May. 27, 2016

The Pipe Organ In Worship, Part II

(con't from Part I)

"Some to the church repair, not for the doctrine, but for the music there."
-- Alexander Pope

Imagine the pipe organ in the spacious choir of your worship center, a fine old historic church building, badly in need of regulation, tuning, cleaning, and repairs, mostly unplayable due to inadequate maintenance and long time neglect, unable to attract a good organist, ignored and excised from worship services, with little or no interest being expressed in getting it up and running again (photo).
Now imagine the new, youngish pastor at this worship center saying, "Oh, it's okay, we've got some good organ patches on the secondary synth, we use them for pads quite a lot ..."; it would make you want to take them to hear a fine pipe organ played by a fine organist (provided they can be persuaded not to spend the entire time texting others and taking selfies).
How common this is; we look at this image, contemplate the situation, and sadly shake our heads.
Many churches are struggling with finding a skilled person to play their pipe organ; they have a beautiful instrument and want to use it, but don't have a person who feels comfortable to play; when that happens, it's easy to just say "let's get rid of it" instead of taking the time to train or search for that person; frequently the fallboard remains locked since the last organist retired, often by dying on the job.
This isn't astounding, when we realize that it's up to the body of believers in a community to decide how their worship will be shaped; it's the decision of one's local church about how to best steward their gifts, talents, and skills; and if it decides to "get rid" of the old pipe organ, then so be it.
Some would say, sarcastically, "Go ahead, remove the organ, then remove all the hymnals, both are at the heart and soul of this congregation's worship."
Others would say, just as sarcastically, "Let's quit wasting our time hugging an old church organ all awhile the world is dying without a Saviour."
What is astounding, is when people make the suggestion that one could simply hire an organist; they don't know where to find one; few music teachers play the organ; if they do, there are far too many congregations for them to play for each; generally there are no colleges within driving distance, and very few would have anyone studying the organ.
Many congregations are finding it difficult to find anyone to play ANY instrument for worship and have purchased "electronic accompaniment" so the congregation would have some semblance of music to support its singing.
Those churches bemoaning the lack of organists seem to have forgotten that the organist's job isn't so easy as it looks, it requires coordination of a number of specialized skills that have taken a lifetime of disciplined study and practice to develop, and organists need to be properly paid for their work.
The pipe organ itself, is also terribly underappreciated, even unknown, in some of today's Evangelical churches.
Congregations always sing better when led or enhanced by a pipe organ; no other instrument has the sound to accompany a large number of people in congregational singing; it gives worshipers security to sing out without their voices sticking out; without that support, they take alarm at hearing their own voices, and stop singing.
Many would be surprised and astonished by the versatility the pipe organ offers, but they simply don't hear it enough, if at all.
Congregations don't mind the pipe organ one bit; the disdain for the organ has come more from musical and pastoral leadership in churches.
We have pastoral leaders who advocate getting rid of anything that looks like traditional church; slowly, they may be seeing the error of their thinking, that worship is not about entertainment; that it's not about creating a performance or stage atmosphere where the audience in the pews has to be treated to a pleasurable experience each and every moment.
The lack of musicians knowing how to correctly "play" the organ is another problem; all too often, it's the same stops all the time for everything; they bang on the piano and play the same way on the organ; when that's all there is, it isn't fair to the congregation, the clergy, the liturgy, or the instrument.
Each pipe organ is nearly as unique as one of the members of the congregation it serves; the unique aspects of each instrument have been carefully designed to meet the needs of the congregants' singing and the space in which it will serve; a man made representation, if you will, for the body of believers.
God's creations are more perfect than ours, of course, but the creation of a pipe organ requires the best skills and gifts of all involved from inception, to fundraising, to commissioning, to installation, voicing, tuning, and dedication; a complex creation and lasting investment in the art of sacred music.
In the same way, a pipe organ represents God's creation; it can serve as a representation (not an idol) of God's mystery and splendor; both visually and aurally, the instrument serves as a reminder of the complexity and vastness of God.
Hundreds upon hundreds, if not thousands, of pipes, and dozens upon dozens of ranks of voices mix in various ways to create an acoustic sound that somewhat mimics the mechanism of the human voice, and often mimics or complements the colors created by the full chorus of human voices of the congregants.
The presence of an organ can only ever enhance the esthetic of worship, if well stewarded by the congregation it serves.
(con't in Part III)