A couple of days ago, there was a fascinating article published by CatholicPhilly.com that blamed shrinking church budgets and changing tastes for the shortage of organists. You can read the article by Beth Griffin in its entirety by clicking here.
According to the article it was the Second Vatican Council in the 70s which changed the course of church music in encouraging congregational participation in the liturgy: acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons and songs. The result was guitar masses, praise bands, and more contemporary, informal music which led to the demise of organs and organ music in many churches. But as the president of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, J. Michael McMahon, says “music for the liturgy is not about the organ. Liturgy is sung, not played. Instruments exist to foster a sung liturgy.”
The whole attitude towards music has changed, according to this excerpt: “. . . the effort to engage worshippers in participating in liturgical music is counter to the current culture . . . Music has become the background to our life, rather than an activity in which we’re taking an active part. In our culture, we’re more consumers of music than producers.”
That people feel differently about music and the decreasing music education in public schools, has contributed to this situation.
The article was posted on the American Guild of Organists’ FaceBook wall, and the comments which it generated were most interesting. One responder pointed to the lack of numbers in churches saying, “My church, which has a seating capacity of 350 and only gets 70 to worship on a Sunday, really, it’s all they can do to afford even a pastor at this point. The problem isn’t the church; it’s the lack of people GOING to church and contributing to the offering (ie, the only income for any church.)” [This is not entirely true. For many churches, offerings are supplemented by rental income of their facilities, grants, endowment distributions and other sources of revenue. But there’s no denying that church attendance is a challenge to many parishes.]
Other comments: “I would rather see my church put money into childcare and development for the kids of AA/NA participants who populate our church almost every day, or other outreach to the needy, than spend even $75K to upgrade our aging organ.”
“stipend” = code for pitiful underpayment. And budgeting for an organist indicates where your priorities are, not how “blessed” you are.
The fact is that many organists are paid such a pittance (or volunteer their services entirely) that it necessitates a “real job” elsewhere to pay the bills. I know that what I’ve gotten paid as a church organist could never support me and so I’ve cobbled together other part-time positions. And the next organist of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu will have to find other sources of income to support him/herself.
Happily (?) the article concludes that “the pendulum is swinging back toward traditional organ music . . . More new churches have organs and others are rebuilding pipe organs and replacing electronic organs.” And according to a newspaper article in Augusta, GA, young musicians are flocking to the organ! Click here to read this other side of the story.