Sunday, October 19, 2008

An "Organ Spectacular Day" manifesto

The organ is dying, we keep being told, and the people who say this are so sure of themselves that it seems somehow unkind to contradict them. Yet this dubious factoid is founded on premises which seem to me wholly absurd. “The organ doesn’t appeal to young people”, I am told solemnly by people who don’t seem to have noticed that I am less than half their age. “The organ is really only meant for Baroque music,” I am informed, although the piles of twentieth- and twenty-first-century music in my library would seem to suggest otherwise. But all of this is missing the broader question: what would it look like if a musical instrument “died”? Obviously, a musical instrument is dead if no-one plays it (when was the last time you attended a glass harmonica concert, or a krummhorn recital?), but a visit to the annual Canadian organ convention, or one of the many organ competitions, will confirm that there’s no shortage of musicians who play the organ at a high level. In fact, you don’t have to leave the city – just take a brisk walk down to the cathedral, where you can hear a different organ recital programme every week at noon-hour, or visit one of the many churches where organ music is an integral part of the parish community. It seems to me that the real situation is this: organists, like all classical musicians, have lost a preordained position of social privilege that they once enjoyed. In my view, this is all to the good; we now have to work to earn the respect of other musicians and the broader public, and if this makes us think more critically about what we’re doing, we’ll be better musicians for it.

Enough of this. The American Guild of Organists has declared October 19th as a day of general rejoicing to celebrate the organ and its music, and rejoice we shall! Not because the organ is an important part of music history, or – heaven forfend – a “Part Of Our Heritage”, but because pipe organs are really cool.

from the programme notes to my "Organ Spectacular Day" recital


Heather Hutch said...

At least most people have heard of an organ before. Even Ebay is perplexed if I type in bassoon: "Do you mean balloon?" . At any rate, I think the bassoon is more dead than the organ... I sense a first year history essay topic coming out of that one.

Eric said...

The organ will never die so long as proper funereal services require organ music. The organ cannot die, don't you see? It's beautiful.

Osbert Parsley said...

Eric: I hope I don't give the impression that I think the organ is in any danger of dying. In fact, I think the whole concept of an instrument "dying" is somewhat absurd. In my view, the whole debate amounts to navel-gazing, of the sort that all classical musicians indulge in periodically.

Hope you're keeping well, by the way - it's been a while!