Wild Air

The hardest part of building a pipe organ isn’t designing the chests, or scaling the pipes, or wiring the console.   All those are challenges, and there are many others besides.   But the biggest challenge is convincing a congregation that the investment in a major organ project, whether a new organ or a renovation, is a good one.   Of course, there are many arguments of longevity, renewability, and of course quality, but these discussions fall flat if the congregation doesn’t  have a feel for how much the organ can enhance worship and energize a church.  

I once presented a proposal to a church for the renovation and expansion of a small organ.   The church was Baptist, the organ very Lutheran.   It needed some work, and the additions we proposed made good sense musically.   We were offering the job for “a song.”   The organist, a brilliant young man, carefully prepared a presentation for a Sunday evening congregational meeting.   In his presentation, he discussed every musical reason why the organ project should go forward.   Unfortunately, the organ was competing for funds with another very worthwhile project.   The church could probably have done both, but the final vote was a tie, and the pastor, not wanting to split his flock, cast the deciding vote against the project.

This was long ago, and I have had time to think about what happened that evening.   The church certainly had its share of nay-sayers, including one particular insulting and nasty old woman.   But the fault, I think, was with those of us who made the presentation in the first place.   You see, our project was not built on a good foundation.

After the meeting, I heard comments to the effect that the organist wanted this for himself.   These folks said that the organ had always sounded fine, and they didn’t see any reason to invest such a princely sum in it.   This was pure poppycock.   The sum was not that great, and the organist was thinking of how much more expressive the organ could be in the worship service if it had more strings, and maybe a Clarinet for the Great.

But, understand, in selling (whether cars, or organs, or the Christian faith), it’s not what you say, it’s what the customer HEARS that is important.

So, today, when I received my copy of The American Organist, the national publication of the American Guild of Organists, I was interested to read an article about a new organ that Dan Jaeckel had built for a Lutheran church in Minnesota.   He had made SEVEN proposals to this church since 1983.   Talk about patience!

In the article about the new organ, the former Director of Music Ministries, William Beckstrand, explained why it took so long to get the project off the ground.   What he says is vital, so I want to quote some of his remarks.

“Worship, I discovered, was not the defining core of this congregation’s life.   It seemed almost an afterthought, as most of the parish’s attention and energy centered on education, youth, and global mission.   The result was a belief that a new organ or any attention lavished on the worship space would be extravagant and unnecessary – a desire only of the culturally elite.

“Given that reality, the first order of business was to launch an educational effort in the renewing of worship.   A big part of that effort went into building bridges between bitterly divided ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’ camps.   Through a Lenten lecture series, educational forums, and the church’s print media, as well as a deliberate effort to blur definitions in worship styles – modeling instead a more proprietary approach to worship planning – the congregation began to trust that the motivation for this proposal was not born of cultural snobbery, or  the love of classical tradition, but was firmly grounded in the desire to gather the whole community around the real presence of a risen Lord – to make of worship a central, formative encounter, out of which comes all other ministires and callings within the Body of Christ.   It was by addressing the culture of worship that the tide was finally turned and support for this project became wide enough to proceed.”

If your congregation offers no support, or tepid support, for music in the church (and this specifically includes the pipe organ), perhaps you should consider a program to renew WORSHIP in your church.  

Just a thought…

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