I'm standing by the organ, a 20-year-old? Allen, at 1st Church of Christ Scientist in Mt. Vernon, Virginia where
I played twice a month from 2006-2014. I had quit the job at the end of April because the commute from our new neighborhood to which we moved in
August 2013 was too long.
Photo by Marilyn Schultz, First Reader.
Since the 1980’s at least, there has been a shortage of young organists, ages 16-43, in the U S. and in the world. This is partly caused, in my opinion, by the fact that many people don’t go to church. When they marry and have children, they don’t take their children to church regularly. By comparison, when I was a child in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, many more people were regular churchgoers.
The result is, quite a few people today miss out on the glorious sounds of traditional church music and singing the traditional hymns found in Protestant and Catholic hymnals such as those of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mormon, Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches. I believe if modern-day folks could hear this music, more of them would have their children take piano lessons so they could learn to play the organ.
ORGAN DEMONSTRATION: In 2012 I gave an organ demonstration to my former neighbor, Christophe Ludet and his 2 sons, ages 5 and 9, on April 11th after school. As you know, I believe we older organists (over 45) must take the opportunity to introduce new people to the pipe organ, especially those who don't go to church or to classical music concerts. You, too, can give your own organ demonstration - You need access to a pipe organ, since digital organs are not as interesting; preferably 1 or 2 organ pipes they can blow on, and the booklet, "A Young Person's Guide to the Pipe Organ" by Sandra Soderlund, available from the American Guild of Organists for $12.00. This book answers questions for your audience. You can play a few short pieces and let them play something on the organ. It's fairly simple!
One of my important ventures since at least the early 1990’s has been to introduce young people to the organ. I was a piano teacher for 30 years and I would regularly take a group of students on field trips to churches, where the students had an organ demonstration and could take turns playing a piece on the organ. Also when I play organ at a church, if young people come up to the organ I am always friendly, answer their questions and if possible, invite them to sit down and try the organ.
Back in the 60’s and 70’s the majority of residents in Washington, DC were black people. Historically and still today (although some of the more modern churches which have contemporary-style music or “blended” music with some traditional, have black and white people attending together, as Church of the Pilgrims does), white people have “their” church music and black churches have “their” church music. Black churches have organs and pianos, but they also use other instruments like drum sets, tambourines, and band instruments such as clarinets, flutes and saxophones. In some predominantly white churches, music by African-American composers is programmed, if at all, only during Black History Month in February. That is why I mentioned African-American composers on page 1. I hope that more of this music will be played at services. Additionally, I would like to see more black
church musicians attend meetings of the American Guild of Organists (they are open to the public) and consider auditioning for the Potomac Organ Institute’s free organ lessons.
Furthermore, ever since I learned of the Potomac Organ Institute (a program offered by local chapters of the American Guild of Organists) about 7 years ago, I take the opportunity to tell interested young people I meet at church or a concert about the auditions for scholarships of the POI. I publicize POI annually to a mailing list of schools and also post announcements twice a year in the online newsletters of the Montgomery County Music Teachers Association, a local chapter of the MTNA.
I feel it is very important to reach out to young would-be organists. If we older organists don’t, who will? When I see young organists at meetings, I always try to encourage them and to attend their programs when I can. I still remember when I was a young organist just starting out to play church services: I would make mistakes in the music, play wrong pedal notes and didn’t know how to play hymns in a good way to lead the congregation. I was still struggling and learning. But I really liked the organ and was inspired by older colleagues and teachers. People at churches where I played were encouraging and were glad to have a young organist helping out. I will never forget my early experiences!
Here is a photo of me after playing a one-half hour program in a Member's Recital, Northern Virginia
AGO in Annandale, Virginia on May 12, 2008
by Susan Burkhalter
The Official Website of Susan Burkhalter, Church Organist
Susan Burkhalter, CAGO, Organist
July 30, 2012