Revitalizing the Local College Organ Department

February 28, 2005

There is both an organist shortage and an organist surplus. For college/university organ teaching positions and large (particularly urban) church music positions, there is a surplus (but this comprises only about 1% of the organists job market). For the small churches (particularly rural ones), theres a looming shortage of organists (the other 99%). While the large, prestigious college/university organ departments seem to be holding their own (or, in some cases, gaining) in organ student enrollment, this seems to be primarily because so many smaller college organ teaching positions have been eliminated (particularly upon faculty retirement). Below are a few ideas that might be applied to revitalize the local college organ department. (For a more expanded version of this article, email the author at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

When I was on the music faculty at Newberry College (1979-86), I offered an organ class for community members in the 1982-83 school year. It covered a variety of topics such as choir repertoire and techniques, worship planning, liturgy, well as organ. I anticipated an enrollment of five students10 at the maximum. We had 38 students! This proved to me the need and market for such training. Also, I taught several students at a small, rural church. From these two experiences, it has become clear to me that teaching such students does not mean (at least, not at first) systematically working ones way through a method book. They are much more geared to the immediatenext Sundays hymns, anthem, prelude, etc. Therefore, it seems better (at the initial stages) to teach the technique through the music rather than through exercises (which can come later). Those in academia know very well that student recruitment has become part of the job description for many a teaching position. A curriculum designed to prepare students for such a position could be a tangible means of student recruitment and thus create a market for these institutions. Such a curriculum would not be that of an organ major, per se, but rather that of a church music minor. Obviously, the students major would prepare him/her for earning a living while the church music minor would prepare him/her to serve in the small/smaller churches. In financial situations where the hiring of a full-time organ professor would not be feasible, perhaps a full-time position could be created by splitting the duties between the music department and the public-relations department or, in the case of church-related colleges, the church-relations department.

Many a music major curriculum is constructed in such a way as to require the performance major to have a secondary/minor in another instrument. A very practical way to expand organ departments would be to require piano majors to take organ as their secondary instrument. At one point or another, many pianists sooner or later find themselves playing the organ. It would be better for them and the churches for which they play (not to mention their alma maters of which they are a reflection) if they had studied organ (even as only a secondary/minor) in college than to be struggling to play the organ without proper training.

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