July 16, 2003
Vol. III, No. 21
"How Bad Off Are We Really?"
For a long time now, many of us have accepted without question the idea that the pipe organ is in trouble. But why? What is the evidence that it is "on the way out"? After stopping to think about it, I, for one, have decided that the pipe organ is not in need of "saving" at all.
To begin with, while it is certainly true that the pipe organ plays a marginal role in contemporary culture, the fact that it is not embraced by that culture does not mean it is dying. On the contrary, such an embrace might actually signal the death of the pipe organ, as we know it. If the mega-church philosophy is what happens when contemporary culture gets its hands on religion, do we really want it handling the pipe organ? You have to be careful what you ask for.
Suppose for a moment that the pipe organ is fine right where it is, that it is not a problem that needs fixing. Think of all the pipe organs that have ever been built that are still out there being played by organists. And as far as I can tell, there are still more pipe organs being built than being decommissioned. The same holds true for organists: We are still here and there are more on the way. When something is growing but more slowly than before, is it dying? No, declining growth is not the same as dying. It is still growth. Often it is described as maturing.
So I think it is all just a matter of perception. Perhaps we could try seeing the glass as half-full for a while instead of half-empty, and see how that goes. Let us stop lamenting about how awful things seem and start celebrating the role the pipe organ plays in the lives of the many people we reach. As stewards of the instrument, let us make it our mission to tell the world that the pipe organ is alive and kicking. Salud!
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