Great big pipe organ projects are a lot of fun, and we have been fortunate that so many churches have entrusted their big projects to us.
But it is just as rewarding building smaller organs or bringing new life to them. Many of these instruments are beloved by their congregations or parishes. They serve the churches well for decades or even centuries giving majesty and dignity to the worship experience. Examples of smaller churches that have made a commitment to organ music in 2018 are Immanuel Lutheran Church in Avilla, IN, and St. Gaspar del Buffalo Catholic Church in Rome City, IN. We were able to adapt the pipe organs in both of these rural churches to make them more versatile and useful, and to offer the churches musical alternatives that enrich their worship.
For some churches, finding an organist can be difficult and can take weeks or months of searching. In many cases a congregation’s regular musician is not available every Sunday. Some musicians worry that they are not “trained organists,” but are pianists trying to adapt to the organ. Some, because their comfort level is higher with the piano, desert the organ bench whenever they can for the safety of the piano.
We would like to offer a few suggestions and solutions for these churches.
First, and perhaps most importantly, the best way to have a good organist for your church is to GROW YOUR OWN. Never lock your organ console. If someone expresses an interest in the organ, invite them to play it. Whether they are nine or nineteen or ninety, the organ is a captivating instrument to play. When you press down a key on a real pipe organ, the effect is thrilling. You can feel the life of the pipes in your fingers. The best way to encourage someone to play the organ is to let them play the organ! You cannot hurt or damage a pipe organ just by playing it.
Never lock your organ… You cannot hurt or damage a pipe organ by playing it.
Make your church’s organ available for student practice. Don’t charge them; it really doesn’t cost you much, and your church may reap a huge reward. Be willing to host events at your church that feature your pipe organ. Many people are not fortunate enough to attend a church with an authentic pipe organ, and they may discover the thrill of its sound by singing with it at the community Christmas program.
When you find someone who shows interest, offer for the church to pay for organ lessons in exchange for some service to the church. Exchange the small cost of instruction for a willingness to play a certain number of services each year. Once the student exceeds that
number, pay them an appropriate amount for each additional service they play. NEVER make it a money issue. This is growing your church’s music ministry.
Such an arrangement is a good deal for both the church, which gets the benefit of a trained organist, and for the organist who learns a marketable skill.You should encourage young students – even beginners – to play occasionally during your service. Let them play the prelude or the opening hymn. You see, playing the organ for a large group of singers is very addicting! After they are finished, if your tradition allows, give them some applause. If you can’t applaud, be sure to thank and congratulate them when you see them after the service.
There are ways we can help as well. When we are designing your new organ, we can install a special device called AutoPedal. This allows pianists who haven’t learned to play the organ pedals yet to add the bass note on pedal. This device, which we can add for small cost to any control system, takes the bottom note of any chord played with the hands and addes that note in the pedal. It’s a little bit of a cheat, but it can make a pianist feel more at home at the organ console. We can also help you set up pistons (presets) on a new organ that will give an inexperienced organist a leg up on setting the stops.
(AutoPedal is also useful if you want to be able to play your organ occasionally from a remote MIDI keyboard.)
There is also a new service available that many small churches are using. It’s called SOS (Substitute Organist Service). It was started by two organists to help out in situations where a church can’t get an organist for a service or event. This is a service available on the Internet at http://www.churchmusicsolutions.com/index.php. We have clients who use it and have been very satisfied. It is professional, manageable, and affordable. We will be happy to advise you on whether your organ is equipped for this service.