One of the projects I’m currently working on is a presentation for the next regional convention of the American Guild of Organists, June 24-26 in Bakersfield, CA. If you want to check out their website, click here. One sentence on their home page gave me a ray of hope: There are many outstanding organs in our houses of worship and we are blessed with a community that supports the organ and its music.
Not long ago we had dinner with some friends from the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM) — the Reverend Richard Tietjen and his wife, Sandra, an organist, who are both retired from Grace Lutheran Church in Tacoma, WA. Sandra directed a question to me which gave me a little pause: Do you think it’s over? referring to the use of organs in church music. Since retirement, the Tietjens have visited many churches in which the use of the organ is negligible or where the organ is poorly played. Of course, they wondered how it is that in comparison, I have been able to keep up an active organ studio — I presently have fifteen students. Only a few years ago I had twenty-six students, but a number of them have moved to the mainland. Believe me, this keeps my life busy in spite of the fact that I no longer play for church on Sundays. I still have three jobs!
In the early days of my teaching the organ to children, quite frankly I didn’t wait for the kids to come to me. I directly approached parents of students in my parish who I thought would be good candidates and asked them if they would consider organ lessons for their children. I guess what made my philosophy different from other teachers is that I wanted them to learn the organ as a first, rather than a second instrument. And I’m pleased to say that many of my students have become competent organists.
Despite stories of a lingering organist shortage, there seems to be no dearth of fine, young organists. Witness some of the virtuoso players we have presented here in Hawaii in the last seven years: Paul Jacobs, Christopher Houlihan Aaron David Miller, Isabelle Demers, Ken Cowan, and Nam Hee Han. (Pre-Concert Alert: The next organ concert will feature Nathan Laube on March 10th at Central Union Church. ) But the truth of the matter is that young organists want concert careers, and don’t necessarily want church jobs. Why is that? The poor pay is certainly part of it, as well as other considerations such as being tied up every weekend and every holiday.
And yet — I’m not ready to give up on preparing students to play the organ in church, in fact, in case you’re wondering, the title of my June workshop is called “Teaching Little Fingers to Play the Organ.” There have been lots of disparaging remarks made to me about going to Bakersfield, CA in the summer but I’ve been assured that all the venues are air-conditioned.