One article in particular caught my eye: “Organists: a Dying Breed” by Rhonda Sider Edgington. She says that at first glance, things look bad for organists, if you look at the state of religion and the state of music education in the United States. Church membership continues to decline (which means organ jobs are fewer and fewer) and general music education classes are the first ones to be cut.
Many musicians are only employed part-time which means they have to either have multiple jobs and or have non-musical skills to pay the bills (like I and my husband did). The author was astounded to realize that the majority of American Guild of Organists members are only part-time musicians, as there are only a handful of full-time jobs.
She tells of a colleague who asks, “What’s the point of encouraging young people to go into the organ when the future of our profession looks so bleak?”
The other thing that prompted me to write this post was that the day before I left on my European trip, a little over a month ago, I was shocked to open the mail and find a four-figure check from the Lutheran Church of Honolulu! When I asked the church secretary about it, she told me it was for the purpose of teaching two of the children in the parish.
Wow, wow, wow! I was truly amazed and happy to learn this, because to me it meant that the church was investing in its future, and trying to insure that the organ continues to be played. I wish other churches who are trying to deal with the organist shortage would have done something similar years ago.
Let me say at this time that I am truly grateful that the Lutheran Church of Honolulu continues to allow me to use their organ for teaching — even though it has been over four years that I retired as organist. Long ago the church made the instrument for practice available to “outsiders” — since money was received by community foundations and other non-members to purchase the instrument, the church has had an open-door policy regarding use of the organ.
Which brings me to another point—Yesterday I met a Canadian woman who contacted me some time ago about her desire to try to find a church for organ practice during her stay in Hawaii. She has literally had the door slammed in her face with the answer, “Absolutely not!” She made the comment, “People here just don’t value the organ like they do back home.”
This is not a new phenomenon in Hawaii or anywhere else. I ask the question, how are people going to be able to learn to play the organ if churches don’t let them practice?
When I was in Paris in 1968 to study with Marcel Dupré, one of my first tasks was to find a place to practice. Another of Dupré’s American students and I went around the city and merely said, “We are students of Marcel Dupré. May we play the organ?” and the answer was always, “Yes, of course.”
The article in the AGO magazine did end on a hopeful note: the musical endeavors that really count are those that are done in our hometown. “I believe that the rewards of investing in our own local musical communities can be great, despite the covert or even overt messages from our workplace, general profession, or simply the voices in our own heads whispering that such things don’t really matter… That is where—through our friends, families, work colleagues, church members, and students—we have the greatest concentration of potential audience members that we will ever have in one spot.”
It is why I continue to teach organ. I close with a poem that has been floating around the internet for awhile, and have modified it to fit the organ.
This is why I teach the organ
... not because I expect you to
become an organ major,
not because I expect you to play all your life,
… not so you can relax,
not so you can have fun playing the pedals,
but so you will be human,
so you will recognize beauty,
so you will be closer to an infinite
beyond this world,
… so you will have something to cling to,
so you have more love, more compassion,
… more good
In short, more Life. (author unknown)