How To Guides

Exploring the Organ and Its Beauty - Part 2

March 17, 2009


In Part 1 of this article, we developed

Close-up view of organ and keys.

from the point of liturgy as art form, and our respect for the aspects of liturgy, including the quality of instruments and the idea of “organ” in a worshiping community.

Once the possibility of “organ” has been surfaced and planted within the planning and design committee structure, those music professionals responsible for the study should lead committee members on field trips to hear and sing with organs in spaces with successful acoustics. For some this calls for travel of the committee to churches across the country. For most it means a few visits to surrounding churches.

At the organ visited it is important that the committee begin to understand the basics of organ construction, and terms such as “console” and “registration,” which correspond to the many different sounds that the organist can demonstrate.

The organist should perform a short program of varied works and lead the committee in the singing of several well-known songs and hymns. He/she should also discuss the visual and aural impact of the instrument in the space, as well as compare and contrast the instruments visited on the field trips. Of course, answering questions about any aspect of the instrument is also key.

Once the sound has been experienced, the committee’s work is to:

Organ case.» Explore how the organ would serve the music ministry of the parish: how can it be used with contemporary, traditional and international-style groups? It is important to know the organ for its versatile span of sound for accompanying, special affects (chimes, bells, improvisation). The organ too often is only identified as an instrument that leads hymn singing and plays concert organ works, and thus is labeled “traditional.” With creativity, the organ can rightly join most any music ensemble.

» Understand the contribution of a fine instrument to the community beyond parish worship: join musical forces of local churches for festival or worship; welcome and enhance school concerts, as well as events of the local music culture.

» Have a vision beyond the present music program and resident church musicians if they do not have talent as organists. Someday the music program may include an organ under different leadership. Even if there is no organist as part of the present plan, look to the future. Providing a space for organ in building or renovation is a decision that holds longevity beyond any staff person. Having a fine organ is a very attractive attribute to a parish profile when searching for a staff church musician/director.

It is important to do the groundwork and study for the organ even if there is no money for a purchase at the beginning. Using money for study and education is most wise. Any plan for organ will affect the overall architectural plan. A beautiful organ case must blend with the space being designed. The size of an organ must be accommodated for the church building, otherwise any structural plan is limited from the start. The placement of the instrument must suit the liturgical space, taking into account the many rituals that will be celebrated there.
Close-up view of organ case.
Next step, invite organbuilders and their proposals. This will take some time. Once visual and tonal proposals are in place, there is plenty of information to attract donors. That donor may pop up unexpectedly several years down the road. You will then have the space planned for and the proposals ready to present to them.

Considering all options includes organ rebuilds. Many institutions with limited budgets may locate an instrument for rebuild and have it tailor made for the space. This also leaves room for expanding it in the future if desired. Check

After the proposals are on the desk, present them attractively to the parish. Get the people excited about the possibility. “Donate a pipe” project can be as successful as a church’s “donate a handbell” project. The vision projected may in time become vision accomplished. Taking the necessary steps to study the possibility of organ is certainly better than none at all. With liturgy as art form, those who lead and participate are called to look beyond themselves, and beyond the limit of personal taste. The liturgy, with its visual and aural sensation, is to be a rehearsal for the heavenly banquet. With this vision only can we attempt to realize beauty in our worship on earth. 

Read Part 1 of this 2-part article.

Dr. Lynn Trapp is Director of Worship & Music and Organist at St. Olaf Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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