Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Play the Mighty Organ

A recent article in THE TENNESSEAN heralded the major pipe organs in the Nashville area (although they missed the 60+ rank pipe organ here at Grace Lutheran Church).  Now I know some of you are going to say that the pipe organ is an outdated instrument, the voice of high culture in a low culture world, and complain about how darn traditional I am.  So I said it and its out of your system.  Now, keep reading...

One of the great problems of congregational song (of any kind) is the lack of a strong melodic voice.  Praise bands compensate for the acoustic and percussive sounds by having a lead singer on microphone.  Sometimes they use a solo instrument (trumpet, flute, etc.).  The truth is that this is only moderately successful and works mostly because the congregational song is generally a refrain or a repeated chorus that is literally learned as it is being sung (one of the reasons for the repetition).

One of the strengths of the pipe organ is its ability to lead congregational song.  It is not that this instrument is sacred (at one time it was thought too crude and vulgar for Christian worship).  No, it is not the aesthetic of the pipe organ that is its attraction but rather its ability to lead congregational song with a strong melody and supportive accompaniment that can lead 10 or 1000 voices to sing together the same song.

Hymn singing is the way many people and many voices become one in praise to God.  There is no better instrument to support this than the pipe organ.  Period.  I love it not because of its value as a performance instrument or even for its sound but for the wonderful moment when a room full of people is enticed into singing together by an introduction that whets your appetite and then compels you with its strong melody.  And on Easter Sunday we hear that (heard that) strength and character supreme.  From the newness of Herb Brokering's Alleluia! Jesus Is Risen! to the wonderfully familiar I Know that My Redeemer Lives to the majestic Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds... 

Worship is what we exist for -- everything the Church is and does flows from the privilege of worship... and an instrument that leads as powerfully as a pipe organ is a gift from God.


Sue said...

I never thought of the organ this way! And it's true! It leads the congregation in singing in the way a praise band cannot. With a band, the focus seems to be on the people and the instruments, not the music and words as much. About 15 years ago we raised funds like crazy and got a new organ. It has been such a blessing to out congregation. BTW, when it was about to be installed, my younger son, then about 10 or 11 wanted to know what the first the was that the organist was going to play on it. (Out of the mouths of babes.) I said I'd ask. She misunderstood the question at first and answered whatever the pastor planned for that Sunday. I said no, Jacob wants to know the very first thing you'll play when you sit down at the organ for the first time. Oh, she said, that's easy: Jesus loves me! Easy to play with one hand while trying all the stops!

Anonymous said...

Not only should we be encouraging young men to enter the pastoral ministry, but we need to be encouraging musicians to be church organists.

Anonymous said...

I agree 110%. I think the biggest problem in the church is the lack of organists. Or, not to be rude, but "good" organists.

You can have the largest organ with all the stops you can wish for, but if you can't play it, or even choose registration properly - well, I won't say anymore. I'm sure we can all think of being in that situation at one time or another.

Now, that being said, I am an Lutheran Organist. So, YES, it's hard to be impartial. But, I am. It has taken me a long time to warm up to the contemporary worship style. Looking back, I think most of that was in my head, and not so much my heart. I think I personally identified it as the "mega church" style and wanted NOTHING of it. I find it refreshing now and then to attend at comtemporary service. It's stil music and praise to our Lord if it's coming from the right place. Only we can answer for ourselves and examine our hearts on that subject with our Lord.

You obviously have to be careful in chosing music in either category. I've known organists who run in on Sunday morning and play things like "Jesus, take the wheel". I wanted to crawl under my pew. A country rock ballad from the radio with the name Jesus in it. Thankfully it wasn't where I worship and serve we were visiting friends out of state.

I found it strange that no one felt there was an issue with the choice of preservice music at that Church. Approaching it delicately I got the gist that they felt fortunate enough for someone who could play their 3 Manual pipe organ. I took great restraint not to run to the organ loft and intervene.

The pipe organ I agree is TOPS hands down. But there are so few trained organists out there anymore. In those cases, I actually feel it best for those churches to stick to their strengths. A guitar, percussion and a microphone might have worked in their favor.

Nonetheless, Church will go on without the organ in general. But I hope I'm at home with my Maker before I see that day.

Rejoicing in Christ's Resurrection. He is Risen!

Mary Ellyn said...

I've decided that you read my mind. This is not the first time this has happened.

I just posted a link last night from CTS ( on pipe organs. I have one of those unusual teens who doesn't like contemporary music, but prefers hymns and classical music. So I'm always looking for interesting items for Alex.

Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Just an interesting thought....
While practicing organ earlier today I got thinking about this blog from a few days ago.

It's amazing how the "king of insturments" really still is "king" Yes, you can now reproduce sound, as in sampling for digital organs. But......that's only been created to keep the pipe organ ALIVE due to cost. If it wasn't good in the first place, you'd never want to make a copy, right?

Funny too, I've never heard one person EVER say....."I hate hearing the pipe organ." Young or old.

Also interesting that over that huge span of time since the pipe organ was first invented, really very little has changed. Other then adding electric to move the air through the pipes and electronic action in place of a tracker, it still really remains unchanged.

It's sad to see congregations having to give up their organs due to cost to maintain it. Secondly, and I actually feel the worst - the congregations that have a pipe organ, but it remains silent becuase no one knows how to play it. Enter: keyboards, guitars and praise bands.