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An Organist Rant
by Beth Boswell Jacks

Anybody know the difference between an organist and a grizzly bear?

Answer: Sometimes you can negotiate with the bear. (If you’re a preacher or a choir director, I’m sure you got it right.)

Yes, I’m an organist and I know that of which I speak. We’re tough, eccentric, opinionated and set in our ways. We like tradition, white candles and Bach. We believe a church service is not entertainment. We sit behind a big instrument, hidden. We’re not there to perform, center stage.

Unfortunately, according to music professor and organist Lucy E. Carroll in her article titled “Where Have All The Organists Gone,” there are getting to be fewer and fewer of us fussy musicians to lead the struggle against pop music culture that, at least in our biased opinion, threatens to turn worship services into rock concerts.

Now, in defense of the praise music group, I admit I’m an almost extinct species and maybe rightfully so. Times do change, but when it comes to music I’m clinging to the past, tooth and toenail. As the years go by I find it more and more difficult to relinquish the classical traditions and rituals in worship that have been meaningful to me over six decades.

As a colleague once remarked, “The praise folks think we’re barbarians because we love the traditional classics; we think they’re barbarians because they don’t.”

But this is not exactly so in my case. Our church now has a Sunday evening praise service, and I think that’s absolutely great. Different strokes for different folks. The young people and some of the adults love the service; the music is meaningful to them.

That’s as it should be! God works in mysterious ways.

And [sigh] besides the difficulty of teaching old dogs like me new tricks, Ms. Carroll emphasized that traditional music is in trouble because a new crop of organists is somewhere off the radar. Nobody knows where they are or IF they even exist.

I can tell you. They’re not out there.

My daughter-in-law Jamie just came by to drop off our grand-dog Sam for the afternoon, and I told her I was venting about church music and the lack of organists.

“Bebe,” she said, “I don’t know a single person my age who plays the organ! It’s not that we don’t appreciate organ music, it’s that we haven’t learned it. My friends did well to struggle through piano.”

She’s right. We organists have not done a good job of passing on our “craft.”

Or maybe we have failed to attract the younger generation because of our persnickety personalities. I’m generally a genial sort, but put me behind an organ and I turn into a pinch-mouthed biddy.

You want me to play for your wedding, missy? Well, don’t give me any pop music or country music love songs. It won’t happen. If the wedding is in the church, the ceremony should be a religious rite, not a honky-tonk affair. Bedroom declarations of eternal love can wait for the honeymoon.

Also on the “No, Ma’am” list for wedding songs (as noted by another organist pal) are "Turn Back, Oh Man," "Work for the Night is Coming," "If Ever I Would Leave You," and "Herr, ich habe missgehandelt" (Lord, I have made a mistake).

I won’t fight the bride on taped music for the soloist either, although I normally don’t like it even a little bit.

I urge brides to remember a tale about a wedding where the soloist stood up to sing, punched the tape player, and the music began. Unbeknownst to all, one of the mischievous groomsmen had inserted a different tape. Remember that song that went “If you wanta be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife! So from my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you”?

That was the song that filled the solemn (but not for long) church sanctuary.

My advice? Avoid tapes and CDs for weddings, funerals and worship services. Save the praise music with the loud drums, guitars, tangled wires and amplifiers for Wednesday or Sunday evenings.

There could be worse things than a dependable, cranky organist – if you can find one.


For more SNIPPETS stories, read these:
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Editor of USADEEPSOUTH, Beth Boswell Jacks is the author of 3 books (Grit, Guts, and Baseball and Snippets I and II) and is also a weekly columnist for a number of Southern newspapers. Readers and editors may contact her at bethjacks@hotmail.com.
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