Music news: Is the organ dying alongside Classical music?

May 30, 2006

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Organists are becoming scarce

I’ve seen the number of students who study organ decline over my years of teaching. I hear rumors from organists that there aren’t enough players to go around. The Chicago Tribune confirmed this in an article today.

When the National Association of Schools of Music began surveying accredited colleges and universities in the 1983-84 academic year, student enrollment in organ programs stood at 906. By 1999-2000, it had dropped to 527. But enrollment rebounded slightly, to 600, in fall 2004, the most recent tally available.

Evidently many churches are dropping the organ entirely and replacing it with synthesizers, electric guitars, or praise bands. Pianos work for smaller churches but don’t have the power that an organ does. But alas, many associate the organ with “old music” which mean music that isn’t hip or relevant. I haven’t seen any statistics on harpsichords but I would imagine that they are also becoming rare.

You may remember that when the grunge music trend entered and bands went “back to” acoustic instruments, there was a big backlash against overproduced synthesizer music. I can imagine in the not too distant future, youths deciding that guitars are no longer tolerable to listen to. They’ll listen to the rock from the 1950s to 2000 and smile at how quaint and dated it is, not unlike the way we listen to old Al Jolson recordings today.

Is Classical music really dying?

Bemoaning the death of classical music seems to be on a lot of people minds lately. Greg Sandow devotes part of his upcoming book to the topic. Robert Fink gave a seminar on it at UCLA and is writing a book about it. But fear not, for Allan Kozinn assures us in this past week’s Sunday New York Times that it is alive and well.

I hold that Classical music has always been and will always be elitist, meaning not really for the masses. So the opposite of popular music isn’t really unpopular music, it’s just elitist. Well, er, ok, unpopular when compared to popular music.

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