or "conservative" churches (Baptists, Pentecostals, Non-denominational, etc) seem to be either growing or at least suffering far less decline. And certain studies confirm that it is the "certainty" proclaimed by the conservatives that is drawing and holding people more successfully.

                While this might seem like a good thing, and one might even suggest that the churches that are "dying" deserve to die because "they don't believe in anything any more anyway," I think that is way over-simplifying the truth.

                For one thing, I was raised in a conservative/evangelical denomination and environment, and left the denomination of my youth because I found I had serious problems with what was going on in the background, at the highest levels of leadership and authority. Regardless of the apparent "success" of this strain of Christianity, regardless of the apparent "decline" of the mainline denominations, I simply could not and cannot stand with those folks any longer.

                My reasons are many and varied, but suffice it to say that what I saw happening in the religious world I inhabited was a continual redefining of what you have to "believe" in order to be "in good standing" with that denomination -- more and more thought control, top-down control of what was going to be preached and practiced. Because I happen to disagree very strongly with that denomination on several "social" positions -- one of them being what I see as the absolute equality of men and women before God -- I was deemed an outcast, unsuitable to minister in their churches unless I was willing to at least publicly parrot the official line.

                So sure, these churches are "growing" -- they leave little or no room for people to have to think through complex issues on their own. They simply tell you what you have to think about this or that issue. No questions, no discussion. And that apparently appeals to a broad portion of the demographic. And it is "comforting" to many to be able to feel that their church "isn't changing" or "isn't bowing to social pressure" -- but in fact, their church IS "changing" and bowing to pressure to make dogmatic statements about issues that in the past were simply not defined, were left up to the conscience of the individual as led by the Holy Spirit into truth.

                And I suspect that the mainline churches are in decline at least in part because they have refused to bow to societal pressure to draw lines in the sand, to take sides in battles that the church shouldn't be fighting anyway. So they are portrayed as "weak" or "wishy-washy" by the folks on the other side who seem to want their church to do all the thinking for them. Branding a church as "wishy-washy" here in the southern US is a sure-fire way to keep people from even trying it out, from paying any attention to it at all. Thus the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches in the south, and to some extent even the Methodists, have become "pariah" churches that the local big-name preacher in the Big Box Evangelical Church can pillory week after week as he strives to assure his people that they are in the "right" church and those pitiful folks still clinging to their apostate religion over in the "other" church are just sad.

                Anyway, that's how I look at it. For the present, the evangelical/conservative type of church is "winning" and taking away members and credence from the mainline churches. I can only pray to God that one of these days all this will be revealed and set right.

            • #12

              Dutchy I'm not sure what you mean by orthodox churches. I associate the term with orthodox religions, e.g. Eastern Orthodox, Orthodox Judaism, etc. The term orthodox is not usually associated with Protestant religions. The term used is Fundamentalist. Fundamentalist religions believe in a literal interpretation of scripture. Those churches that jbird604 refers to in his comment as "evangelical" or "conservative" are Fundamentalist churches. The Fundamentalist churches in the US are probably at the forefront of the switch from traditional worship to a more secularized entertainment form of worship. In the US. you're more likely see the term "progressive" applied to what jbird604 refers to as "mainstream" churches which leave more room for the interpretation of scripture and are less socially conservative, but on the other hand seem a bit more likely to continue traditional liturgy and hymn singing.

              So if you are equating orthodoxy with Fundamentalism and progressivity with the Mainstream, your situation is completely opposite of what is occurring in the US with respect to traditional worship music.

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


              • #13
                Hi Admin,

                If I understand Dutchy correctly, when the term "ORTHODOX" is used in the Netherlands generally means the belief system that is confessional and rooted in the reformation. I agree with Dutchy, quite a number of these churches are doing quite well and have congregations that are large and well attended.

                He does not mean the eastern rite churches such as Greek and Russian Orthodox church, who for the most part do not use instruments in worship.



                • Dutchy
                  Dutchy commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Thanks Arie, you understand me correctly.

              • #14
                There are projects to encourage youngsters for the organ: . May be worth a look, maybe some of you is in the mood to pick up such an initiative or contact the "organkids".
                The idea comes from mrs. Linda Vroegindewey, in Holland it exists for 10 years now:

                PS: I'm not sure it belongs here, but in some way it does because the project might be a way to make things better.
                It a good initiative anyway.
                Last edited by Dutchy; 06-28-2019, 01:22 PM.


                • jbird604
                  jbird604 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Very interesting project! I believe that any kind of exposure to almost any kind of organ can have an impact on a young person. The only organs I ever heard growing up were Hammond organs and pretty bad old Baldwins, most of them very poor ones, but the colorful tones and steady-tone nature of the organ appealed to me, making me want to go beyond the piano. Getting to hear and play around with a little set of pipes might be just the ticket for a kid to start loving the organ, leading to a lifelong devotion and service.

              • #15
                Interesting comments. Speaking from often miscreant France, I believe the future of organ music and practice is in danger if it is only associated with worship. But it can be brillant if it follows the very real reapraisal and enthusiasm for early classical music, often written for the organ. Bach alone could be the salvation of the organ.

                In France regular Church attendance is dwindling. Church here means 90 % Catholic of course, therefore closely linked to a "mainstream" type of liturgy, with surprising remnants of Latin. There still can be a very close connection to the Church, but it is cultural, not spiritual. Salvation has a very small (and elderly) market here, and God's help in this life cannot compete with generous government benefits, widely available.

                Blue collar Church attendance is non-existent, except marginal evangelical sects seen as foreign, and a growing immigrant (music banning) Islam. However people on all sides of the political spectrum have kept a great fondness for the historical and patrimonial role of the Catholic Church in french society, and it is ironic to witness otherwise atheist politicians or rock stars given heavily mediatised funerals in cathedrals, with the great organs a-blowin'.

                The national emergency over the Notre Dame fire was a clear case of this underlying trend. The ancient cathedrals and abbeys, their majestic organs, are seen as a proud cultural heritage, not necessarily places of worship. The French Revolution put into state ownership all the major churches, but ironically this also means to this day state money for their upkeep, that of their works of art, and organs… (but none for worship or clergy, with strict separation of state and Church).

                Of course there are much fewer churches than in the USA, because the Catholic near-monopoly means few separate denominational buildings. An average large town today has only two or three working churches. Paris may have about twenty really thriving parishes. The attendance is usually rich, politically conservative, and culturally very well educated. Most will come only for weddings, funerals, and maybe Xmas, but they like their Mozart, and largely treat their churches as museums and concert halls, or venues for rites of passage.

                Therefore the State-financed conservatories, free for the talented, continue to churn young organists. They are part and parcel of the classical music establishment, together with their wind or strings friends. And because of the current fashion for baroque music, preferably on period instruments, there are many opportunities for classical music in churches. This is not restricted to France, of course. In London Saint Martin in the Fields and Saint John Smith Square are now de facto concert halls.

                Again, as Bach but also Couperin or Rameau wrote a lot of organ music, there is a great proximity in France between the organ and the harpsichord, and nearly all instrumentists play both.
                The star harpsichordists of today, Hantai and Rondeau, are quite popular with a sophisticated young audience, and I see in their success a hopeful note for the organ.
                __________________________________________________ ________________________
                Hybrid Home Organ : Viscount Sonus 45 with additional 154 real pipes. Steinway A 188. Roland LX 706. Pianoforte : Walter 1805 Copy by Benjamin Renoux. Harpsichords : Franco-German by Marc Fontaine, Jacob Kirkmann single (1752).


                • voet
                  voet commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Thank you for your comments, Vincent. It is nice to get a perspective from another part of the world.