Sunday, April 23, 2006

Church Organists, Tremble

Sociologist Mark Chaves, in Congregations in America, reports that the largest 10 percent of congregations contain about half of all churchgoers on an average Sunday.

Scott Thumma, the leading expert on megachurches, found that about 80% of them use electric guitar or bass and drums “always” in their services, and over 93% do so “often” or "always." Megachurch attenders are notably younger and have more kids than the mainline denominations do, so this preference is likely to multiply in coming generations.

Add to this that Roman Catholics, the nation's largest denomination, do not rely on organs.

The era of the church organ, which we think of as ancient, but is really less than two centuries old, may draw to a close in a generation or two.

20 comments:

eustochius said...

That's really sad. Although I understand the desire to provide an accessible church service, on the other hand I would like a service to stretch people. Johann Sebastian would be displeased.

Gruntled said...

Oh course, Bach himself can be electrified.

KLG said...

On the one hand it's a pity, because a pipe organ, well played at full volume, turns music from an aural into a palpable whole-body experience. On the other hand, since those things are built by hand (by only a few artisans worldwide), and cost around $10,000 per year to maintain (speaking conservatively), their upkeep is out of reach of most small congregations. Perhaps it is becoming time for such instruments to take their place in concert halls and leave the more common instruments to the halls of worship.

Jessica said...

If you are interested in pipe organs, plan on a Sunday morning visit to St. John's Anglican Church, in the small town of Lunenburg (Nova Scotia). Their pipe organ is a thing of beauty.

St. John’s receives Pipe Organ from Quebec:

After the devastating fire of St. John’s in November of 2001, the console and pipes of the 1954 Casavant Opus #2243 were severely damaged by fire, water and debris much beyond repair. The Organ would have to be replaced. [...]

After years of a volunteer committee’s research, time and effort, a brand new Casavant Opus #3845 was delivered to St. John’s on November 1, 2005 from Casavant Frères in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. The new organ will sing with 1816 pipes, compared to the 1954 organ with 1296 pipes.


Here is a video clip of the fire and some of the restoration work.
Church of the stars

The report is primarily about a mystery solved as a result of the meticulous rebuilding of the two-hundred-fifty year-old church building.

"Thanks to an artist’s gut feeling, and an astronomer’s keen eye, a Maritime town church is in the middle of a comet storm of celestial attention."

Michael W. Kruse said...

I have a friend who grew up (now in her 40s) without going to church and with little interest in classical music. The only place she could remember hearing an organ was at the baseball game and in Gothic horror movies. She became a Christian about 15 years and attended a church for a while that used an organ but she said it was just too weird. Welcome to the twenty-first century.

Stuart Gordon said...

Another aspect of this reality is that the number of students taking organ is dwindling, and programs to teach organ are folding.
In the small churches that constitute the great majority of faith communities, there isn't anyone who can play an organ! The choice becomes: buy an electronic organ with MIDI automation; have a pianist play the organ poorly; use some other instrument(s).

Doug said...

The pipe organ does one thing uniquely well: it leads congregational singing. The band-led services of the mega-church tradition and the cantor-led masses of the Catholic tradition depend heavily on a single, amplified voice for congregational singing. In these traditions, the congregation is invited to sing ALONG with the amplified singer; in churches with a pipe organ and a reasonably capable organist, the congregation is simply invited to sing.

Gruntled said...

My own congregation has a gorgeous Boody & Taylor organ (http://www.taylorandboody.com/opuses/opus_35.htm), and we have been blessed with some fine organists. Still, I myself am more moved by drum-driven music, as are most of the "young" (post-Elvis) people.

Doug Brown said...

Drum-driven music can be very moving, indeed. Is it necessary to assume that drums and organs are incompatible? Duke Chapel has a marvelous tradition of using Middle Eastern and African drums on Passion/Palm Sunday to assist the massive Flentrop organ in accompanying the hymns. You can see a webcast of the service by going to http://www.chapel.duke.edu/media/ and clicking on 4/09/06; the drums begin about 20 minutes into the webcast.

Anonymous said...

Dumb down worship, deny the richness of history and tradition. The sure way to become completely irrelevant and take our place in the trashbin of history.

Gruntled said...

Worship traditions change. They always have, and they always will. I think the point about organs being especially good for congregational singing is very good. On the other hand, I expect that when organs were introduced, there were those who thought the church was dumbing down chanting to match the abilities of the Great Unwashed.

Anonymous said...

What does it say when the blog that has generated the single largest response is about preferred forms of church music (and, implied, worship)? I once led a workshop on worship in which many different forms of music were played, different voices were heard leading liturgy (Scottish brogue reading King James, a college study reading a contemporary paraphrase of the Psalms, etc), and picture of churches from cathedral to benches in the woods were shown. Participants were asked to articulate what they felt was 'worship'. In almost every case, what the participant grew up with was what felt like worship. The worship wars frequently have less to do with what theology informs them, but more with what people feel comfortable with.

Gruntled said...

The religion posts in general draw a bigger response than the family ones.

I agree with you, though -- after nearly two decades of Presbyterian worship, the quiet of a the Quaker meeting of my youth still seems like real worship to me.

Pastor Lance said...

There is a place for the organ, just as there is a place for the worship team. It is a question of who the congregation is try attract. Some people will be drawn to a church with an organ. We just have to realistic in our expectation of how many people that will be. Some people will be drawn to a church with a worship team. Realistically, there will be more peole drawn to worship led by a worship team. No matter which is used there needs to be someone (or a group of people) who lead the singing. Visitors (and many regular attenders) do not know the songs or hymns. In our church we found that most people were not familiar with the hymns. Having a worship team lead the singing of the hymns greatly added to thise cherished hymns.

Hint, go out to the cars in the church parking lot. See what radio station they listen to. Look at the CDs they play. And remember, there is nothing "more sacred" about your favorite style of worship music than that of another person's favorite style of worship music.

FullCourtPresby.blogspot.com

Gruntled said...

I am all for worship style being responsive to the congregation. And I respect the organ repertoire aesthetically. It just doesn't move me.

Doug B said...

I agree that your chance of finding a CD of organ music in someone's car CD player is about one in a billion. It seems that if we started driving around to the sounds of worship music that is truly transforming, gripping, and life-changing, then we would have a lot more accidents. For my car, I choose Led Zeppelin (a band for which there is no Christian-rock parallel), but for my worship experience, I choose Messiaen. Most people's tastes are more eclectic than we think.

Anonymous said...

Pipe organs are the supreme instrument for worship. Too many pastors think that by havng Hee Haw Worship for the members that they are speaking to there needs. Worhsip is ment to be a communion with the Almighty and tru Pipe Organists know This. There are some awesome organs in Kentucky...too bad Pastors or looking to underachieve many congregations by haing BIlly Bobo play!

Frankly Frank

me @me.com said...

The Opus 35 in Danville is such a blessing. My family visited in 09/2006 adn we just cried for joy that such a talented man was at the organ. Danville must really nurture organ appreciation by having such a fine organist on staff! Don't ever lose him!

Stephan Dixon and Family

amesie said...

I am 31, and I grew up in a Baptist church with a beautifully-played organ. I hate to see any piece of culture erode, especially something with a great potential for beauty. I have to say, however, that now I attend a free-form church in a coffee shop with "creative worship" because it nurtures that connection between unfettered creativity and God. And while our worship involves electric guitars, acoustic guitars, all kinds of drums, experimental electronic music, painting, drawing, poetry, etc, it does not involve the top-40 Christian hits, or any other of the mass-marketed Christian music that previous posters have suggested is "light" and even sometimes vapid. Our music tends to be home-grown, written by members of our community, and of a sister community across the country. A favorite lyric of mine is: "Something, something tells me, I'm gonna let you get to me." And when I'm singing that surrounded by people who have been saved from so much pain, something amazing always happens. To me, to us.

I think the high level of resposes to this points to how personally relevant the subject is. Above all things, worship is personal. So maybe a solution is for us all to stash a bunch of our favorite worship CDs in our car glove boxes and, whenever we are on the road, enjoy our own special worship times. Just turn that stereo up loud and rock out. Or Bach out, as the case may be.

Gruntled said...

The most engaged communal singing that I have ever been part of was at a Springsteen concert. The E Street Band has an organ, along with much else. But the instruments were really entirely secondary to the collective music-making -- except that they were strong enough to keep up with the crowd.

Tuba ensembles, anyone?