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

There are times when a congregation, an organization, or a group of organizations, meeting in the same building for many years are faced with relocating to a different facility for financial reasons; large portions of the building (due to ever-dwindling revenues in tithes, dues, or donations supplied by an ever-dwindling membership) may have been poorly (or never) maintained for a very long time; perhaps no one even has been in certain parts of the building at all, any time in recent memory, to check on the condition of things prior to its sale.
Then one day, just before the new buyer takes possession of the premises, someone enters, and finds this (photo).
The opposite of love isn't hatred; it's indifference -- and such a scene brought on by an indifferent clergy, building committee, or board of trustees, would be nothing less than a crime against music (photo).
Now imagine it's a worship center with a new, youngish male pastor, and he's saying, "Oh, it's okay, don't worry about it, 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 that same pastor to hear a really fine pipe organ played by a really fine organist -- provided, that is, that he can be persuaded not to spend the entire time texting others and taking selfies.
We look at images like this, sadly shake our heads, and wonder how such a situation can develop, but it has -- far too many times in fact.
Many churches and other institutions are in possession of a small or moderately-sized pipe organ which is still partially playable but hardly ever used; they are often struggling with finding a skilled person to play their pipe organ; they may even have a beautiful instrument full playable and want to use it, but perhaps they don't have a person who feels comfortable enough to play it in public.
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 (or sounds); it looks like all they're doing is having some relaxing fun that anyone can do, not like it requires coordination of a number of specialized skills that have taken a lifetime of disciplined study and practice to develop that very few can do, or that people who have devoted their entire lives to the music ministry need to be justly compensated.
It also isn't so obvious to the average person how large and complex the organ is, that many more pipes are involved in making the sound that the ones visible in the facade, or that it even has a keyboard for the feet.
The pipe organ itself (or an electronic substitute for same), besides being terribly underappreciated, is 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 and lack of knowledge about 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 pleasing the masses; 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; we find young people who don't know any better coming at it like a piano -- the same manual and same stops all the time for everything, no pedal, and keys banged to get a louder sound; 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 a fully-functioning pipe organ, if well stewarded by the congregation it serves, can only ever enhance the esthetic of worship.
(con't in Part III)