The organ is not an instrument people are ambivalent about. Studies indicate most people under 55 don’t simply not care for the sound of the organ, they hate it. And most people over 55 aren’t simply fond of the organ, they love it. But every week, year after year after year, the primary sound for worshipers in mainline churches, the sonority used for everything from meditation, to expressing joy, sorrow, moments of anxiety and fear, righteous anger (oh, right, we don’t recognize that in church) is the money pit that is the organ. So every week, come rain or shine, the church is saying “Shoo!” to three generations.
Add to this that the organ is uniquely Northern European and by making it the cornerstone of worship, we do not acknowledge the population of Christians who outnumber the Anglos worshiping around the world.
And to think that one Episcopal priest I know postulates that it is the boomers lack of commitment that keeps them away from church on Sundays; the generation that both fought in the Vietnam War and actively, successfully, protested to end it. Sure, it’s their problem.
I bet the boomers and anyone else born after 1952 would attend if you gave out those no-contact eyeglasses and offered an alternate accompaniment now and then.
Why organ aficionados aren’t up in arms about this is beyond me. Besides the extremely important issue of worship by and for the people, having this instrument associated with tepid church music and ice skating rinks, is a turn off. Most of the population has downloaded a personal internal organ playlist comprised of dirge-like Sunday morning music, horror movies, and Mets sound icons. Charge! How can one believe the organ can be used artistically after that?
There are many fascinating instruments with incredible sounds that have limited audiences. Crumhorn enthusiasts do not force their preference on unsuspecting worshipers every Sunday morning, and have accepted the instrument’s slide into obscurity with grace. And crumhorns are a lot less expensive to maintain – just reeds from a store in Utrecht.
Grateful Dead and Phish fans flock to those reunions. The same could be done for the organ. Some careful marketing and in time you organ enthusiasts might find a way to get that instrument back into rock star status instead of alternating between scaring babies on Sunday mornings and eating up millions of dollars in donations.
The creepy background of the organ changes to a kind of “ta dah!” series of chords announcing that something big is going to happen. Oh my – what could it be? The volume increases, there is intensity and purpose to the phrasing. It’s the intro to the first hymn.
The waiting worshipers, forced into isolation by location and social inference, have dutifully entered into private prayer and meditation. We’re expected to switch gears at the sound of this cue.
Now is the moment, we are told by the great organ machine. Ignore being told where to sit by the usher. Ignore the no eye contact awkward moments. Ignore every isolating message received from the moment you stepped through the church door. We are to be transformed into a community now. A community joined in song.