Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

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JW
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Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by JW » Tue Nov 15, 2016 5:25 pm

We still have an pipe organ, a 6 rank Walker extension organ built in1959. It is showing its age. You need to know what works and what doesn't. The organ needs over £20,000 of investment, mainly to replace the old electric action which is fast deteriorating and to voice and clean the pipes. We've had appropriate advice from the Anglican Diocesan Organ Advisor before we obtained quotes. Clearly the Parish Priest needs to take a decision as to what he wants before we seek Diocesan approval to do the work. I've offered to help fundraise and the parish have been asked for their comments. It has been mentioned that parishes now have digital players which do away with the need for an organ. I'll keep you posted as to whether we spend the money. I can't imagine staying in the parish if the organ dies as there are other organs in the Deanery looking for an organist.

It seems to me that more and more congregations never hear the sound of an organ played well and it cannot be long before the pipe organ dies out entirely in all parishes except for those rich parishes who are prepared to maintain them. This seems to be progress but personally I'm horrified!

By way of illustration, here is the situation regarding all the parish church organs in our deanery:

Strood, English Martyrs: Walker organ, still going strong. No organist. They use a keyboard to accompany singing.

Rochester, St John Fisher: Their organ (1900) is older than the church (1936) but still playable. I understand their organist retired recently and they now use CD's to accompany singing.

Chatham, St Michaels, Organ still just about OK (last refurbished by Manders in 1960) but could do with an overhaul and clean. No organist. Singing is either accompanied by guitars etc or there is an a capella Filipino choir.

Walderslade, St Simon Stock. No organ, there's a little electronic keyboard. I don't believe they have a keyboard player.

Gillingham, Our Lady of Gillingham. Old 'Norwich' electronic organ barely playable. I suspect the contacts need a good clean. No organist. The choir sings without accompaniment.

Sheerness, SS Henry & Elizabeth. Bishop & Sons organ rebuilt 1912. No longer played: the pedals don't work and it has many other issues. They have a keyboard to accompany singing.

Sittingbourne, Sacred Heart. I'm not very familiar with this parish but it has a working F H Browne organ, refurbished quite recently. They also have an organist, I think.

Parkwood, St Augustine of Canterbury. Electronic organ, bought when the church was built around 1983. The organ is maintained as necessary and is still going strong but they now have no organist, the previous organist having passed.

Rainham, St Thomas of Canterbury, the church I play at, with an organ that needs £20,000 worth of TLC.
JW

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by blackthorn fairy » Tue Nov 15, 2016 6:13 pm

Gosh JW that's awful! I don't think I dare do a similar survey of my deanery (except that it's not a deanery any more, but a pastoral area - don't ask!) for fear of what I might find. What I do know (and I am the Hon Sec of the local Organists' Association) is that I believe I am one of only two Catholic organist members. A while back I sent out feeler letters to parishes where I personally knew the PP, telling them about the association and asking that they might forward the info to their organist. I expect you can guess the response. I was v disappointed and will not be sending out any more.

alan29
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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by alan29 » Tue Nov 15, 2016 7:38 pm

Our deanery has 3 pipe organs among 6 churches. None of them is playable. I was asked to play one for a funeral a few years ago. It knocked years off my life. As far as I know I am the only catholic church musician for miles around with a music degree and trained as an organist. Most parishes have digital pianos which are played with varying degrees of expertise. Most also have guitar based music groups.
Musically this means that very little is sung that pre-dates Vat 2. Even standard hymns that come from the non Catholic traditions are few and far between, making ecumenical gatherings problematic. Feedback from a nonCatholic friend who went to a Catholic funeral some way away "The music was that wishy washy modern stuff that nobody knew."
Our grade 2* listed church actually has never had an organ. There is no space for one. We have a digital piano that serves very well for accompanying the congregation. We have no choir either and have never had one. The congregation sings heartily.
With congregations shrinking and churches closing, I wonder where in the list of priorities spending thousands on organs lies. Not very high, I suspect.

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by JW » Tue Nov 15, 2016 8:34 pm

And yet, alan29, the Most Precious Blood Church in Southwark, London, which was dying before the Ordinariate took it over, is having a massive fundraising drive which includes £80,000 to put the organ back together (it's currently in bits and pieces on the floor in the West Gallery). Details are on their website, see under MPB125 appeal. http://www.preciousblood.org.uk/

In another small parish, served by an Ordinariate priest, they've just raised £222,000 to build a new parish hall.

How come the Ordinariate is successful at raising money when mainstream Catholics can't?

Over at Rochester Cathedral (Anglican) they don't charge for admission. However, they do raise £1,000,000 a year to keep the building, staff and the music department going.

When you think of the money that was spent building Catholic churches and fitting them out in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, it's amazing that we can't fund anything like that expenditure today, even though we are much better off. I know there were a lot of rich Catholic benefactors back in the day but they seem to have diminished as well. On top of this was the money spent by Catholic Institutions setting up hospitals, schools, missions and other institutions, including those for the poor.

Nowadays we seem content with a much smaller commitment, such as giving a few pounds to the Parish Project, CAFOD and other organisations and small amounts in second collections for missionary and Life appeals. If a church roof caves in, as happened to St Paulinus in Gillingham just over a year ago, and the 50 or so congregation can't afford to replace it, there is no option but to close the church and sell it, as happened here. I suspect someone would have stepped in 100 years ago.

Research in the USA suggests that the average annual household income there is 65,000 dollars but the average donation to the collection is 10 dollars a week. I wonder if we get anywhere near that proportion of donation in the UK. Says it all really.

Oh and don't start me on the question of payment for organists' services!
JW

alan29
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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by alan29 » Tue Nov 15, 2016 9:34 pm

Our parish does raise money and the weekly offerings are in four figures. However there are many struggling parishes in our diocese that are centrally supported, and our deanery has a lot of deprivation which the parish tries to mitigate through the SVP etc. In these circumstances an organ seems like a luxury. Priorities.

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by organist » Wed Nov 16, 2016 11:23 am

How very sad. There are only 2 Catholics in my organists association and I play for the Anglicans. I would dearly love to play for Mass but even expenses are not paid. I know of parishes locally with good organs where CDs are used. THe stories my Catholic organist friend tell are awful and I told him to walk out. Wearing another hat as a Catenian, I am told how much people appreciate my playing. I suspect many never hear an organ played properly if at all and certainly something like a sung psalm is now unusual. There seem to be too many appeals for money e.g. Sick and retired clergy, catechists training, building funds, CAFOD. All very necessary but music is a very low priority in most parishes. What are our priorities? Is it to keep the plant going with fewer and ageing clergy, or to reach out? Why can't the clergy empower the laity? :o

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by oopsorganist » Fri Nov 18, 2016 11:16 am

uh oh!

alan29
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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by alan29 » Fri Nov 18, 2016 10:19 pm

That gave me much joy and led me to ......
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLT5qaXDUbg

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by oopsorganist » Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:06 am

Not to be unkind to those who are seriously troubled by the demise of pipe organs and also capable organists -

- the landscape in these parts if very different. In fact, I led the organ restoration fund in our rather poor parish - but always with the approach of " what are we doing spending all this money on an old organ when people are needing food banks? - but so I have some experience of the issues.

This diocese is spending heavily on training organists to play the many pipe organs which are extant. There are a lot more pipe organs up north it seems both catholic and non catholic. See Leeds Diocese news. Always so on topic. A new wave of organ music approaches.

I would just suggest that music might be joyful and appropriate on any instrument that can be had to hand. Polka masses are few and far between. Sadly.

Which goes round to something that jolted me one summer in Whitby. There was a reader who smiled all through the readings. It was an eye opener. I remembered we were listening to Good News. And it is a happy place to be.

So any instrument is fine but happiness should be there and the pipe organ and church choirs often look very sad and grim.

Additionally the treasuring of heritage equipment is OK but in the end it leads us away from Good News and into Heritage Industry which is a dead end.
uh oh!

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by JW » Sun Nov 20, 2016 2:23 pm

I don't think organists and choirs look any grimmer in general than anyone else in the church, whether ministers, altar servers, readers or congregation, and I am quite upset by the suggestion that I am trying to preserve something in aspic that doesn't contribute greatly to a vibrant Liturgy. Neither do I think that everyone would be smilier if we replaced the organ with a keyboard.

As I'm asked to play in so many local churches, I can only deduce that people and clergy like to hear a good organ, well played, whether it's a pipe organ or otherwise. And that preservation of decent organs is anything but a dead end. If that was the case, why were you involved in preserving one?
JW

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by oopsorganist » Sun Nov 20, 2016 4:19 pm

Sorry. Not grim. I suppose the words might be "more formal".

I think we have to accept that there are other ways of celebrating the Mass which are not so formal. Like Polka Masses!

It is not the restoration and maintenance of pipe organs which is a dead end. It is surrendering to the idea that religion belongs in the past as a heritage industry which is dangerous. To become a tourist industry was not an instruction.

So it could be that the pipe organ is a very expensive piece of kit which in some cases could be adequately replaced with a digital organ. And of course, any musicians willing and able to make music for the Mass are also a replacement.

We are advised that the pipe organ is the instrument of choice for Mass but one day, that will be "then" and we have to be now.

If it become a choice between restoration, maintenance and social justice (or keeping a parish open and a priest supprted) then I would guess the gospels would guide us.

I was involved in the restoration of a pipe organ because it was irksome to play an organ in distress and that parish were genuinely fond of the organ. It was special and had the winding handle too. It cost around £50,000 to restore plus a thousand ish to the diocesan surveyor. That included a new coat of pink paint.
uh oh!

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by contrabordun » Tue Nov 22, 2016 10:24 am

I think you've just argued that the pipe organ is both an historic relic, and a future ideal, but somehow not the best tool for the job today? :twisted:
Paul Hodgetts

oopsorganist
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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by oopsorganist » Tue Nov 22, 2016 1:18 pm

yes but no

Organs are not dying out yet. I've played three, one from the murky past, a nice modern Malcom Spinx, and a big digital. The big digital was the best because, like a keyboard, you can diddle it down a couple of tones. Transpose at the press of a button. They all sounded pretty much the same to me. True, the vibrations get you in a different way. But all good.

However, a cheap keyboard plugged into a sound system does the job OK too. Some have organ samples on them too.

A keyboard is good because it can be moved around and it is possible to move it so that the operator can eye ball the congregation and help them to feel able to sing.

Unless you have a choir in which case that does not matter so much.

Mine own organ is in such a position that the organist has no idea which is going on in the rest of the church. Also, it was so loud in the organists ears that they were unable to hear what and if the congregation were singing thereby losing the clue about which verse they were on should that be a problem due to absence of mind and attention. This is only the case in a Catholic church as Methodists will be heard over the organ.

I think one of the problems with the pipe organ for me, is something more to do with it being a prize object of particular cultural references. Which is why I am ambivalent or maybe ambivelant. One or the other. Whereas guitars immediately suggest a bridging between the classical treaures of church music and all that kind of thing and what the majority of people today will find accessible. It looks back to a past in which women were oppressed - yes, women did play the pipe organ in the last century and the one before that too - but well really, that is a woman in a man's world.

Something like that.

Much as my parish loved their organ - they responded much better to a keyboard or guitars. And symboically or ironically - the funds were raised by the many funerals held in the parish rather than be any other means.
uh oh!

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by JW » Tue Nov 22, 2016 6:16 pm

oopsorganist wrote:I think one of the problems with the pipe organ for me, is something more to do with it being a prize object of particular cultural references. Which is why I am ambivalent or maybe ambivelant. One or the other. Whereas guitars immediately suggest a bridging between the classical treaures of church music and all that kind of thing and what the majority of people today will find accessible. It looks back to a past in which women were oppressed - yes, women did play the pipe organ in the last century and the one before that too - but well really, that is a woman in a man's world.


Till around 1939 there wouldn't have been any Catholic woman organists apart from nuns providing music in their convents. St Pius X was continuing a long Catholic tradition in 1903 when he wrote:

"On the same principle it follows that singers in church have a real liturgical office, and that therefore women, being incapable of exercising such office, cannot be admitted to form part of the choir."


However, I suspect that, before the modern era, there were even fewer female guitarists than organists and I doubt that all that many played the guitar in the convents. The piano was considered a more suitable instrument for women in the 19th Century than the guitar. So I don't really see how a guitar provides a link to the past. Indeed I remember in the 60's that the use of the guitar was considered more a rupture with the past than a continuation or link to it.

To argue that we should get rid of pipe organs because they hark back to a past in which women were oppressed is similar to saying that we should do away with marriage, or any other institution where women were oppressed in the past.

Indeed some Catholic feminists argue that Catholic clerical and patriarchal structures still oppress women today - is that a good reason for not having Catholicism? I have to admit it's something I ponder about!

OK, back to my practice! It'll be some months before the parish takes a decision on where it should go musically in the future.
JW

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Re: Pipe Organs and Organists - Dying out?

Post by alan29 » Tue Nov 22, 2016 7:11 pm

So do parishes that put large sums of money into building/restoring organs also put sums into ensuring there will be proficient organists to play them in the future, to prevent them becoming little more than ornaments?

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