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One of the things that I got to thinking about after yesterday’s post was about how many different organs that I have played in my almost 25 years of playing the organ. And one word kept coming back in my mind. Being adaptable. And, as musicians, that is what we are called to be. We are given instruments and settings to make music in and we need to make it be the best that it can be.

Being adaptable isn’t always easy. At least for me it hasn’t been an easy thing. We nature is to have things the way I want them to be. And after experience and being in different situations, I have learned how to make the best of a not so great instruments. And I know that many organists and musicians have excelled at this as well.

Two specifics examples stand out to me. A congregation that I served for 6 years loved their pipe organ. I couldn’t understand why. It was Principal and flute stops, all pretty much doubled in octaves. A very bland, boring sound. In talking with the organ builder, who was local, he explained that the church had a fire which destroyed the previous organ, and the congregation gave him he amount they would spend on the organ. Not what they wanted it to sound like, how much they would pay. And so, he tried to stretch it as best as he could. Knowing that, while I was still frustrated daily by that organ, I learned how to use the sounds on the organ a little bit better to lead the congregation in singing as best as I could. And, to be honest, the instrument wasn’t capable of leading well, so I added instruments, handbells, choir and anything else I could think of to help lead.

The second example was the first worship band I led. I had a guitarist, I played keyboard, we had a few singers. But, I also had a couple of youth who played saxophone, clarinet and trombone. So, I learned to adapt. I arranged music for the trombone to play the bass line, and the clarinet and sax to play harmonies. It really worked well, and gave those youth an opportunity to lead in worship.

Being adaptable is important. Not all situations are ideal or how we want them to be, so we are faced with choices. Leave, complain and whine about it, or adapt. I have found that when I choose adapt, that is where I grow and am encouraged. I hope you do as well.

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A case for the organ

I just read an article from a blog that has a very traditional and conservative point of view called “A Case for the Pipe Organ”. In it, the author explains his reasons as to why churches need to have and use pipe organs. I’ll add my two cents to this conversation, even though I wasn’t asked. Just as it it is the prerogative and viewpoint of the original blogger that worship should only be with hymnody and the pipe organ, my prerogative and viewpoint is that all instruments and all styles of worship can and should be used to worship God. My reasoning is quite simple. When you look around at how creative God is, just with looking at humanity, our response is going to be creative and unique.

So, here are the reasons for the pipe organ:

  1. It sustains and strengthens congregational singing. Somewhat. His reasoning is that music decays. With the organ, yes, you can hold the key and as long as you have electricity, yes, you could sustain the sound as long as you would like. However, it all depends on the space that you are in. If you are in a space designed with acoustics in mind, that sound will continue to reverberate. Most sanctuaries now aren’t really designed for acoustics….more for comfort. That’s another discussion for another day. But, with the less acoustically engineered rooms, the organ’s sustaining and strengthening power doesn’t always work like it used to.

2. Ir fills a room naturally. Again, same point as number 1. Acoustics in the room drive how much or how little it fills up a room. And I’ve  played on organs that, while they were pipe organs, and were celebrated because they were pipe organs, should have been trashed                  because they were incapable of congregational leadership in how they were designed.

3. Its range is massive. Agreed. It wasn’t called “King of instruments” for nothing!

4. It facilitates a wide range of musical styles. Yes, it does, except he doesn’t go to the widest range that could help to bridge some of the     chasm between “contemporary” and “traditional” worship. Yep. The organ can be used with the worship band. And it works. Well, in fact. But you have to have an organist with the open mindset to doing it, the musical flexibility, and most importantly, who doesn’t think that the worship band is full of stupid, incompetent musicians who just know how to play a few chords. Yes, I have seen this attitude displayed in plenty of organists. This works even better with a digital organ, because of MIDI capability, but it can work with a pipe organ as well!

5. Organs are relatively inexpensive. WHAT? That’s a huge stretch, especially when you’re talking about a PIPE organ. His argument is that it’s cheaper than a sound system, mics and everything else for a sound system. OK….so, a quick Google search nets (from the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America) that you could spend about $30,000 for a used organ that you would purchased and move to your sanctuary. Or…for a small to medium sized church, $200,000-$850,000 organ. Now, I don’t know of many churches that spend that much initially on their sound system, let alone budget that for years to add to the sound system. And while we’re on that topic, do these churches have the pastor speak without a microphone? You’re already spending the money for a sound amplification system, so it’s not like you’re doing something completely redundant. Now, you could go with a digital organ, which gives you more range of sounds, MIDI capability and the ability to adjust the volume on the fly without adding or subtracting stops, and you’re looking at $50,000-$75,000 on the higher end. But, for the pipe organ aficionados, that won’t do. It’s not the same. Nevermind that it is a digital recording of an actual pipe organ. And then you’re talking about tuning costs, heating/air conditioning costs, depending on where you live, and because it is a mechanical thing, things do happen. This is an insane and pointless argument.

Now, before you get up in arms… may not have read my previous blog posts. Or you may not know much about me. I grew up in a very traditional congregation. Started taking organ lessons on a pipe organ when I was in 7th grade. I’ve played on many instruments, pipe, digital, electronic. Some were amazing, some were decent and some were pitiful and frustrating. I love and see a value in the organ and organ music. I also love and see a value in “contemporary” music as well. While it may not be someone’s personal preference, there needs to be an understanding that (as I said before), when we look at God’s creation and see His unique creativity, the response of that unique creation is going to be just that. Unique. I know there are plenty in the organ world who disagree with me. That’s fine. I know there are plenty in the “contemporary” world that disagree with me. That’s fine, as well. Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve found plenty of folks who see things from my perspective, and enjoy all music made to the glory of God. And those are the people I write for.

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Healthy musician update #3

One month down since I refocused on making healthy choices and the results? Down 8 pounds since January 1st. Not bad, but not as much lost as I thought I would. What I was reminded of is how important every choice is, whether exercising or eating. And I didn’t really make bad choices, I didn’t make as many good choices to exercise as I should have.

But it is a new month. A new start. Lots of new opportunities to make good choices. Last week, I ended up getting 85,000 steps, which is decent, but I want to get 100,000 steps in. Today, I start my follow up with my doctor from October. I am having blood work done to check my numbers and see what has changed. And while it hasn’t been reflected in my weight, there are plenty of changes I can feel. Clothes fit better and looser. My energy level is much higher. To me, these are reflections that I am on the right track.

For this week, my focus is on walking and exercising. The weather will be cooperating this week, and it is my last “normal” week before Lent begins. Then it will be a bit of an altered schedule until Easter. But, living in Texas helps immensely, because I don’t have the excuse of snow or cold. And last Thursday, I did make it back to playing basketball in our open gym for men over 30. I even made a basket! So, that will another addition to my weekly regimen.

Thanks for all of your prayers, support and encouragement. I really appreciate it and need it!

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I just did something crazy

I had a friend share a post about, and a huge challenge. It is for songwriters to write 14 songs in the month of February. And I signed up to do it. Why? I’ll get to that in a sec. Initially, here are the huge roadblocks that I came up with. I haven’t written seriously in about a year. Lent starts in the month of February and my weeks and weekends will be crazy. I need to improve my writing, so why do I think I can write 14 songs in a month?

But, you see, those things that I came up with excuses are the exact REASONS I needed to sign up. I haven’t written seriously in a year. I’ve talked and thought about it. Why not take on a challenge that FORCES me to write more. My schedule is busy. So? I’m a church musician. My schedule is ALWAYS busy. If I’m going to be the writer that I know I can be, I have to put in the work and sacrifice the time needed to do it. If I don’t work at writing, how will I improve?

So, I ask for your prayers and encouragement. If you’ve got ideas, send them my way. I’ve got a ton of ideas for handbells, even some choral ideas and children’s choir ideas. So, if there’s something in that realm that you want to suggest, pass it on, please!!