Now Concordia University-Nebraska, this little college on the plains has never been a large scale university and has always served the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod with a very significant number of church worker vocation students -- something that has diminished over the years but still leaves this school at or near the top of all the colleges and universities of the LCMS. Imagine then how many organ students there were in that same time period if you added in the totals from Concordia-St. Paul (remember Paul Manz was there!), Concordia-River Forest (Paul Bunjes, Carl Schalk, and so many others were there!), Concordia-Bronxville, Concordia-Milwaukee, Concordia-Portland, St. Paul-Concordia (MO), St. John's-Winfield, Concordia-Austin, Concordia-Ann Arbor, Concordia-Selma, and Concordia Senior College-Ft. Wayne (Joel Kuznik was there!). When I entered St. John's in Winfield (near where Dr. Ore also lived for his earliest years) there were so many organ students that practice times were signed up over 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!
And now look at things in the same church body (which now is larger and has more congregations, at least on paper). Some of those schools no longer exist (St. John's, the Senior College, St. Paul's College. At least one has consolidated (Ann Arbor is part of Concordia-Wisconsin now in Mequon). Some no longer even have an organ department or teachers (such as Concordia-Bronxville). And most others have organ students in such small numbers that they are statistically irrelevant to the student body as a whole. And then we wonder why it is that Lutherans cannot find organists!
Of course there is no shortage of reasons why when you walk in a Lutheran Church today you may find canned music or praise bands in place of the organ (this from the church that produced such people as Bach (the whole family!), Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bruhns, Walter, and modern giants like Manz, Ore, Schalk, etc...). Culture, taste, preference, money, interest, etc.... We have plenty of reasons why not. What we need to work on are the reasons for the leadership of the organ in a Reformation that was accomplished through song as through theological treatise.
I grew up in a small, rural Lutheran congregation that had an ancient Estey tracker of a dozen or so ranks (nothing brighter than a 4' Octave, half of the stops too soft to be of much use in congregational song, and a bear to play if you used the couplers!). The instruments still serves that parish but the organist (the same one who was there when I was still a member there) is 80 and is looking for a replacement. Where will she find one? The numbers of children grows ever smaller in that community and the numbers who are interested in organ and piano is not increasing either. Unless this pipe organ is to become a piece of art to look at and remember but not hear, that congregation will have to find some new blood, some young blood, perhaps pay for organ lessons and up the compensation (when I played there 50 years ago it was $2.50 a Sunday).
This is not a story whose final chapter has been written -- unless we choose to let this decline be the final chapter. I appeal to parents and kids, pastors and church boards, teachers and colleges -- let us raise up a new generation of great Lutheran organists, cantors, kapellmeisters, and parish musicians. The Reformation is not over and it will continue to be renewed as much by the great Lutheran hymns as well as catechesis. Let us resolve to rescue the cause of organ and organists from the curious or obscure to the ordinary of every Lutheran congregation. We will all be better off for it. If you cannot play, consider donating to a Lutheran university to provide organists (call up my old friend Dr. Joe Herl at Seward, where Dr. Ore spent most of his career). Through the Church, the song goes on!