Organ donors needed: why many Catholic churches don’t have organists

Is organ music in church doomed to disappear?  Details, from Catholic News Service:

If music conservatories are producing a bumper crop of organ performance graduates, why can’t the parish down the street get a substitute organist for the 10 a.m. Mass?

There’s no single answer, but liturgical musicians who spoke with Catholic News Service attribute it to parish finances, cultural changes and the pastor’s interest in music.

“Not many parishes are blessed with a budget for both a music director and an organist,” said Jennifer Pascual, music director at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. “Music directors are expected to be skilled musicians, conductors and administrators.”

Joseph Viserta, music director at the Church of the Resurrection in Rye, said: “A lot of parishes don’t have the resources to pay a qualified organist to work full time, so these musicians have other jobs, sometimes as music teachers in public schools, and they show up on Sunday, play for two Masses, run a choir practice and get a stipend.”

If there is a music director, he or she is typically also an organist, Viserta said.

The Second Vatican Council gave the role of music in worship a huge boost. In its 1963 Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the council affirmed music is an integral part of the liturgy. It called for the congregation’s active participation at Mass through musical elements including acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons and songs.

As parishes heeded the call to incorporate more music, many moved away from traditional organ pieces to contemporary music played on a variety of instruments. The results varied in quality and mirrored cultural changes in society and the church, according to Paul J. Murray, music director, organist and liturgy coordinator at the Church of the Holy Family in Manhattan.

Describing liturgical music of the 1960s and 1970s, Father Robert J. Robbins scoffed, “They threw out the baby with the bath water. There was no reference to anything except bluegrass.” Father Robbins, director of the New York archdiocesan Community Outreach Office, is the former longtime pastor at Holy Family and the man who hired Murray.

“Music done well, no matter what style, has the ability to move our innermost being,” Murray said. “In church music, so often we forget we’re there to pray, not for a concert. If the music helps us pray, it’s good.”

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