Friday, October 1, 2010
Do I Play Organ Anymore?
I used to play quite a bit of organ; I played and took lessons growing up, and many of the church positions of pianist come with organist attached as a matter of course. There's a huge difference between playing a wind instrument like an organ and the percussion instrument of a piano. Because they both have keyboards, many people believe they are similar. Weddings also inspire the question "Do you play organ?"
Every organ is very different and often for a wedding there is little to no time to familiarize yourself with the stops and registration. Most organs I have had to use also have the "shades of disrepair" ghost looming over the cobweb-filled pipes. It is very embarrassing to find out during the processional, as the bride enters the sanctuary, that a stop you've chosen rattles and clunks like the chains of old Marley himself! But that's another story.
Earlier this week a church called and was wondering whether I would be interested in coming back to fill a "one-service per Sunday" position. There would be no extra rehearsals, they'd give me the list of hymns ahead, just show up and play. The secretary was new, and my name was in their files as a back-up organist. This was news to me. I haven't played for them since 1999, and then it was full-time.
After the call, which I turned down by the way, I began to wonder when exactly WAS the last time I had played an organ? I think is was at that church a decade ago. There have been occasional wedding gigs since then, but nothing seriously organ. Would I consider myself an organist anymore? I would need so much practice on not just my pedal technique, but the keyboard as well! I came to the conclusion that the answer is no.
There are many articles and editorials that point to the slow death of organs in America and likewise organists. Many churches have not built space for a pipe organ, and have leaned toward more contemporary praise bands. One large church in my city began an organ fund five years ago. They have positioned themselves to eventually build a very big pipe organ and be a concert venue for the entire south metro area, in addition to their worship needs.
I have a friend from my grad school days that knows where every "decent" pipe organ is, he hopes to play them all before he dies. The list is shrinking as they need repair and are not fixed. He teaches organ too, but very few students want to learn this instrument.
In my area, there is a public radio program called "Pipedreams" which shares concerts in beautiful churches on these grand instruments. For more information on this program, to see some pictures of these gorgeous and sometimes flashy organs, or to hear some of the sounds click here.
The organ pictured is the 2006 Holtkamp organ in the Boe chapel of St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota. And finally, this is the organ piece I loved to play in high school, and frankly I never improved from here. This organist is outstanding, it's clear, not too fast, and the cathedral, well, wowoza.