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February 11
Inaugural recitalist, Casavant organ, Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C.

March 9, 2018, 12:15 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

March 11, 2018
Guest recitalist, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Valdese, N.C.

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Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

Entries in Recruiting (10)

Wednesday
Sep162015

Rinse, repeat, part 2: “Do you have a student who could … ?”

The emails and phone messages I receive each week: “We need an organist!” “We need a pianist!” “We’re looking for an ‘accompanist’ for our services,” (whatever that is). “Do you have a student …?” One of my teachers added the following statement to his office answering machine greeting: “If you’re calling about the availability of a student for a church position, your call will be returned only if a student is available, due to the large volume of such calls.”

I remember as a child that no church in my hometown was without an organist or pianist. Then in about the early 1990s, things began changing. Those organists/pianists started getting older and retiring and/or getting replaced by the band. Then I began to hear rumblings along the lines of, “Alice played for us for 50 years out of the goodness of her heart. We can’t find anyone to replace her.” I’d say that in many parts of the country, they won’t find a replacement for dear old Alice for two primary reasons: 1) there isn’t anyone, and 2) no one does it for free anymore.

The so-called “organist shortage” occurs on different levels in different places for different reasons. It began to become a bit more epidemic when more churches came into need of organists to replace aging Alices all over the country. But it is a little puzzling that out of 319 million Americans, there aren’t enough keyboardists (not just organists) to play for church. There are indeed fewer organ students in college today, and there are increasingly fewer colleges offering organ study. But there is truth to the organist shortage in that far fewer children are taking piano lessons any more. There’s no one coming up the ranks, folks! The very people in the congregation who claim to have appreciated Alice’s work all these years have not been paying attention to what they’ve been doing to their children by not training them in the arts. Parents were not paying attention to the future of church music when they sent their kids to soccer rather than piano lessons, to the youth service rather than the traditional service, to math camp rather than youth choir, and when they modeled screens instead of hymnals. It’s their own fault, and I can’t fix it by sending students to fill the gaps.

Our “Alice” above certainly served a lot of years. But rare is a 50-year tenure of any church musician in a single church any more. Many long-serving church musicians either grew up there, or their primary breadwinner took them there, and there they stayed. But today, everyone is fair game for departure to greener pastures, better pay, and higher rungs on the ladder. If Alice had not had such a good heart, she might not have stayed so long. There was a different mindset in those days. As a child, I always heard, “I do it for the church. I do it for the Lord.” “She would never make this about money.” Our organists and pianists were faithful church goers, just like everyone else. Playing was their service to the church, like that of other folks in the congregation who provided childcare, volunteered with today’s endangered species called “children’s choirs,” baked cookies for Vacation Bible School, and set up tables for Wednesday night dinner and chairs for choir rehearsals. There was always someone in the church who was there “every time the doors were open.” It was their service, yea even their contribution, to the congregation.

While I now tend to stand on the side of “pay your organist or do without,” I do understand this struggle many churches are experiencing, insofar as I understand (not accept) the historical model. Many churches have never put “organist” and “pay” into the same sentence. But musicians work as hard as the pastor, and they spend as much time preparing music as the pastor does preparing sermons and ministering to the sick, the friendless, and the needy. Whether or not it’s their primary job, service playing is worthy of an appropriate retainer because it is a time-intensive job. It is also worth an appropriate retainer because not just anyone from the congregation can step in and take over – as many churches have discovered. (Curiously, no one bats an eye when someone un-ordained takes over the pulpit to share a word that the Lord has laid on their heart. Funny that it’s easier to replace the boss/pastor than to replace the organist.)

Recently, I subbed in a church with a large four-manual organ. Although it is some distance away, I have played there in the past because I love the organ and how the congregation loves (loved) to use it. But on this particular Sunday, I discovered that their services had evolved to the point that my only official duties that day were the prelude (short, please), postlude (no one listens), the opening hymn (play from this arrangement, while the minister of music conducts and sings into his microphone), and the anthem (along with piano). Otherwise, I merely “chorded it” during praise choruses with the band, one of whose members is an associate pastor, who wore his less-than-best jeans and un-tucked open-collar shirt for the occasion. That church has been seeking an organist, but I don’t think they really need one at this time. They just need someone who knows how to turn it on and which piston to hit to provide background fullness for the band. If they continue to search for “real” organists, then they will encounter a real “shortage” of organists, until they go back to a service that actually requires an organist.

Now, a certain shortage of organists does exist. I live in a small-ish college town, the hub of a ski resort area, located in a glorified retirement and seasonal residence community with mountain scenery. That’s three levels of expensive I just named off! At my last reckoning, it’s the second most expensive real estate market in North Carolina. I have begun to propose some new models to these churches. I advise them to embrace the fact that they are located in a resort area and that real estate would be a problem for anyone who moves to this area to play for that church (should they even find such a person). I advise them to advertise nationally, in hopes that they might find a recent retiree who is looking to relocate to a resort area such as this. I also caution them to stop defining the position as part-time, because it just isn’t. And it is skilled labor, not a form of congregational donation.

And so to answer the question, “Do you have a student who could …?” yeah, I have eight students this year (2015), the same four of whom are still spoken for with good church posts, and the other four of whom are either not quite ready for regular service, or I just don’t have the energy to inform the church that my students are being trained as professional organists, not as Sunday bench warmers. 

Rinse, repeat, part 1

Monday
Jul152013

Rinse, repeat

There is a cycle that keeps getting repeated:

1. Church’s organist is retiring after decades of service pretty much for free. Church feels that since organist served pretty much for free that that’s the way it’s supposed to work and anyone who insists otherwise just doesn’t have a heart for God or for his people. OR: Church can no longer afford a full-time person, and so when the incumbent moves on, the church will split the position among two people who have a heart for God, make them part-time, and pay accordingly. In either case, the flow chart continues:

2. Church has joined the national church management club and has been requiring written purchase orders and work orders for years. The paperwork to miss a day, get some tables set up, buy paper clips, or go to the doctor is now staggering. There are now regular meetings to assess performance, paradigm shifts, and purpose-driven drivel to make any church look on the inside like an oil company. And still the part-time help syndrome continues to whittle away at quality in all positions except clergy (and even then...!).

3. And so a job description is formulated, probably by no one who plays the organ. It outlines page upon page of duties, capped by a weekly work hour total of 20-25 or so. That number is critical, because if it reaches 30, then benefits must be paid. And even then, maybe not. And so the church says it can’t pay benefits. And so the hours are capped, regardless of whether the work can be done in that amount of time each week.

4. Church receives paltry applications.

5. Church wonders why. 

6. Church concludes there must be a shortage of organists. So let’s use a pianist on the organ patch of a synthesizer, or let’s just use a band like everyone else. We just couldn’t find anyone to play the organ; we had to do something.

 

But did anyone try to educate this church that they missed the mark in step 3? The same techniques used to attract and keep a pastor should be used to attract and keep decent church musicians. If you’re going to invoke business models, then invoke them everywhere. But we organists don’t TELL them they’re wrong, do we? We have been burned too many times, and so when we see another misguided job announcement, we just shrug and move on. And so the cycle repeats: church underestimates job and pays accordingly, organists don’t apply and don’t tell the church it has missed the mark, church doesn’t get good talent in the applicant pool or church loses a good person soon because the job and the pay just don’t match, cycle repeats.

Let’s talk about this “organist shortage.” Yes, there are in some ways a lack of warm bodies. But that exists primarily in the medium-sized churches. The big churches have plenty of musicians to choose from and enough money to pay them (for the most part). The smaller churches tend not to need a degreed organist (for the most part), and the degreed organists won’t be looking among the small, anyway (for the most part). And so it’s the medium-sized churches that are trying to save some money or just haven’t figured out that good music and decent pay really should go hand in hand. (For now, we won’t include here the mediocre musicians who are paid all too well. That’s for another post.)

But there are other “shortages” going on: 1) There is a lack of comprehensive teaching. I’m sorry, dear reader, but I’m seeing student after student graduating with no idea how to behave in a church or even in general public. I’m growing weary of hotshots on the scene who can play recitals but can’t keep a steady tempo in a hymn or even sightread a different hymn changed at the last minute. 2) There is also a shortage of money to attend college; families don’t have it to pay, and colleges don’t have it to offer. That alone is reaching critical mass. 3) But there is also a lack of organists with the backbones to tell these churches that they need to pay their musician as handsomely as they pay their pastor. Music is every bit as important as preaching to any given service, and until churches figure that out, they’ll continue to pay it less, ignoring ways to improve their situation.

Organists, get out there and educate these churches. Otherwise, rinse and repeat.

Rinse, repeat, part 2

Monday
Mar112013

Turn the tables

Here's an idea:

Churches ought to apply for the privilege of hiring some (SOME!) church musicians. Here’s the ad I would place:

WANTED: one church to provide musical inspiration, a smart congregation, and even-handed employment for an organist. Qualifications of this church include but may not necessarily be limited to the following:

-- Lead by example to encourage the congregation to remain quiet for preludes and postludes.

-- Stay out of the way regarding hymn tempos.

-- Provide an acoustical environment that enhances worship.

-- Allow only musicians and professional sound technicians to run sound, if any.

-- Adhere to all published wedding rules. If none exist, allow the organist to write some.

-- Establish and maintain a chain of command that actually works. The lay governing body should demonstrate a track record of refusing to hand its power over to the pastor.

-- Keep staff turnover at a minimum by providing proper pay and a professional work environment.

-- Stop paying dues to the Willow Creek Association.

-- Provide time off for both vacation and continuing education. One should not be used to “satisfy” the other.

-- Overhaul the music program with the music staff’s knowledge, guidance, and participation.

-- Provide the organist exclusive access to the organ chamber. Take the chamber keys away from the cleaning crew and maintenance crew.

-- Cooperate with the organist in allowing the console to be left unlocked and available to all.

-- Allow the organist to teach on the church organ.

-- Allow the organist to get actively involved with organ maintenance. This will save the church money on little things that go wrong in the future.

-- Upload photos and specs of the organ on the church website, as directed by the organist.

-- Allow the organist 24-hour access and alarm codes to the building. He’s got to practice, you know.

Interested churches should send an electronic package containing 1) a letter of intent, 2) references from at least three previous musicians on your staff, and 3) any evidence at all of an effective lay governing body to joby(at)jobybell(dot)org. Serious applications only, please. Files containing misspelled words, poor grammar, or the words "blessed" or "awesome" will not be considered. The successful church meeting these qualifications will be considered carefully and fairly. In the unlikely event that a church like this really does exist, then the organist will probably have had a coronary from the shock and will not be able to hire it. But a guy can dream.

Tuesday
Jan312012

Recruiting, Part 7: Recruiting the old-fashioned way -- just be an organist

I cannot realistically visit high schools to recruit for the organ. Not only are there no organs in most schools, but also many youth these days are not attending churches with organs, if they attend at all. The organ always faces these distant threats toward obsolescence. However, and fortunately, the organ does most of its own recruiting. As a machine that faintly resembles a piano, it is already both familiar and newly fascinating to many young people. The work of the American Guild of Organists and some “maverick” performers has breathed new life into the “rock star” appeal of the instrument. Couple this with my own performing and affability with audiences, and my student recruiting has taken care of itself so far.

It is vital for a teacher to maintain a conscious, pro-active approach to professional relations. Being friendly and refusing to be difficult go a long way. When “You’re so easy to work with!” becomes a fact rather than the occasional compliment, you have arrived.

Perhaps a teacher’s healthy performing career is his most powerful recruiting tool; a visible, assessable product is a strong magnet. Public visibility grows with every recital played away from the home base. Performing often “at home” is a good opportunity for me to prove to students that I practice what I preach in their lessons.

I always make available to interested persons the organ consoles at which I “preside” or on which I have just performed. This sends a message of good hospitality, which can help reverse a lingering stigma of surly organists in our society. Too often I hear of interested visitors who are categorically turned away from churches or institutions that keep the console under lock and key, with no hope for closer inspection. I have seen many a young person increase his interest in the organ after enjoying a brief visit to a console, and I am committed to maintaining the availability of those opportunities for all ages. I have said before that I am living proof that this works, and I have been fortunate to have realized it and be able to thank my mentors while they are still among the living.

Finally, I have developed a Halloween Monster Concert and an annual Messiah Singalong at Appalachian. The Monster Concert brings in capacity crowds in costume, ready to hoot, holler, sing Pumpkin Carols, watch a scary silent move, and get candy. The Messiah crowd bring their children, and all follow along in the scores and sing all those Part I choruses and Hallelujah. I learned two years ago that some people will come to the Singalong no matter the weather, and so I decided never to cancel that one for the weather – that music really does make a lot of Christmases, and I’m glad to deliver. After each event, the organ console is made available to all interested parties.

In short, for recruiting, I just do what I do, which is to be an organist. The organ draws a crowd in its own way, and a little positive reinforcement from me is usually all it takes to seal the deal.

Friday
Nov112011

Recruiting, Part 6: A church organist's hidden agenda

 

Wanted: Organist with an agenda

Must play for services. Must be on time. Must do all the other usual, expected, predictable things. Must also be open to doing the following:

-- Write and publish a brochure about the church's organ(s). Place copies in the narthex and throughout the building. Include history, specs, photos, and a standing invitation for people to come visit the organ with you – and to bring their CHILDREN. Make sure that every word in the brochure is spelled correctly and every sentence is true.

-- Leave the organ up and running for a few minutes after a Sunday postlude, in case you get some visitors. Invite people in the bulletin. Then welcome them and encourage them to come back sometime with friends and CHILDREN.

-- Play a short, post-Sunday-service recital from time to time. Advertise it. Have a theme for a given program.

-- Publish some short program notes about the prelude and postlude, whether in the bulletin or in the weekly newsletter. Might be good for the choir director to do the same for the anthems. Of course, all this would necessitate some advance planning.

-- Have a time of console cleaning after children’s choir rehearsal. Invite kids to come and help with dusting, Dirt Devil-ing under the pedalboard, removing clutter, etc.

-- Take pride in the organ you play. Even if you hate it, it is your congregation’s instrument, and they have entrusted you with the task of taking care of it. You may find that a clean console may engender increased pride and focus for you and therefore enhanced worship for all.

-- Unlock the console and throw away the key. Leave the roll top up and unlocked. Refuse to invoke the “don’t touch” rule. Consoles are too beautiful to lock up in towers. And their seduction potential is too great not to explore with as many people as we can. If you're concerned about damage, post some house rules on the music rack and expect people to be as respectful as you would be with their instruments.

-- Invent your own, additional ways beyond these to keep the organ a viable part of your congregation's life. Playing it well, taking care of it, and providing opportunities for future organists to enjoy it will be the undergirding elements of your devious, hidden agenda.

Monday
Nov072011

Recruiting, Part 5: The damage of 9/11


Churches have become fortresses.

The threats of pedophilia, arson, vandalism, and vendettas have always been with churches. But once the threat of terrorism came to the table, some churches retreated behind locked doors during the week and haven’t come out since.

As a kid, I met with very few barriers to walking into a church, asking to play the organ, and enjoying some time there, usually unsupervised. As a professional, I now meet with constant barriers to doing that. (Maybe my reputation precedes me.) Even if I try to make contact in advance, I am usually met with all manner of hemming and hawing. I can hear the hushed conversation on the other end of the intercom at the door: “There’s an organist asking to get in and play the organ. What do we do?”

There is a general panic abroad, one that does not befit the presumed openness of a church.

One organist was shut out of his 24/7 access to the sanctuary when the alarm system was replaced and the sanctuary was no longer zoned on its own. Repeated requests not to allow this were ignored or overruled.

Another organist cannot get in to practice at her church when the security force is not on campus. And Security is not present when there’s nothing on the church schedule. And one organist needing to practice is not sufficient grounds for being open for business. So this organist is out of luck outside of bankers’ hours. This means no Easter practice on Holy Saturday, no practicing between Christmas Eve and Christmas I, and no Saturday practice if there are no weddings. Repeated requests for access have been ignored or overruled. That organist has another fulltime job and can’t necessarily get to the church during bankers' hours. Without advance notice, security scheduling, escorting, air conditioning, and exact sign in/out procedures being followed, no one can be in the building when Security is not present.

At a former church of mine, at which I sub once or twice a year, in order to practice I have to be scheduled in advance. Upon arrival, I have to sign in and be escorted to the now-locked sanctuary. Once in a while, I am sent down the hall unescorted, only to discover that the sanctuary is locked.

You get the idea. The tail of Security is wagging a big dog in our churches. This is cutting off blood supply to all manner of hospitality, not to mention what it's doing to many organists’ philosophy of sharing the organs as much as possible. Perhaps we organists should get more involved in a compassionate way. Let us help our church administrators establish a better balance between protection and hospitality. It seems to me that a fellow in a suit, with music and shoes in a briefcase, is not a security threat. I doubt that any large-scale terrorist attack is going to occur at a church, especially during the week when there are only a few people there. And a kid showing up with his mother and asking to play the organ can be the best news a properly trained receptionist hears all week. (Hint: Organists, train your receptionists.)

We can’t allow 9/11 to choke off everything. A balance does exist, and each church should find its own. When in doubt, fling wide the door; unbar the gate.

Monday
Oct242011

Recruiting, Part 4: The Care and Feeding of an Organ Console

Dear Organist,

This is your console speaking. I am the coolest thing many young people have ever seen, and I am one of the most respectable things grownups will ever see or use. I am the ultimate seducer for prospective organists. I am your faithful servant, but I belong to your congregation. I must no longer look like your garage or attic. Therefore, I have formulated the following new rules for you:

Keep your hands clean. Have your serviceman do the same.

No hand lotion.

No street shoes nor bare feet. Play in organ shoes or socks/stockings.

No dangly bracelets, necklaces, and big rings. My keys are chipped.

No long fingernails. My keys are dug out.

Place nothing on my bench except your fully clothed hiney. And watch the jeans rivets, cellphones, and other attachments on your person.

Stop pounding my pedals as if you were squashing cockroaches.

Stop pounding my manuals as if you had to overcome 50 feet of tracker travel with five manuals coupled together.

Be kinder to my drawknobs. They are not ventilation knobs on a vintage Ford LTD.

Never, ever, stand on my pedals. Something just might break or loosen, and it is otherwise simply a bad example for others.

Place a rug next to me. Wipe your shoes on it.

My cabinet top may look suspiciously like a table, but it is not. Likewise my bench and the area below my stop jambs. I am tired of being a repository for key rings, old bulletins, paper clips, highlight markers, ink pens, ashtrays(!), soda cans, tissues, dead watches, coffee cups, jewelry, Post-Its, scotch tape, masking tape, duct tape, permanent markers, and eraser crumbs. I am currently sporting scratches, soda can rings, coffee cup rings, black marks from rubber-soled shoes, sticky finger residue, and cigarette burn marks(!). Both I and my piano friend over there are routinely used for desks, filing cabinets, conductor music stands, drink coasters, flower vases, and lost-and-found centers. Correction of all this must start with you. And when you must ask someone to follow suit, you could try the direct approach, such as, “Please don’t put that there.” That won’t work for long, so try these ‘pickup lines’ next: “My, but you have expensive taste in tables,” and, “You’re doing something to my instrument that you probably don’t want me doing to yours.”

Pick up all those pencils and paper clips from underneath my pedalboard. Matter of fact, remove my pedalboard periodically and vacuum the entire area.

Remove the masking tape from my dead drawknobs. Remove the Doxology and Gloria Patri that have been taped to my music rack. The last fellow who played on me from memory was distracted by those.

Be in attendance every time I am moved around.

Keep your housekeeping crew away. The last time they were here, they swiped me with that same oily rag with which they had just finished polishing the pulpit and pews. My keys were slimy and wet with pools of standing furniture polish. They also sprayed my plexiglass music rack with window cleaner, which also sprayed the woodwork and left spots.

The better I look, the more respect I get. And the more respect I get, the more attractive I become to others.

Sincerely,

Wednesday
Jun082011

Recruiting, Part 3: A thin slice of heaven

A colleague of mine, Prof. Laurie Semmes, usually says goodbye with, “Well, it has been a thin slice of heaven!” I routinely agree with that assessment.

I am just returning home from a thin slice of heaven, having played a recital on the l’Organo series at the Spoleto festival in Charleston, SC. Although this will come as a surprise to very few, I am delighted to report that music is still alive and well there. I have found no other place in this country that packs music venues to the gills for three weeks running, for all manner of musical performances. Audiences are appreciative and informed. Performances are high quality. Hosts, though harried, are gracious and quick with words of praise and thanks.

And air conditioning is plentiful. That may be the most heavenly part of the whole thing.

Then there is the beauty of the city itself, a complete assessment of which is far beyond the scope of this blog.

And then there is the food, which is definitely thicker than a thin slice of heaven.

Wait – did I say that venues are packed to the gills? Yes, I did. I’m thinking particularly of the organ recitals, which are played at 10:00 am every day. People actually GO to those things? Why in the world do they do THAT? Those recitals are more often than not held in churches, and churches carry bad connotations for many people these days. Churches look unfamiliar, scary, unwelcoming, closed-minded. I have heard many people say with pride in their voice that they haven’t set foot in a church in years. So what is it about Spoleto that has people creating nearly standing-room-only conditions, to listen to organ music (written by now long-dead composers), day after day, before lunch, for two weeks? In Spoleto’s case, the festival itself probably attracts all kinds, and there is something for everyone, and everyone finds what he’s looking for. Air conditioning may also be a draw. So Spoleto really is a thin slice of heaven, otherworldly, musically utopian.

And Spoleto audiences are smart. They know where to find the next performance. They know where to sit in case they need to hurry out. They know where to sit to get a good view or good sound. I overheard one woman arriving for my recital tell her companion that they should sit on THAT side so that the page turner wouldn’t block their view of the console. That was admirable advance planning, but she was in for a pleasant surprise – I don’t use page turners.

Well, for what it’s worth, the organ is making its generational comeback, regular as clockwork. Young people are discovering it, even if a little later in life due to decreased church attendance. The organ continues to hang in there and will probably never die. Its lifeblood will continue to be 1) organists who program for the audience; 2) audiences who continue to show up and bring friends; 3) young people who are allowed access.

I have preached that last line before. But I am not yet blue in the face, and so the preaching will continue. At least until a thicker slice of heaven arrives.

Monday
May232011

Recruiting, Part 2: Stories of Horror and Success

I’ll never stop saying that the future of the organ lies in allowing young people access to it:

-- I once contacted a professor about visiting the university instrument, whose builder was a friend of mine. The requested day was the professor’s day off, and he lived too far away to come in, blah, blah, blah, and that was that.

-- Another professor taught at a particular church because the university didn’t have an organ. I was scheduled to play the Duruflé Requiem at that church for a visiting choir. But I wasn’t allowed to practice the day before the gig because the professor had lessons in there that day. This was in a big city full of organs, so something could have been worked out. But instead, I had to make two 300-mile round trips to practice for and play that gig. Most inconvenient and inhospitable.

-- A historic, urban church in the Midwest was “closed” the day I dropped by to see the new organ while I was passing through town. “Oh yes, we’re very protective of the new organ!” was their apparently proud conclusion when I called. (Yes, they were there to answer the phone – the church was not “closed.”) Such “protection” will kill the new organ’s momentum in the community. I’m not so sure that I’d brag about being so “protective” of a new organ. Oh, but they did offer some ‘hope:’ “We’ll be here on Sunday morning.”

Really? I hadn’t thought of that.

I wonder where I’d be with the organ today, had I been a young person in any of those conversations.

Well, let’s hear some good news now. My students and I have been allowed as much time as we like at the following venues:

Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC. Thank you, Monty Bennett!
First Presbyterian Church, Hickory, NC. Thank you, Denise Filip!
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem, NC. Thank you, John Cummins and Don Grice!
Wait Chapel, Wake Forest University. Thank you, Don Armitage!
First Baptist Church, Longview, TX. Thank you, the Rev. David English!
Augsburg Lutheran Church, Winston-Salem, NC. Thank you, John Coble!

I’ll stop there for now, but there are many more such venues, whose incumbents deserve thanks.

Of course, in this post-9/11 society, arriving unannounced at a church and asking to admire the architecture and play the organ may be a thing of the past. But let’s be realistic about how much of a security threat an organist really poses. I would suggest:

1. Train whomever answers the church phone to answer “Yes” when someone wants to visit the organ.
2. Be reachable when you're not onsite.
3. Train proxy hosts for those times when you are away.
4. Post house rules at the console so everyone knows what is expected. More on that in a forthcoming post.
5. Feed and water your console regularly and carefully. MUCH more on that in a forthcoming post.
6. Insist on playing a part in fostering interest in the organ. REFUSE to play a part in the opposite direction.

You never know when you will hook a kid for life because you let him play to his heart’s content one day. You also never know when any person will be turned off forever to the organ (and maybe to church entirely) because he was denied access to what might be to him a wonderful instrument, no matter how much you may hate it. We are no longer in the position to pick and choose. We’re no longer trying to interest people in the organ because it’s there – we’re now to the point of needing to interest them because it’s NOT there in a lot of young peoples’ lives.

I may not have proof that failure to do this would turn a kid off forever. But I am living proof that success with it hooks a kid for life. See my success story in Part 1 of this series.

Monday
Apr042011

Recruiting, Part 1: Predicting the future

There was a kid whose parents sang in the church choir. The kid ended up sitting in church with a sweet, grandmotherly lady on the front row. This sweet, grandmotherly lady’s daughter played the 9-rank Greenwood pipe organ. She never missed a note.

The little kid eventually developed the habit of running up to the console during the postlude, after which he would be allowed to turn everything off, close the console and lock it up. (Later, I’ll launch a blog post on the evils of locking up a console, but for now, just stay with the story.)

Eventually, this kid became the organist’s official page turner for big deals. And eventually, he was allowed to visit the organ chambers. And then the day came when he was invited to play the organ for Men’s Sunday.

The sheer bliss of all that as the kid recounted it to me cannot be captured in typed words. You’d have to talk to him to get it.

On the other hand, I’ll bet that most professional organists know a kid like that. We have seen how being allowed to approach the throne of one of the most sophisticated and beguiling musical instruments ever invented may hook a kid for life.

But let’s not stop at the seduction of the organ itself. Let’s give credit to the organist and the minister of music, who through their hospitality allowed this kid the thrill of his life in becoming familiar with the organ and with many photos of famous organs all over the world. Thanks to these people, we have another organist in the world.

I have adopted that same model in my own recruiting. Not only do I allow any and all visitors up to the console after church, but I blatantly advertise that opportunity. I have been fortunate to have played historic instruments for several years, and so I have written little informational brochures on the organs, which end with bold type proclaiming the console open to all, especially children.

I predict that at least one in five kids who are allowed to approach the organ, operate it, and eventually play it, will become an organist. I predict that with confidence, for I watched it work with this kid and many others over the years. And let’s acknowledge that it’s not that difficult – all I have to do is make the console available and let the console do the work from there. A kid's eyes grow wider with every new discovery on it.

Names in our story today will not be changed to protect the innocent. Names are proudly laid out here in grateful thanks for those people's hospitality and belief in young people:

The church was the Front Street Baptist Church of Statesville, NC.

The Minister of Music was the Rev. Paul McManus, now at Boiling Springs Baptist Church in Boiling Springs, NC.

The organist was Mrs. Joan Privette Welborn, later Benfield, now happily Connor, retired and living it up in Wilkesboro, NC.

Joan’s sweet, grandmotherly mother was Mrs. Hoyt (Hattie) “Hassie” Privette. May she rest in peace.

And the kid was me.