Talk to nearly anyone today who has any sort of opinion about church music and they’ll tell you that the organist is a dying breed. But instead of getting fatalistic, let’s encourage others in whatever sort of musical pursuit they enjoy—and then encourage them to learn the organ.
A Dying Art?
Yes, I think perhaps the playing of a church organ is a dying art. Many, many churches can attest to that. On the other hand, perhaps it is because I am young and idealistic, I have great optimism about the future of the organ. After all, when such a skill becomes so unique, people are eager to acquire it.
And then there’s the sheer grandeur of the organ. It is truly an impressive instrument that entices many people. And though it might be intimidating at first, many grow to love the plethora of expressions they can convey with it.
Music Appreciation, Organ Appreciation
It has almost become tiresome to tell others of my intentions to become a church organist. Almost without fail, their reaction every time is, “Great! We need more of those!” Yes, indeed we do, but first we need musicians. And to get musicians, we need people who enjoy music.
I don’t really think there is a shortage of people who enjoy music. Often the case is that there is a disconnect between music teachers who are eager to train church musicians and people who sing along to the radio. Although I view my vocation as a church musician as a way to praise God and proclaim the Gospel, I see my love of music in general as a way to lead others to that marvelous art.
As musicians, it is important to help others appreciate and love music in any form, be it pop, rock, jazz, or classical. Because as soon as a person loves music, they will be more likely to explore it in all of its forms. And it is only a short time before they turn to Messiaen, Buxtehude, and Bach.
Encouraging Budding Organists
For those who are already eager to explore music, how can a music director encourage appreciation for and the study of the organ? Here are a few ideas:
- Encourage parents to put their kids in piano lessons.
- Offer organ lessons and actively seek students, especially within your congregation.
- Welcome young children who curiously approach your church organ.
- Provide opportunities for beginning musicians to play in church.
It is crucial to welcome beginning musicians and to incorporate their skills within the church service. The more they are encouraged to play, the more they will improve and want to continue to play music.
Finally, the Church
In the end God will always provide, even if it’s a pastor who takes up the instrument himself. Life is full of ebb and flow, so I believe the organ will make a full comeback. But for now we can be thankful for the gifts of music God gives to us—organ or no organ.
For help with teaching beginning organists, check out The Concordia Organ Method by John A. Behnke.