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March 19, 2004
Vol. IV, No. 9

"The Power of the Blame Game"
In my last Rampage, "All the Stops (A Rampaging Review)," I presented the theory that blame is not appropriate in regard to the organ's current lack of popularity in America. Judging by the responses I received, the Blame Game is a deeply held belief and will not be dislodged easily. A recent experience shows that even I am not immune to its influence.

I knocked off early from practicing this past Sunday and started off on my brisk walk home. The only thing on my mind was a big slice of New York pizza. On my way to the pizza place, I saw a crowd of people on the sidewalk up ahead and realized that the church there was letting out. As I passed by, someone opened the front door and the strains of an organ reached my ears. After an initial hesitation, I popped inside. Being that it was a prominent church with a prominent organist, I anticipated being impressed, perhaps even intimidated.

I was just in time for the final minutes of the postlude. Far from being impressed, I was actually disappointed by what I heard. The piece, a large work, was plodding and monotonous, I might even say drudgerous. Seated in the pews was a handful of people that looked to be praying; they may have been listening, I couldn't tell. Everybody else seemed to be standing around and talking, paying no attention whatsoever to the postlude. Whether it was the piece itself or the way it was played, I don't know but I think I could actually see cobwebs starting to grow in the church.

I realize it's Lent but come on, with over 500 years of organ music to choose from, THAT's your postlude? There are places to introduce the work of an obscure Romantic composer that only another organist could love but the postlude isn't one of them. It's not a musicology class after all. I felt like crying but for all the wrong reasons. My last Rampage had defended organists against charges that they'd had something to do with the organ's fall. Now I felt like taking it all back. Here was living proof that flew in the face of my theory. We organists CAN be our own worst enemies. This is why the organ is unpopular. We didn't drive our audience away -- they wandered off out of boredom.

The piece ended to a sprinkling of polite applause from those seated in the pews. It appears they were listening after all but were they clapping for the performance or because it was over? That reminds me...

Liturgists, you can't have it both ways. First, you say organists have to put up with talking during the postlude because liturgically the service is over. At the same time, you say it's inappropriate for people to applaud the postlude. If, as you say, the postlude is not technically part of the service, what's the problem with applause? Hey, throw us a bone!

Anyway, after a good night's sleep, I realized I had fallen into the Blame Game trap. Guess I'm human after all. While it's easy to blame other organists or the repertoire or the instruments for the challenges our field faces, we have to resist the urge. The truth is that regardless of the pieces or instrument one organist plays (or the many, for that matter), the organ isn't going to magically spring back to life. We're way past that.

On the other hand, it couldn't hurt to take a good hard look at what we're playing and the effect it has on the people we're playing for. It can't help but in some way support all organists if we work to bring a little enthusiasm to our own individual situations.

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Updated Pages
Organ Links:
Added is the Tannenberg organ at Zion Lutheran Church in Spring City, Pennsylvania. Also added is SkyRose Chapel organ by Quimby at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier, California.

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO...on my mp3 player: Herbie Hancock's "Head Hunters". We played the second track, "Watermelon Man," in Jr. High Stage Band but as far as I can remember, it didn't remotely resemble the original. I next ran into this CD in college when it was required listening for the Intro to African-American Music class I took. It's funky jazz with a mix of electronic and acoustic instruments, including some African instruments. I'm not a big jazz fan but as pure music this CD is rhythmically incredible. The playing is fresh and alive and the jams command your attention. It would be hard not to move your body to this one. Click the link below for more information on this CD:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's CD Club:

WHAT I'M READING..."The Possessor and the Possessed: Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, and the Idea of Musical Genius" by Peter Kivy. I'm not sure about this one. Just getting started. Kivy is a good writer but it remains to be seen how you can have a book about musical genius that doesn't include Bach. Click the link below for more information on this book:
Click this link to see all selections in Dan's Book Club:


Have a great week!

Dan Long

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