Jump to content
Mander Organs
steinway3

Parish church organs - the future?

Recommended Posts

I have followed the debates on this forum for several years and apart from the rather ungracious negativity of some contributors have found the posts of others such as Colin Harvey and Nigel Allcoat both interesting and informative. However, as someone who sits on the lower rungs of the organ ladder ( if not the bottom one!) I see a growing problem with both parish church and chapel organs and would be interested to hear colleagues' comments.

 

With declining congregations, changes in musical style and the increasingly straitened financial position of many churches and chapels, adequate maintenance of the organ is slipping well down the priority list for many parishes and congregations. Where I live you probably only need the fingers of one hand to count the number of instruments that are well maintained; many needing tens of thousands of pounds spent on them to restore them to good playing order. Recently i had occasion to play a 3 manual digital instrument which, although perhaps not my ideal sound, gave me serious pause for thought. First was the pleasure of sitting at a very comfortable console but secondly, and more importantly, everything did 'what it said on the tin' thus allowing me to concentrate on the music and my performance of it rather than remembering the current set of problems and how I could avoid them.

 

If this situation continues, and I see no sign of it improving, then will pipe organs be confined to cathedrals, the larger parish churches and Oxbridge colleges? With the savage cuts in local authority spending, even well known civic instruments may have an uncertain future as in the big question mark hanging over the Cavaille Coll in the Parr Hall, Warrington ( an instrument I knew well in my youth). Am I being unnecessarily pessimistic?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi

 

I think there are two scenarios for the smaller churches. Where there is the will, and a not too large pipe organ, then retention & restoration is possible (as long as the organist isn't seduced by the attraction of the plethora of stops on even the smallest digital organs). My congregation had our small chamber organ restored a few years ago. We had the reserves to go ahead quickly - and the cost was covered and reserves replenished in about a year! The sizeable 3 manual that they had in the previous church building would have been a different matter.

 

I find that churches don't always look properly at the relative costs - a digital organ may well seem attractive in the short term - but no way will it outlive a pipe organ, especially a tracker job. The few statistics that are available show that electronic organs have an average life on 15-20 years, and then, in the main, will need replacement. Say the digital costs £20,000 and lasts 20 years, that's £1,000 per year of useful life.

 

I've nothing against electronic instruments - there re situations where they're the only viable option - or the only options in the short-term, but I encourage churches going down that route (or going to a praise band) to seriously consider retaining & mothballing the pipe organ for (hopefully\) future restoration.

 

Every Blessing

Tony

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This forum is rightly about preserving interest in pipe organs, and many here frown on discussing digital organs. Where I think they do have value is in private study - especially now that it is so easy to self build a virtual organ as a modular construct, starting with a couple of Casio keyboards, a pedalboard and a laptop and gradually migrating upwards to something more sophisticated. Such a creature has almost no place in a church, requiring its maker to keep a close eye on it for maintenance and keeping everything working. However, by encouraging the recreation of the finest Cavaille-Coll, Silbermann and many others' sounds to be heard in the living room could we stimulate a new generation to take up learning the organ? The biggest obstacle to me and I'm sure many others when I was at school was getting access to an organ to practice on - with luck I'd have maybe an hour or two between lessons in a cold dank church practising a fairly rubbish organ. In contrast my sons have access to a four manual console in the living room any time of day or night - learning and practising has never been easier.

 

Moving back to the place of the organ in church therefore, if we can make it easier for people to practice at home, using samples from the best instruments around the world, will that lead to more appreciation of organs and organ music in churches too? Plenty of churches have reduced or abandoned using their organs, not because there is anything inherently wrong with the organ, but because it's a comparatively difficult instrument to sound "right" when you can strum a few chords on an amplified guitar with a drum backing and get a much more coherent sound and they don't have anyone in the congregation who can play the pipe organ well enough to justify using it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Although many fine instruments must regrettably have been destroyed as churches of all denominations have become redundant, arguably many poor instruments must have been weeded out. If we can assiduously save our most important and best instruments, there is an opportunity to restore the reputation of the organ as a musical instrument.

 

I must point out that the above is an attempt to find a silver lining in a large charcoal-grey cloud that hangs over many parish churches and non-conformist chapels in the UK

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm pleased I've come across this discussion as I have experienced this myself very recently. A Church nearby was looking for an Organist to play for the Sunday Morning service and a member of the Parish who I know suggested I go and take a look. It was by no means a nice pipe organ instead I was greeted by a Viscount Jubileum 232. They said they would let me know and I went off on holiday for a week or so. When I returned I was told that the Parish Council thought it would be better to buy one of these Hymnal Plus Sound systems ( which cost £1800 +) and they looked rather pleased with themselves. However, Karma did strike when they kicked off with the first hymn Immortal Invisible. Not only was there no introduction but it was way too fast for anyone to sing to. I may have left with no Organ to Play/Practice on but I certainly left smiling.

 

More like immortal invisible not very wise!

 

 

 

Liam

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm pleased I've come across this discussion as I have experienced this myself very recently. A Church nearby was looking for an Organist to play for the Sunday Morning service and a member of the Parish who I know suggested I go and take a look. It was by no means a nice pipe organ instead I was greeted by a Viscount Jubileum 232. They said they would let me know and I went off on holiday for a week or so. When I returned I was told that the Parish Council thought it would be better to buy one of these Hymnal Plus Sound systems ( which cost £1800 +) and they looked rather pleased with themselves. However, Karma did strike when they kicked off with the first hymn Immortal Invisible. Not only was there no introduction but it was way too fast for anyone to sing to. I may have left with no Organ to Play/Practice on but I certainly left smiling.

 

More like immortal invisible not very wise!

 

 

 

Liam

 

 

 

Since this scheme was first publicised, I had regarded it as a measure driven by (one would hope) sheer desperation. I cannot imagine that any self-respecting churchwarden would ever suggest dispensing with the services of a priest and, instead, playing a recording of one of the sermons of (for example), Dr. Cosmo Gordon Lang.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Where there is excellence in worship - dignity and order without being too stuffy, fine liturgy, preaching, interceding, music (both played and sung, choral and congregational) all properly co-ordinated by a strong team with good leadership then a church will flourish and it will attract young people. In those circumstances money will be found for necessary work on the organ and, indeed, for anything else. In those circumstances there will also be good, co-ordinated outreach, mission and social care. Places like that do exist and they do flourish. I've not been there, either to look around or attend a Sunday service, for about 30 yeas but I expect the church where pcnd5584 is organist probably falls into that category.

 

In other situations you frankly might just as well sit at home on Sunday morning and read the Telegraph. In those places the future of organs is utterly dire. I know when to admit defeat!

 

Malcolm

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, yesterday, news reached my ears that will be of some encouragement. This announcement, relating to VAT, at www.lpwscheme.org.uk may be good news for parishes wondering how to pay for repair work.

 

The Government has announced changes to the scope and operation of the Listed Places of Worship grant scheme, which will take effect from 1 October 2013. These changes will enable more listed places of worship to claim for grants through the scheme.

From 1 October 2013, works to pipe organs, turret clocks, bells and bell ropes will be eligible for claims under the scheme. Professional services directly related to eligible building work such as architect fees will also become eligible.

From this date, applications to make use of the scheme will be accepted from religious or charitable groups whose principal or primary purpose is to conserve, repair and maintain redundant listed places of worship which are not in private ownership.

There is much more to be read on the Listed Places of Worship Scheme website.

H

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Where there is excellence in worship - dignity and order without being too stuffy, fine liturgy, preaching, interceding, music (both played and sung, choral and congregational) all properly co-ordinated by a strong team with good leadership then a church will flourish and it will attract young people. In those circumstances money will be found for necessary work on the organ and, indeed, for anything else. In those circumstances there will also be good, co-ordinated outreach, mission and social care. Places like that do exist and they do flourish. I've not been there, either to look around or attend a Sunday service, for about 30 yeas but I expect the church where pcnd5584 is organist probably falls into that category.

 

In other situations you frankly might just as well sit at home on Sunday morning and read the Telegraph. In those places the future of organs is utterly dire. I know when to admit defeat!

 

Malcolm

 

 

Indeed it is - and I consider myself fortunate not only to be organist of such a church (with an instrument which I adore), but to have an excellent rector, who not only supports the music, recognising its important place in worship, but who is also an exemplary colleague with whom to work. †

 

I note with interest your comment regarding a church attracting young people by striving to do what it does well - and not necessarily by having a rock band or 'worship group' (I have an intense dislike for this term and its perceived negative implications), or 'lively' worship. I read an article in the Church Times some months ago regarding a survey which sought to establish the present state of church congregations. It examined several different types of church - and the style of worship to be found in each. The result was interesting; it was not 'house' churches nor charismatic-style places of worship which showed the greatest increase in numbers of regular worshippers - it was our cathedrals, or a number of them which recorded the largest gain in this area. The survey noted further that this included, in many cases, quite a number of younger people (I think the age suggested was those under thirty-five years of age). As far as I can recall, the conclusion was that the increase in regular attendance was due largely to the high quality of the worship - which included both the sung and the spoken word - and in the attention to detail.

 

Before anyone thinks that I am deriding the styles of worship which I listed above - I am not; at least not without due cause. However, I do have some considerable experience of both types - and found them lacking in many respects - and certainly not more 'worthy' - for I was often given the clear impression that those in this type of church regarded themselves as having 'discovered' the 'true' worship - and that all others were to be pitied.§ For that matter, there were also several serious spiritual and practical problems in the churches (and house fellowships) of this type which I attended over several years. In two cases (one quite well-known), this resulted in a division of the congregation - which, in one case, caused much bitterness and hurt - I doubt that this state of affairs brought much glory to God.. *

 

 

 

 

† Yes, I do wish to have my contract renewed - but my words are meant sincerely.

 

§ I have encountered this unfortunate attitude in several churches of this type (there is, in fact, one less than half a mile from where I sit typing this). Yet, I have never - ever - met such a response in any of the cathedrals or churches in which I have either played for services or attended regularly, either as organist or simply as a worshipper.

 

* I attended these churches between the ages of seventeen and around twenty-four, so please do not think that I am merely an 'old fogy' whingeing on about 'young people'....

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree very much with what pcnd has written above. I too am lucky to work with a Rector who is not only a musician himself but totally supportive of all things musical. My fellow musician colleagues are similarly dedicated. The main difference is that it is a country parish and consequently we are at a different point on the scale yet still supported by a range of ages and good numbers in the congregation. We have a small SATB choir and a delightful one manual organ which has recently been overhauled and brought back into good playing condition. I have been there for 16 years and would not swap it.

 

In other words with good quality leadership, a lack of stuffiness and a depth and dignity of musical contribution (albeit with variety - much can be included before tackiness rears its head) then whether it be major church, cathedral or village in the middle of nowhere people will be there.

 

A

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It would be wonderful if someone were to set up a website dedicated to music in 'small' churches. How to make the best of a small choir, how to make the best of a small organ, how to show that there's no rocket science about doing Anglican chant, etc. I reckon that any choir should be able to make a contribution to every service, apart from leading the hymns (if that's all they do, they would be more use planted at strategic places among the rest of the congregation). There's so much simple music around, without descending into tackiness (as AJJ remarks).

 

It helps if churches still use the BCP. There's no doubt that it is far more music-friendly than the vast array of alternatives.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It would be wonderful if someone were to set up a website dedicated to music in 'small' churches. How to make the best of a small choir, how to make the best of a small organ, how to show that there's no rocket science about doing Anglican chant, etc. I reckon that any choir should be able to make a contribution to every service, apart from leading the hymns (if that's all they do, they would be more use planted at strategic places among the rest of the congregation). There's so much simple music around, without descending into tackiness (as AJJ remarks).

 

It helps if churches still use the BCP. There's no doubt that it is far more music-friendly than the vast array of alternatives.

 

 

Indeed - although I wonder if a choir might not be less effective if they dispersed themselves within the congregation. If they simply sang in unison this might work - as long as the singers possessed sufficient confidence (and competence) to lead those around them. However, if there were to be an attempt to sing in harmony to any degree, it might be better to place them together, but seated as near to the majority of the congregation (and the organ, if present) as possible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

True - people singing harmony in the congregation are a nuisance! But if there are enough to make a group who can sing in harmony, they should make a choral contribution of their own - a motet, an anthem, part of the Ordinary, a psalm, etc.

 

I've found so often that music in churches just limps on, or gets taken over by some egotistic 3-chord tricker or DJ, simply because there is no idea of how to make the most of what is available. It's not the fault of the people there, just that they don't know where to turn, or if there is anyone out there. I'm all for the RSCM, but I felt it lost its way some years ago, firstly by trying to be all things to all men - or persons - and then by some highly eccentric leadership with more experience in monastic offices than small parish churches. Things may have changed drastically for the better since then. Nevertheless, the starting point now is often much lower than it was thirty years ago.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a musical aside - but still on topic with where this line seems to have gone - the BBC R4 morning service today - what was/is that all about? Sorry, but I switched off after a while!

 

A

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In other situations you frankly might just as well sit at home on Sunday morning and read the Telegraph.

 

I'll just make do with sitting at home on Sunday morning, thanks. B)

 

I've found so often that music in churches just limps on, or gets taken over by some egotistic 3-chord tricker or DJ, simply because there is no idea of how to make the most of what is available.

 

I tend to think that churches get the standard of music they deserve.

 

At my last (and final) church everything was lovely until a new priest arrived. From then onwards the vast majority of my choir practices were knee-capped by the need to learn new Gumby songs - at the rate of almost one per week - which no one had come across before and which, along with the other songs and hymns, were notified to me only at the last minute (pleas for longer notice were simply ignored). Learning these and marking up the week's service booklets with the song numbers in the limited time available left hardly any time for anything else. Maintaining any sort of consistently edifying standard of music quickly became impossible. The priest wasn't actually anti-music, but simply didn't consider a high standard of music at all necessary and wasn't willing to organise himself to enable this to happen. Perhaps I could and should have fought my corner. A younger and more energetic person might have done so, but, really, what is the point in trying to be a Canute in such circumstances? The cleric concerned had "form" in that he was already known to our local Hele Huggers. When they heard of his appointment they promptly opened a book on how long I would last before I resigned. At least I managed to outlast all their bets by some considerable margin, but, my goodness, it was hard.The congregation dropped by a good 20% too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As a musical aside - but still on topic with where this line seems to have gone - the BBC R4 morning service today - what was/is that all about? Sorry, but I switched off after a while!

 

 

 

I am impressed that you gave it that long. I managed until the introduction of the first 'song'.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I didn't hear it, but I gather from comments on Facebook that (a) today is Back to Church Sunday and (b ) that the music was of the type that prevents me going back to church.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do ordinands receive any advice/training on musical matters as a matter of course? This is a serious question, by the way.

I think so - I have a friend who is involved with diocesan pre ordination training and I seem to remember that she arranges sessions with the diocesan music advisory people. We are lucky down here that these are unlikely to be propagating anything too way out!

 

A

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I didn't hear it, but I gather from comments on Facebook that (a) today is Back to Church Sunday and (b ) that the music was of the type that prevents me going back to church.

 

Succinctly put, Vox.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do ordinands receive any advice/training on musical matters as a matter of course? This is a serious question, by the way.

 

In some cases these days, none. Here, part of my time is spent in charge of Chapel Music at Queen's College, which is a small Anglican theological college affiliated to Memorial University. First thing on Monday mornings we have what is called 'Choir', which in practice means getting together to run through the music for the coming week. Attendance is compulsory for students on the ordination track. Bearing in mind that most of them will be going to rural parishes (some of which, in Labrador, are bigger than Great Britain), with minimal musical resources, the emphasis is on doing simple things as well as possible.

 

Ten years ago, incoming students had very little liturgical knowledge. It was clear that they felt something was missing. The college has helped them to realise what is available and how it works (they are less likely to think that worship consists of sitting round a table upon which is a bowl of water, an icon and a few tea lights). I myself am very concerned that they should understand the Anglican way of doing things (even if, as is the case, they are not all Anglicans themselves - we have all sorts, including Moravians from Labrador where that sect did much work, particularly amoung the Inuit). I try to see that they can at least sing hymns with a degree of confidence (some people have been told as children that they can't sing, and have lived under that delusion all their lives) and that they have some knowledge of how to select hymns suitable to the liturgy. I expect every student to make some attempt at singing the priest's part where appropriate. I will spend time one to one, if they wish, and jolly them along as best I can.

 

We also have what I call the Spanish Inquisition, when I tell them where they've fouled up liturgically. They seem to like this - they say Monday morning puts them in a good mood for the rest of the week.

 

I was once threatened with dire retribution after someone remembered, during a Taize session when they were trying to think holy thoughts, a story i had told them the previous Monday......

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, yesterday, news reached my ears that will be of some encouragement. This announcement, relating to VAT, at www.lpwscheme.org.uk may be good news for parishes wondering how to pay for repair work.

 

The Government has announced changes to the scope and operation of the Listed Places of Worship grant scheme, which will take effect from 1 October 2013. These changes will enable more listed places of worship to claim for grants through the scheme.

From 1 October 2013, works to pipe organs, turret clocks, bells and bell ropes will be eligible for claims under the scheme. Professional services directly related to eligible building work such as architect fees will also become eligible.

From this date, applications to make use of the scheme will be accepted from religious or charitable groups whose principal or primary purpose is to conserve, repair and maintain redundant listed places of worship which are not in private ownership.

There is much more to be read on the Listed Places of Worship Scheme website.

H

 

Thank you for posting that extremely helpful information.

 

I note also that it specifies "Pipe organs." Surely something to think about for those contemplating the alternative?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...