Unwanted organs – what is their future?
So for these reasons and many more, organs are increasingly finding themselves ‘unwanted’. Everyone ‘in the business’ knows about this but must the present decline continue ? Are the systems that exist to advise on organs, set up when organs were not only ‘wanted’ but seen as normal and good in themselves still really capable of protecting them in the new situation we are in ?
The second reason for calling a conference has been the experience of surveying over 800 medieval churches since 2012 for a research project under the general title of ‘soundsmedieval’. While doing this work, to look for – and find – the surviving physical infrastructure of extensive daily musical activity in medieval churches, we met many people who are responsible for their upkeep. They see their congregations diminish every year, but are determined to try to keep their churches open. We did see and hear some well-loved and cared-for organs, but we also saw instruments, some very good ones, that were not used, and we were often told that finding an organist had become a serious problem. It was clear that maintaining these instruments was a cost whose position in the order of priorities in overstretched budgets was slipping or even non-existent.
Meanwhile, the Church of England has commissioned a number of reports in recent years which show that in most places further decline seems to be inevitable. Last year the Department of Culture, Media and Sport launched an enquiry-review into the Sustainability of Churches. This asked if local communities - whether they attend their local Church of England church or not – might have a ‘responsibility’ for the preservation or upkeep of church buildings. It also asked for suggestions over what churches need to offer in order to be attractive as venues for wider events and ventures. The results of this review, which closed for submissions early this year, were originally supposed to be reported by the receiving committee before Easter, then by early July, but now are due to be revealed ‘in the autumn’. By all accounts, the DCMS was overwhelmed with ideas and reactions.
For organs, though, unless a well-thought- out new approach to the problem is found, the picture could be bleak. One recent suggestion has been to designate many rural churches as ‘festival churches’. This sounds good until you realise that this means they will not be used for worship more than a few times a year, just at major festivals or for funerals. No doubt many churches in small or remote communities may go that way, but it doesn’t need much imagination to see that organs in such places will deteriorate to the extent that they cannot be rescued at affordable cost. To ask an organ to perform perfectly after a long silence is obviously unreasonable, as it would also be to ask an organist to play an organ which might inevitably have become unreliable. If churches themselves become community assets, will the maintenace of organs be shouldered by the community as well, unless they see that it has a useful cultural or educational role ?
So a conference that will consider these things does seem like a necessary and timely idea. http://www.organmatters.com/index.php/topic,2162.msg9849/
Contact : Martin Renshaw
email : firstname.lastname@example.org