OMETHING HAS STUCK with me since I read an early post of our new contributor, Dr. Lucas Tappan. In his second post, he recalls his parish priest offering to pay for the organ lessons of any student in 4th – 8th grade who was willing to learn. That generous endeavor turned at least one young man into an organist.
A recent article in the Catholic News Herald (newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte, NC) addresses the modern travails of the pipe organ in Catholic worship, but with a decidedly positive outlook toward the future.
The article interviews Paul Skevington, a past chairman of the NPM section for organists. Skevington observes that the main problem is not so much a shortage of organists, but rather a dearth of full-time, well-paying, church organist positions. This strikes me as sad, especially in a Church that grants principium locum (“principal place,” as translated by Dr. Mahrt) to the pipe organ. Too often, the instrument that should hold “principal place” in the sacred liturgy is allocated “no place” in parish budgets.
These ideas have been rolling around my head for the last couple of weeks. The result is the following set of three easy steps to be taken at the parish level:
1. Increase the amount of funding allocated to sacred music. Quality music programs come at a cost, but so do poor music programs. The difference is that quality music programs only cost money, whereas poor music programs cost money & parishioners.
2. Deliberately foster the talents of potential young organists. What better investment could a parish make than to offer lessons for a couple of its aspiring musicians? If you want to go whole hog, pay to send them to the CMAA Colloquium, too.
3. Help parish building committees to understand that the cost of a pipe organ & its maintenance are worth it. If a parish is building a new church or undertaking a renovation, make sure to include qualified musicians in the design phase. Instruments, choir areas, & acoustics should never be treated as mere afterthoughts.
Most of our readers do not need to be convinced of the importance of the pipe organ or the “principal place” it deserves. But perhaps we could choose one or more of these steps and become a leader at the parish level. That’s where real change happens, and that’s where the future of the pipe organ will be secured or lost.