24 October 2009

Sure Looks to Be

an incredible resource:

The Concordia Organist

Yet it makes me rather sad. Have we really come down to this? A friend told me the other day that Concordia Bronxville no longer even has a music program - that's just unthinkable. The investment in training church musicians and the enrichment and support that such musicians can give to the liturgical life of the parish is simply beyond calculation. When we pray for workers in the Lord's vineyard, let's remember to pray as well for raising up organists and other musicians.

37 comments:

Chris said...

When everything is going towards praise bands and gospel choirs, are you really that surprised by this?

Anonymous said...

but then there are those of us without a regular organist for Sundays who benefit from being able to use this sort of resource in worship

David Clapper said...

Where I live, in Rochester, NY, there is a plethora of organists ... because of the Eastman School of Music. Not so in other areas, I believe. My uncle lives in Central PA, and can have his pick of organ positions.

I think it's a bigger issue than Chris (although I don't disagree that praise bands etc. are contributing factors). We live in a society that would rather consume than produce. It takes a lotta work to be even a mediocre player of any musical instrument ...

Dan @ Necessary Roughness said...

Even if I had this for Time Out, I wouldn't use it. The organist is as much of an artist as a singer. I doubt TCO would improvise on A Mighty Fortress. :)

Cheryl said...

We might grow more organists if more churches were willing to invest in paying church musicians at the market rate rather than expecting the organist/choir director to work for pennies or free. I know musicians who lose money on their job because they don't get paid enough to cover the gas to get to and from choir practice. I realize that the majority of churches aren't large enough to afford a full-time musician like my husband. But it seems to me that the attitude is too often one of expecting the musician (often the pastor's wife or a teacher in the school) to volunteer his or her time. And that doesn't send the message that music--in this case, organ music--is something that we value all that much. I wonder if one reason praise bands are proliferating is because it is easier for amateurs/volunteers to do the praise band thing. To play the organ well takes an investment of years of study, study which is not free. Why would a young person want to invest that time and money and consider a music degree when he's not sure that he will be able to get a job that will make a living wage? So we are left with well-meaning folks who do the best they can but who really don't have the skills to play the organ well. Then people decide they don't like organ music because they haven't heard it played well. And they decide they don't like hymns because they haven't heard them led well. It's a vicious cycle.

Elephantschild said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew said...

From a Concordia Wisconsin (formerly St. Olaf) student: I agree heartily with Cheryl. I am from a rural area, the organist was expected to almost volunteer. All of the other young people made more money at a McDonald's with less time and much less experience (I’ve never heard of weekly lessons for them). Often while growing up, the message that music was not very important seemed to be pretty loud and clear. This certainly keeps many young people off of the bench. However, a deep love of God, music and liturgy has kept me playing despite all of this. Had I not had that desire, I would have given up on the organ long ago. It takes a lot of time and encouragement to develop a young person into a good organist. I pray that parishes will become better at this in the future, and stop expecting organists to be a free commodity. As helpful and necessary as a CD might be, a recording cannot adjust to congregational singing like a trained organist can and (hopefully) will.

PMagness said...

Great comments, Cheryl! Now let your husband pile on:

Pastor, this is not "great resource". This is an ecclestical version of "The Great Society" - a welfare program that will distort the "economy" of church music in a very negative way.

The unintended consequences of this will be huge. Just as the left-wing social tinkering of the 60's resulting in societal decay few anticipated, so will this "solution" result in similar distortions. A few thoughts come to mind:

*the organist of modest ability - whether a student or a retiring teacher returning ot her hometown - will not want to be heard by the congregation once the people are used to the professional sound of "the Concordia Organist".

*people will associate "traditional" worship with "THE ORGAN" as if the liturgy is about "the holy sound". How does this make us different from the "contemproary" crowd, which seeks "the holy sound" of the guitar? It is easy to lead traditional liturgy without an organ. People will be even less likely to accept that once they have "The Concordia Organist".

*Once folk get used to having trax to sing along with, they will ask? Why not trax with more sounds than just organ? "Traditional" worshippers will be more likely to accept "contemporary" worship because they will be moved from the authenticity to inauthenticity, with the "holy sound" of the organ used to lure them away.

Look, I understand there are congregations that need help musically. But this is a classic case of "right problem, wrong soloution".

I have talked with several pastors who think they have no other choice than to sing along with recorded organ music, only to find out that NONE of them considered ANY of the following remedies:

*using the money they would pay for an organist to get singers. (it is easier to find singers than organists, and they are cheaper. And, no, they don't need to sing through a microphone. A quartet or even a trio of trained singers can do wonders for leading a small congregation in worship.)

*having a piano player or guitarist play chords out of the LSB edition, with a flautist playing the melody (many of the pastors I talked to conceded that they had high school flute players in their congregation. If they don't, they could get one from the local h.s. band for $20-25 a week.)

*using a combination of keyboard players to approximate the organ. This works if you don't have an organist, but have intermediate-level pianists. Indeed, if you can get three keyboard players, TWO OF THEM ONLY NEED PLAY SINGLE NOTE LINES: one the melody, one the bass. The other then fills in the harmony by playing chords.

Would this take some work to put together? Sure. You might need to bring in a professional musician to coach the amateurs, students, and volunteers at first. But after a couple of clinics, it would take off.

It's worth doing. All the above options are also good ministry. Authentic, live worship is maintained. People grow in service to the church. In some cases - like that h.s. flute player from the local band program - people might hear the pure Gospel for the first time.

But instead we plug in a CD. So much more efficient. So much easier. And so much cheaper.

Cheaper.

Cheap.

Coming next: "The Concordia Pastor". Got a vacancy? Can't "afford" a pastor? CPH has the "resource" for you.....

Rev. Rowold said...

I, for one, am thrilled at the release of "The Concordia Organist", though I can most certainly understand and appreciate the feelings and opinions expressed by others. Personally, I too would prefer have an actual musician providing accompaniment for the service (be it on the organ, piano, another instrument, voice, etc.); however, I have experienced situations where my organist has been forced to miss the service unexpectedly (once due to sudden illness and once due to transportation problems). It is for times like those that my parish will be discussing the purchase of this resource. We would never replace our organist with it, especially after spending roughly $100,000 to have our organ renovated and restored, but after you try to conduct the Divine Service a cappella once or twice, you begin to see the value in having a resource like this as an emergency back-up.

Paul McCain said...

It is difficult for Mr. Magness to appreciate the fact that there actually are congregations that have no musicians available, since he serves in a large and affluent large-city suburban congregation that can afford not only competent organists, but even a full-time Kantor.

His "solutions" are simply not viable in any number of congregations.

Mr. Magness, your final remarks are offensive and insulting and do not serve you well, if you do have some good advice to offer on some of these points.

Cheryl said...

With all due respect to you, Pastor McCain, you do not know the full extent of my husband's background as a church musician. Yes he is in his second full-time cantorate. But during the early years of our marriage, when he was also working as a freelance jazz musician and college music teacher, he served at two small Texas congregations on a part-time basis. One was a mission start that met in a rented storefront with stacking chairs and a tiny electronic organ. The other was a little bigger, but still much smaller than the church we are currently at. We were happy to get twelve people for choir practice on a Thursday night. For several years my husband served these two small churches simultaneously, playing first at the 8:00 service at one, then the 9:30 service at another, then the 11:00 service at the first, hoping not to be held up by the train that sometimes crossed the road between the two of them and made his timely arrival at the 11:00 service an occasionally tricky thing. He has also done extensive traveling and visiting at a variety of congregations in synod. He has a good understanding of the musical challenges that parishes face today. But he also has great faith in the Lord's song and in the ability of real, flesh and blood people to sing that song in real flesh and blood ways. He has given his adult life to helping people do just that. That's what a cantor is: the leader of the people's song. My husband's fear is that the Concordia Organist will in time become a resource of first rather than last resort simply because it is easy and affords quick and easy results that are probably of higher quality than most amateur church organists out there can aspire to. No need for organ lessons. No need for practice. No need for musicians to get together and rehearse and work on ensemble. No need for the pastor to take some leadership in trying to disciple musicians within his parish. No need for the congregation to put up funds to hire a musician (once the Concordia Organist is purchased). Just put in the CD, press play, and let her rip. It's just frighteningly easy and as someone who believes in the beauty and worth of live music, with all its imperfections, my husband fears for what this will due to church music in the long run. We can see it in the culture. Several hundred years ago amatuer singing and playing of instruments was a common thing. Singing in homes was a common thing. Instead of watching TV or listening to CD player, families and friends would gather together and sing and play for entertainment. But you don't see that much anymore. Instead we have become a society of music consumers. We buy and we listen, but we don't sing together anymore. And one reason is that we don't sing and play as well as those people on TV. So we give up trying to even do so.

I am afraid for what the music of the church will be like when my children are my age.

It is unfortunate that rather than have a discussion about these very real fears and concerns Pastor McCain instead has decided to leave the world of ideas and focus his comments personally on my husband, in my opinion, a less than constructive approach.

Paul McCain said...

Mrs. Magness, your defense of your husband is understandable.

The fact remains that in his effort to put forward an opinion on this subject, he felt it necessary to conclude it with offensive and needlessly inflammatory remarks.

So, even if he may have a point to be made, an arguable and debatable one at that, the fact that he felt it necessary to attack CPH with a ridiculous accusation at the end of his remarks makes it difficult for his point to be taken seriously.

I do not share this pessimistic view of The Concordia Organist.

Again, for congregations without the service of musicians and persons such as your husband, there are little to no options to having music for their worship service.

While we can bemoan the lack of trained and competent organists, I'm afraid your husband's remarks come off more, to me, along the lines of this comment:

"If you don't have a real organist, just forget using organ music in your worship service."

PMagness said...

Yes, Paul, that's exactly what I'm saying! As you wrote, my comments come across as sounding to you like I'm saying:

"If you don't have a real organist, just forget using organ music in your worship service."

Organ music is not essential to Lutheran worship. I'm surprised I'm having to make this point.

As far as my comments being offensive, Paul, I think you protest too much.

Hopefully we'll have a change in direction in our synod and it won't get to that, but the way things are going, I will not be at all surprised if we get "The Concordia Preacher" in 5-10 years. We already have congregations meeting under SMP pastors watching their senior pastor on video.

Digitized pastoral "experiences" are the next logical step - and, yes, CPH will dutifully provide them, as directed by Synod, Inc.

And people like me who think folks should just worship like Lutherans have for almost 500 years (real pastors, live music - or no music, if need be) will again be told that "we just don't understand".

But those who seek to worship authentically will sing the songs they know a cappella, or with a guitar or a piano or a flute. They may just pray the Cancticles by speaking them - they are prayers, after all. And, in doing so, they will be focusing on what really needs to take place: the proclamation of God's Word, the hearing of God's Word, the praying of God's Word.

To be sure, this will also where "Concordia Organist" (i.e. Lutheran Karaoke) will be taking place, as the Spirit will continue to call, gather, and enlighten. God takes care of His church, and the Spirit will prevail as He wills.

But many singing along with "Concordia Karaoke" will be deceived into believing that organ music is some sort of holy sound we must have to worship as Lutheran Christians.

That, Paul, is truly offensive.

Paul McCain said...

Mr. Magness, it is Pastor McCain to you, not Paul.

I'm sorry you continue to feel a need to express your opinions in such inflammatory and needlessly hostile fashion.

It's hard to hear you over all the noise.

Cheryl said...

"I'm sorry you continue to feel a need to express your opinions in such inflammatory and needlessly hostile fashion.

It's hard to hear you over all the noise."

Again, Pastor McCain, with all due respect, this is truly stunning coming from you. All my husband did was to share his opinion on Pastor Weedon's blog post. YOU are the one who--rather than discussing the question at hand--decided to make this personal. Pastor Weedon, I am sorry your blog has been hijacked in this way. But I have to point out one more time that all my husband did was to express his opinion on the Concordia Organist and the potential unintended consequences of it. His comment had nothing to do with Pastor McCain, but Pastor McCain seems to have taken personal offense at it, as if it were directed at him. So his first comment in this thread does not focus on the subject at hand--the merits or lack thereof of using the Concordia Organist--but on my husband. He makes a pronouncement about my husband--"It is difficult for Mr. Magness to know . . . " instead of sticking to the issue at hand. Pastor McCain has no way of knowing what it is difficult for my husband to know or not to know. It is interesting that Pastor McCain patronizes me with the statement that it is understandable that I would want to "defend" my husband. For the record, that is not what I was doing (although I supposed I am doing it now!). But I am also a church musician and I was weighing in with my own opinion on this issue. But isn't it interesting that Pastor McCain sees a need for me to defend my husband? Is that because he knows that what he was doing was not engaging the issue at hand but instead issuing an ad hominem attack?

I can't help but notice that in all of Pastor McCain's subsequent remarks on this thread he can't seem to get away from making my husband the issue. If you read my husband's posts you will see that he is trafficking in ideas and specifics. You can disagree with him if you want, challenge him, ask questions. But you can't deny that he is engaging the issue and offering suggestions and support for his opinion. But Pastor McCain seems only able to come back with further personal comments rather than discussion of the resource and related issues that this blog post and thread are supposedly about.

Anyone who takes the time to read back over this thread will see that the only hostility is that which flows from Pastor McCain to my husband. It is unfortunate that Pastor McCain's apparent antipathy for my husband prevents him from being able to have a reasonable discussion about such an important issue.

Steven said...

Pastor McCain, what congregation are you the Pastor of again?

Elephantschild said...

I think the the truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle.

No full time Cantor at a large congregation is going to be fired over the availability of these CDs. And truth be told, churches that are inclined to go the Lutheran Karaoke route already have at their disposal any number of MIDI files and recordings produced by other denominational entities, some of it for free. Even more, any congregation can fit their organs with MIDI so that at it can play MIDI files downloaded from the internet.

That being said, I certainly do understand the problem of these CDs as outlined by Cantor Magness. I like his alternative ideas. We could use a whole book of ideas like that, widely available. (Get busy writing, Cantor!) They are certainly preferable, when possible, to CDs. As Dan @ NR said above, a CD cannot adjust for the congregation like a live musician can.

I do think, however, there are situations where the CDs can be a stop-gap measure, as Pr. Rowold demonstrates.

Another example: I'd rather attend a wedding with canned music from the Concordia Organist than canned music from the $4.99 "Best Bride's Hits" CD at Barnes and Noble.

Would I prefer a real live organist? Absolutely. But the CD from CPH is the lesser of two rotten alternatives.

Paul McCain said...

Well said, Elephant's Child.

Cheryl said...

You know, maybe I would be less wary of a resource like Concordia Organist if I thought we in the LCMS were already doing everything in our power to grow the next generation of parish musicians and to nourish solid liturgical practice in our parishes today. But we're not. There are small, struggling parishes all over the place--struggling musically and otherwise--and they aren't being helped unless they pass the Ablaze test. And there is so much more we could do to enable and nurture the song of people who want to sing beyond giving them a track to sing along with. Why not put some synodical dollars behind sending the best musicians in our synod out to small congregations to see the need and to help find ways within that community of meeting the need? It's hard to talk about these things in a way that makes sense. A few weeks of Kevin Hildebrand or Paul Grime or Phillip Magness studying and working with and showing how it can be done would result in a congregation's learning to use its own voice rather than simply pushing the play button on a pre-fab one-size-fits-all product that is oblivious to the voices singing along with it. If a congregation wants to sing, it will sing. If it doesn't want to sing, I don't hold out a lot of hope for the Concordia Organist getting it to do so.

I fear that this resource, coming as it does from our own ranks, will be a way for those in our synod who don't much care for confessional worship practice to say, "There, we took care of the traditionalists. Gave them some organ on tape. We can check that off our list and move on now." And the more congregations resort to this type of resource the less the need will be felt to grow future musicians. And the more likely potential music leaders in a congregation or community's midst will simply be overlooked. And that makes me very, very sad.

William Weedon said...

I'll just give my own take on the question after mulling it over a bit here and reading the back and forth - YMMV.

I haven't allowed pre-recorded music in our church. The reason is simple: music is part of the offering of the people gathered there. What right have we to offer another's music in that place? We offer our own.

That's the argument that I've used to forbid the use of canned music at weddings and such.

Perhaps my thinking on the question is too narrow minded; but the integrity of the offering seems to be compromised by the use of someone else's music. Still I can see the huge, crying need. After trying to FIND organists for six months of organist vacancy, I can really see the need! But I'm just not sure that this is the way to go ultimately...

Anonymous said...

"Mr. Magness, it is Pastor McCain to you, not Paul."

Lighten up, Paul.

Paul McCain said...

All I can say if you folks could hear what we've heard from pastors and congregations that are literally off in the middle of nowhere, in the "boonies" beyond belief and how horribly difficult it is to find anyone who can play an organ, and how desperately they want once again to hear the "King of Instruments" you would be able better to understand the "why" of The Concordia Organist.

While I certainly share the concerns expressed by Mrs. Magness, I do not regard the advent of The Concordia Organist in apocalyptic terms as she does, and certainly can not agree with the sneering derision her husband feels it necessary to heap on the project and on CPH for undertaking it.

I also think that people have just barely begun to consider how many uses there are for TCO. Its use in a congregation that has no organist or musicians is but one of any number of potential uses. Imagine the possibilities of its use in homes, in nursing homes, for private devotion and meditation, and so forth.

In fact, I would argue that keeping beautiful organ music alive by at least being able to offer it will help support its continued use in our church body, rather than further erode its use.

We pray it enriches the worship life of the people of God in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and is used to enhance and strengthen our love for quality church music.

Simply put, if the people never are able to hear such beautiful music, there is little chance they will want to hear it.

And let me simply say this, if in fact Rev. Dr. Paul Grime, Rev. Kantor Richard Resch and Mr. Kevin Hildebrand views The Concordia Organist with the kind of "dread alarm" that some have expressed in this thread, they would have been the first to refuse to be involved in the project, but in fact, this effort was long planned in the development of Lutheran Service Book and the result of their many hours of labor in the chapel at CTS recording all this music is nothing short of stunning.

Paul McCain said...

One more point to be made.

Consider carefully what Pastor Weedon writes about how hard a time they have had acquiring an organist, for six months!

Then consider how [relatively speaking] Rev. Weedon's congregation is to a major metropolitan area with a population of over one million people.

Consider then what conditions are like in the true hinterlands of our Synod.

Anonymous said...

I really wish a that Pastor McCain could have shown some sanctified restraint and not have overreacted to Mr. Magness's comments. It was particularly ugly to see the Publisher of CPH beat up on both Magness AND his wife, and then turn clerical and insist on being called "Pastor." This helps no one. Kyrie eleison.

Cheryl said...

"Imagine the possibilities of its use in homes, in nursing homes, for private devotion and meditation, and so forth."

It's a lovely thought. I would love to have a home copy of The Concordia Organist. But at $699 I don't think it's in the cards for me or most people, which suggests to me that is not the primary reason for which it was created. Its primary purpose is to take the place of a human organist in the worship service, and that is the issue at hand here.

Cheryl said...

"Consider carefully what Pastor Weedon writes about how hard a time they have had acquiring an organist, for six months!"

I don't dispute the fact that good organists are hard to come by. But I wonder how often, when an organist is not available, an effort is even made to find some other way of leading congregational singing before throwing in the towel. As my husband suggested earlier in this thread, perhaps this is an opportunity to bring in a singer or group of singers or pianist or group of pianists or flautist or violinist or WHO KNOWS WHAT? But how often is this even tried? I love the organ. But it is not the only way to lead congregational singing.

Elephantschild said...

BTW, I should have clarified that I've got a dog in this fight. My husband's livelihood is dependent on churches continuing to repair, rebuild and replace their real live pipe organs.

So, I'm hardly going to be touting the Concordia Organist as the best thing since sliced bread. But I do, sadly, and with regret, see a need for it in some situations.

Paul McCain said...

Elephant's Child, again, well said.

If we think that encouraging congregations to not use organ music unless/until they have a live organist is going to preserve the King of Instruments in the living memory of our congregations, well...I'd say your hubby better be very concerned, indeed.

Paul McCain said...

Mrs. Magness, The Concordia Organist is designed primarily for congregations to use in their total ministry, which includes more than the Sunday morning worship service.

As I've said, we've but only begun to realize the possibilities that TCO offers a congregation and its pastor(s) and others.

Fear is never a good way to approach these issues.

Cheryl said...

Pastor McCain, feel free to call me Cheryl. It's a lot easier to type than Mrs. Magness, and it makes me feel younger. :-)

EC, I too appreciate your comments here. We may not see entirely eye to eye on this issue, but that's okay. I think it's nice that we are able to disagree in a reasoned, unemotional way, especially since you are one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world!

Elephantschild said...

::smooch:: Love you, too, dear Cheryl.

(That's just to gross out the men.)

mlorfeld said...

I would prefer that we sing without accompaniment than a CD (but TCO may still be helpful just to make sure I have the right hymn tune, or to practice it as a congregation). We struggle to find a piano player. Thankfully the organist from across The River pulls double duty with us. However, we'd love to be able to find someone to play for us, unfortunately this is easier said than done.

Anonymous said...

Paul, It is quite clear to me that you hi-jacked this thread with the sole purpose of attacking Phillip Magness. I do not feel the need to address you as Pastor McCain, because you are not my Pastor nor are you acting in a pastoral manner.

I have known Phillip for many years and I have a deep admiration and respect for him. He has faithfully served the LCMS for many years.

This isn't your blog or your post and yet you come in "here" and verbally attack someone who was offering their opinion and their concerns. It is one thing to disagree with someone but you immediately went on the attack against Phillip.

You wave your Pastoral title around like it is some sort of badge of honor and demand we address you as Pastor. You may have earned the right to be called a Pastor at the Seminary, but that doesn't give you the right to come and attack someone who was sharing their opinion. You didn't just attack his ideas you attacked him personally.

From your sarcastic "Solutions" comment you clearly know a lot about Phillip. I would suggest that if you have a problem with him personally you take it off-line and deal with it in a Christian manner.

Paul McCain said...

Pr. Lorfeld, thanks for your comments. Your situation is by no means unique. There are many congregations struggling to find anyone competent enough to provide musical accompaniment in a congregation's worship service.

We pray that TCO will be a help in such situations.

Paul McCain said...

@ Anonymous I'm sorry you are so angry and hostile and are hijacking this thread with your remarks. I do not think anonymous personal attacks are appropriate. If you have an issue with me, you can contact me directly and privately, and I won't divulge your identity.

Larry Luder said...

Dear Rev. Weedon,

Learned teacher of Christ, I am new to this blog but know of you and Rev McCain and hold you both with high and warm regards. I am blessed the Lord has gathered my family and me to the hilltop, where we receive the means of grace: Word and Sacraments. Our parish is blessed with gifted musicians and an extraordinary gifted Kantor. However, I think music beit a recording of high quality has merits and may indeed be a blessing to a congregation. I spend many hours of wonderful conversation about living our Baptismal life with my sister Mary. She is part of a very small congregation that gathers about 50 worshipers, about 20 adults and not all employed. So money is an issue, buy an organ? Pay for a musician? Get serious, they can barely keep from muzzling the ox! The music differs there from week to week. The musicians are volunteers. If there is a musical instrument to be found, it could be from a personal guitar or electric keyboard and the songs are what the musician/parishioner is gifted enough to be able to play. This is where I think The Concordia Organist may prove to be an incredible unified resource and blessing. You make a good point; I will sure include rising up organists and other musicians when praying for workers in the Lord’s vineyard. Up to now, they have been only in my prayers of thanksgiving. I trust the Lord will answer our prayers as He deems best.

Thanks be to God for your faithfulness.

Paul McCain said...

Well said, Larry. Thanks for your kind, constructive and helpful remarks.