Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tough Questions #1: What happened to the organ?

Last week I met with the Vintage Classics, a group that consists of the older and wiser generation at TBC. They asked me some great questions. These questions deserve an answer! Meeting with them to share my spiritual story gave me an opportunity to share my heart. I thought it would be good to let you know what they asked, as well as my answers. Why? Because they are good questions. But secondly, I want you to know my heart on the matter. They appreciated the communication and openness - and they walked away with a better feeling about the "why" behind "how" things are. I can honestly say that I answered the questions in the same way even if I had the younger generation in front of me. Check out my blog this week to catch the answers!
  • Why don't we use the organ anymore?
  • The volume is loud for me - is there something that can be done about it?
  • Why do we sing some songs that repeat the lyrics so much?
  • Why is your shirt untucked all the time?
  • Can we have the (insert name of a music group) come to do a concert at TBC?
So let's get to our first question...

QUESTION - Why don't we use the organ? ANSWER - It's no secret that the organ has been sitting lonely in the corner at TBC for over a year (or more). Somebody obviously put a lot of money into the nice organ TBC has. It's a wonderful instrument that is used regularly for weddings and funerals. However, I've used it only once since I've been to TBC.

First, understand that it's NOT because I don't enjoy organ music. Brass, percussion, combined with organ is some of my favorite music. It's why I toured with King's Brass playing bass trombone. One of my favorite memories was recording with King's Brass at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (the late D. James Kennedy's church in Florida). The large Fratelli Ruffatti pipe organ has 117 ranks of pipes and is regularly featured on the television programs of virtuoso organist Diane Bish (pictured above on the organ).

But there are some very legitimate reasons why the organ is not used with the current instrument makeup at TBC on stage. Here's why...

1. The size and location of the organ makes it virtually impossible to create a unified visual presence. The organ is big. That's why it is not on the stage, because once it sits there - you ain't gonna move it for different events. So there it sits, all lonely off-stage. Not only off-stage, but it's lower than the other instruments, down several steps! How would you feel if someone said, you're so big we aren't willing to move you and sit there in the corner. For the sake of looking like we value all the musicians and the instruments they play, I have those that play organ/keyboard on stage with the other musicians. But it's not JUST this reason...

2. More variety is needed, for what we are using it for at TBC. The organ has a wonderful traditional sound by itself and has a nice MIDI addition that allows other instrumentation and styles to be played by the organ. If you've been to a King's Brass concert at TBC, you know the beast can crank out some serious juice. But you'll notice that the organ is playing by itself. The rest of the concert, they use piano/keyboards. At times, the keyboard is even playing a pipe organ sound. Compared to high quality keyboards, the organ simply doesn't match give the variety of music styles that God has blessed TBC with. And the keyboard is small, which allows the player to be on stage with the other musicians. But it's not JUST this reason...

3. Difficult control over house volume and mix with the organ occurs because of it's location and type of instrument. Having full control over the volume in the auditorium is necessary, especially when we already fight acoustics in the room. If an organist struggles to hear their own volume, it adds fuel to the fire. But it's not JUST this's all of the above that makes it a no brainer to use the keyboard instead of the current organ.

HOWEVER, and that's a big however...

If we could get our hands on a Hammond B3 organ with a Leslie cabinet speaker - I'd LOVE to use this type of organ. Why?

1. It can be on stage with the other instruments (it's much smaller than the organ we have).
2. It works with a variety of music style - from traditional, to gospel, to rock.
3. It can be setup to be accurately amplified so the audio guy has enough control over the house mix.

If someone out there can find a nice Hammond B3, I'll not only use the thing every week - I'll tuck in my shirt (that's for another post coming soon).


  1. Hi Bryan,

    I read your comments regarding the use of organ at your church. I am a musician myself and volunteer as a keyboardist and organist with one of our worship teams.
    Our worship arts program at my church is largely contemporary with some traditional music. We have a classical digital church organ in our sanctuary and it gets used, from the sounds of things, perhaps more frequently in worship than at TBC.
    What I found interesting was that your board/committee, asked the question, why the organ wasn't being used anymore. The fact that the question was even asked to begin with, is it perhaps some are missing that sound? Not sure what kind of organ you have or even what the quality of it is like.
    In our city (Southern Ontario in Canada) we have 3 Universities and thus we have a large university crowd attending each Sunday. We really notice their absence come summer break! When we choose to break out into a traditional hymn, we will use the organ both on its own AND in conjunction with the band at times.
    I find that if the organist can play sensitively, it doesn't matter that the organ isn't plugged into the sound system. What we do notice, is that young and old alike have repeatedly expressed appreciation for what the organ adds to our tapestry of musical worship sounds.
    And as for the organ not being on stage, I understand that logistical problem. However, including the organ and organist in the music program if even off stage, is far more valuable, in my opinion, than not utilizing the talents of your musicians who can contribute in a meaningful way. I believe that your reasons for not using the organ are all easily overcome. I would listen more closely to your congregation to what they're saying by their questions. The great traditional hymns of the church are great because they have lasted and stood the test of time. Some have not of course. But by comparison, I think many of our contemporary praise and worship songs over the last 3 decades have faded away and no one is using them. Yet the traditional hymns with their great theology while some have been re-worked into a contemporary flavour, there is a large segment of our congregations that take great inspiration from singing these hymns with the sound of a fine organ.
    The evangelical church has lost a lot of capable organ players due to the pursuit of the contemporary music. That pursuit, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. What is unfortunate, is that the musicians have been left unutilized and many have just left and gone to churches that still use the organ, or in some cases, just stopped playing all together and are not involved, at least musically. That is tragic.
    AND there are some of these churches where the organ sits there, unused. Why?
    If TBC's organ is in good working condition, produces a decent sound, and you have a person(s) that can play, I would encourage you to bring it back into the worship experience.
    The fact that you were asked "Why isn't the organ used" may point to a reality that there are some people in your church that miss that sound. And if your church is anything like mine, it's not just the seniors.
    Dan A. (Cambridge Ontario Canada)

  2. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Dan and Bryan,
    Let me drop in a comment here. I grew up with organ, and my dad taught the instrument, and I love good organ music at the proper time, yet am glad the organ sits silent during most of TBC worship. Dan, your two casual comments "a person who can play" and "someone who can play sensitively" may be your most significant points. In a university town like yours, there will be a believer who plays an organ such as ours so well and sensitively that it contributes to the worship. I have a dear young cousin who teaches organ at Houghton College and I do not doubt that the local church where she plays weekly is greatly blessed.