Cultural shift in the AGO?
  • Following its custom of featuring a newly installed organ with cover photo and accompanying inside article, the May 2017 edition of The American Organist, the journal of the American Guild of Organists, seems to have broken with tradition. To my memory, though I could be quite mistaken about this, the journal has never before had as its cover feature an electronic instrument. (An attractive looking Johannus installation at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Wisconsin Dells. Wisconsin.) To be sure TAO has long accepted advertising for digital instruments and surely relies on that income, but the AGO has maintained through its sponsored recitals, presentations and workshops a pipe-only public face. Implied in the new issue is a Rod Dreher type of cultural war admission: the digital instrument proponents have won and there’s nothing we pipe-only advocates can do to change it.

    It is not my intent to reopen past pipe-versus-electronic arguments voiced on this forum, or to question the decisions made at St. Cecilia’s in Wisconsin Dells. I’m more interested in whether you too perceive a policy shift in the AGO. Like so many old, venerable organizations, the AGO is struggling to survive and trying to adapt to modern realities. (As an example, the Boston chapter to which I belong was once the largest in the country but now has a crisis in retaining and engaging membership.)

    What’s your take on my take?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    Our Knoxville, TN chapter is down to 80 or so members, with most getting on in years. I am not that young, either. I don't know how the membership situation is nationally, or whether they have similar declines.

    I wondered about that Johannus, too. Just looking at the building, one would think the church could have afforded a pipe organ. Maybe not all at once, but over time. If a parish wants one, they can find a way to do it. I have mentioned before a local Lutheran church that contracted with Andover for a design and a few ranks with the ability to add ranks later. It took 18 years to complete that instrument. Where there's a will...

    Where does AGO stand? Good question. I think they have already shifted on some moral and social issues, right along with the liberal Protestants who make up the majority of their membership.
  • AGOS =


    This cover is but the confirmation of what has long been patent reality. Was it a matter of time? There is no shortage of those who have no difficulty in believing that a bundle of wires, tuned buzzers, batteries of speakers, cleverly digitalised 'sound samples', in short, an impressive synthesiser all gussied up in impressive organ-like cabinetry is an organ. Where is the organ? It isn't there. The sound electronically or digitally produced through speakers cannot, thanks to the laws of physics, sound 'just like' sound produced by wind breathing through pipes. The former is, at best, equivalent to an awfully good recording whilst the latter is the real instrument that the intellectually honest person knows it to be. One is an organ, the other is a synthesiser, an organ simulacrum. Sorry, but what comes through speakers cannot sound like what comes through pipes. It isn't physically possible. It does not an organ make.

    Those who own these very clever imitations become so accustomed to what they are hearing that, to them, it really does sound 'just like' a Cavaille-Coll, or, at the flip of a switch, a Clicqout! What they are hearing sounds, in their minds, just like what they do not hear. And, for a somewhat smaller fortune than an organ would cost, they get what they imagine to be eighty ranks of 'organ' to play with. They get to sit at this oh-so- impressive console and put it out of their minds that all they are 'playing' is tuned buzzers sounding through speakers.

    Still, there are many who will insist that the bastard digital organ, a frankenstein if there ever were one, can lay claim to the same legitimacy as the organ itself. And yet, its conception, continued development, its marketing, and purpose is based on deception, the suggestion that it is or sounds like what it isn't.

    Is this any wonder? We live in an age of intellectual dis-honesty which permeates large facets of our lives. It is manifest in the denial of humanity and personhood to the yet-to-be-born, moral ambiguity and ambivalence in sexual mores, fakery of all sorts that has edged real and admirable human craftsmanship into near extinction. We love lies. We live with them daily. We are bedazzled by 'technology', and anything that can claim its parentage is guaranteed widespread adulation, regardless of its objective intellectual, moral, and cultural worth.

    Sorry! 'Digital organs', as they so impertinently and presumptuously call them, are no organs at all. They are fakes, synthesisers, simulacra. The real technological marvel is an organ - and musicians with integrity know it.

    The AGO demonstrated long ago that it has no intellectual spine. The honourable CharlesW asks 'where does AGO stand?' The answer is 'it doesn't!' This is a coup, a triumph, of the highest order for the organ simulacrum industry, masters of deception - and the AGO has swallowed it. This is not unlike treating an unprincipled poseur to a state banquet and Buckingham palace or the White House.
  • I don't know anything about the culture or internal politics of the AGO. However, from a marketing standpoint, if the organization is going to be a pipe only purist club it will inevitably lose a great deal of the support of professionals, many of whom play (or repair, build, market, etc.) digital or electronic instruments.

    I will say, MJO does bring up an interesting point, why exactly are digital instruments being built with grand consoles, fancy wood work cases, sometimes even faux pipes? I am willing to compromise on the digital vs. pipe question, but why must the digital try to hide behind the cabinetry of a pipe organ? There is no particularly functional purpose served by that, and it does seem dishonest to put up a bunch of non-playing facade pipes to hide speakers as has been done in a number of places.

    On the other hand, the Baroque period is full of architectural wonders that involve a great many fake elements. Vast amounts of "marble" that is in fact fancy painted plaster was a very common technique in the Baroque period to the present day, along with many other fake decorative elements, pillars that aren't structural, beams that are really just more plaster, wood work that is yet more plaster, etc.... It could be argued that the Gothic was the last period where buildings are mostly what they appear to be, but even that has many exceptions where impoverished places made wood or brick look like stone. Just something to think about. If an organ that sounds and plays so nearly the same as a pipe organ that even many musicians would not hear the difference is not really an organ, then is an arch that is mere decoration rather than load bearing structure not really an arch?
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  • Interesting that you should bring up architectural fakery. You are right - it has a very long pedigree. One grimaces especially at those architects who, having little real understanding of the physics behind older styles, classical, gothic, or whatever, put up their facades which would come crumbling to the ground were they not actually supported by hidden steel structures. Too, they misuse elements of those styles, pasting them here and there to give the impression that something is what it isn't. I've even seen on several of the newer buildings at Rice University architraves which come to rest on the outer edges of cornices! Ralph Adams Cramm, who built the original Rice buildings a hundred years ago, would never have done something so architecturally illiterate.

    Still, I'm not accepting that fakery here justifies fakery there. We are all called to intellectual honesty. I, for one, find it extremely repellent. Too, faux marble may be considered a work of art. While it is intended to give an impression, it is not intended to fool anyone into thinking that it is real. It's pretty obvious that it isn't. Not so, the organ simulacrum, whose entire raison d'etre is deception.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,431
    Many churches in Rome have painted draperies.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Ergo, is a painting simulacra?
  • No.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    What if it's done by an elephant, or a computer, or a hack painter?
  • 1) An elephant?
    This would depend on the sentience of the elephant (these creatures are said to be highly intelligent) and the patently conscious artistry with which he had expressed an intended idea or represented some object. (No. 3, below, may apply here.)

    2) A computer?
    No. Where there is no sentience there can be no art. That which itself is artificial cannot produce art.

    3) A hack painter?
    This is possible by accident, but not by intent. A hack painter, while he may be sentient, is lacking the gifts of poetry and the acute perception of spiritual or philosophical categories inherent in his object which are necessary to create art.
  • A moment of confused identity...but, lifting my self-imposed ban on being in discussions where the word, SIMULCRA, appears as I have made my living with them and pipe organs both...and respect both equally.

    The AGO demonstrated long ago that it has no intellectual spine.

    You didn't know it was full organists?
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,069
    Elephant, painting. Make of it what you will.
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  • I do not mean at all to disparage my friend, Noel. His contributions to church music and education are well known and worthy of praise. Still, I can't quite accept that making one's living from a given pursuit necessarily legitimises that pursuit or its products. Being a salesman or an employee in other facets of such an industry requires certain gifts of 'selling stuff' which may be totally unrelated to that 'stuff's' worth or integrity. Indeed, a professional salesman may work this week for company A, and find himself lauding company B's products a month from now.

    An extreme example of this axiom is the well-known fact that the tobacco industry is subsidised and protected in this country, in spite of the evils attendant upon the use of its products, because poor Virginia farmers (not to mention slick businessmen and -women in their posh quarters) rely on it to 'make a living'. It never occurs to anyone that they should very well find another means of support for their poor little unprincipled selves.

    A simulacrum is a thing that is an imitation of and substitutes for something else. It is simply calling a thing what it is. This ought not be offensive to an intellectually honest person - unless he or she has a vested interest which is threatened by candid reality. Sorry! These digital synthesisers simply are not organs. Their relationship to an organ is that of a simulacrum. Managing to get them on the front cover of The American Organist doesn't alter that bald reality.

    The AGO's blessing of the organ simulacrum industry is music to their ears, and they will no doubt chortle with unblirdled glee all the way to the bank with its fruits. Meanwhile, this does nothing at all for organs.

    This is nothing more than a matter of intellectual and moral honesty.

    What we need in this country is a real guild of real organists and real church musicians.
  • jefe
    Posts: 200
    There was a list of products that were 'going away' on a network news program around New Years. Added to the long list which long ago included buggy whips were pipe organs. Sad. I spearheaded the Organ Committee 40 years ago and our church bought a beautifully voiced, ( I do mean, really awesomely voiced) 834 pipe, 13 rank electro pneumatic, 2-manual, non lead pipe organ. Later were added some extras like a resultant stop, and a softer string stop. It was a beauty, chuff and all. On June 4th, Jeanie and I will return to the Downey Moravian Church to attend the closing service. The Church will be closing its doors and the property sold. Since we are 500 miles away, I'm not in on what will become of the pipe organ. Time marches on, whether we're there or not.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    What we need in this country is a real guild of real organists and real church musicians.

    We don't exist in the numbers we once did. That limits our influence.

    Meanwhile, this does nothing at all for organs.

    As a practical matter, I have played whatever they had wherever I worked. It is difficult to get anyone to think long term. When you tell a pastor that a pipe organ can be repaired in 100 years and used for another 100, they don't think that far ahead. The building may be closed or abandoned by then. The priest's tenure may not extend beyond the next 5 years. Passing problems along to a successor is the easy way out. I have heard some of them say issues are something the next pastor can deal with. Given all this, buying the digital is easier - I don't think it is really cheaper - than making the commitment it takes to buy a good pipe instrument. We live in the throwaway society and it affects everything, including organs.
  • ...the next pastor can deal with...

    Ah, yes.
    Who was it who said apres moi le deluge?
    His successor died on the guillotine if I remember correctly -
    in un deluge de sang, to be precise!
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  • what a tired old subject.
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  • dad29
    Posts: 2,160
    are no organs at all.

    Yes. One of this area's best organists refers to them as "toasters."

    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • dad29
    Posts: 2,160
    What we need in this country is a real guild of real organists and real church musicians.

    Start with the 'musicians' part and the organists will follow.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    Something like this would have to be handled very carefully. Who really wants another NPM?
  • ...refers to them as "toasters."

    I've heard that before.
    It's cute, but not, I think, as potent and unarguable as 'simulacrum'.
    This much is sure: if these pernicious folk and their fake organs succeeded in making 'toast' of the organ building craft, they'd shed nary a tear as their bank accounts swelled.
    A pox upon their house.

    Who really wants another NPM?

    Heaven forbid!!!
    I did say real organists and real church musicians.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,372
    I just logged on this site to make a comment about the AGO magazine, and I see that Randolph has already done it!
    a SAD, SAD, SAD day for the AGO. Down the tubes.
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  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,372
    Quote form the article:
    "Someone asked "where are the pipes"
    Answer: They are in France.
    Thanked by 2eft94530 CharlesW
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,105
    Passing problems along to a successor is the easy way out. I have heard some of them say issues are something the next pastor can deal with.

    The issue of long-term is missing, especially when in most places "Pastors" are really only glorified Administrators, having only a term of six years. Six years. Another symptom of the degradation of society: how can you have a healthy family where there is a new father every six year? You can't. This is another reason why the church in the USA is falling apart: we all get a new spiritual father every six years, which destroys the coherence of the parochial family, just as revolving fathers and baby daddies destroy the coherence of the "nucular" family.

    But I digress...
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,241
    Couldn't agree more, Salieri. We need more pastoral stability in order to truly build anything worthwhile that won't just be swept away due to the whim of the next boss.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,937
    I said the exact same thing to a Bishop during an interview years ago as he was being "moved"
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  • I said the exact same thing to...

    And he said?

    And, Salieri is quite right -
    except that I would not want it to be thought that the only derelicts in the nuclear family are 'revolving fathers and baby daddies'. There is no shortage of derelict mothers. And, the last I heard, the sole voice in the murder of unborn children is the mother's - whether the father likes it or not.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    We need more pastoral stability in order to truly build anything worthwhile ...

    I agree. My parish was blessed in having the pastor before last for 38 years. The last pastor was there for 17 years. That created great stability in the parish. We were lucky.
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  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,105
    True, Jackson: but we don't have women priests... Though, I suppose a comparison could be made between the crisis of motherhood in the nuclear family and the "good sisters" abandoning the formation of children in Catholic Schools and Parochial Catechetical Programs.
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  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,601
    The inside story:

    The cover of the TAO magazine is expensive to purchase. For years it has been exclusively pipe organs, many, if not all, built by members of a fine, conservative pipe organ builders association.

    When no builder presented a pipe organ for the cover, the involved builders received a letter from TAO - and none of them responded with a pipe organ ad, fully knowing that it would be sold on the open market, as the letter made clear.

    The TAO has always accepted advertising throughout the magazine by builders of organs in general, but up to this date the cover has always been reserved for pipe instruments.

    This is not a cultural shift in the AGO, but rather the decision by pipe organ builders not to present themselves on the front cover.
  • Well, in that case, TAO should have found something else to put on the cover!
    This is an undoubted coup for the organ simulacrum industry - like inviting an unworthy tyrant to a state banquet at Buckingham palace and the White House (which has happened in the case of a certain oriental communist in the not-too-distant past).
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  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,601
    As a loyal, supporting member of the AGO, they will listen to your counsel.

    (Font color=undecided)
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    I am a long-time AGO member. Over the years, I have watched them cave on nearly every moral or social issue along with their left-leaning, liberal Protestant members. AGO now supports all the degeneracy and decadence one would find in any ECUSA church. My local fellow members were quite shocked when I told them there was a snowball's chance in hell my parish would support some items in their code of ethics that we appropriately label as sin.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 274
    degeneracy and any ECUSA church.

    In ANY Episcopal church? Are you sure?

    In any case, this seems unnecessarily harsh and somewhat gratuitous. The good folks for whom I currently work walk with God as much as my former Catholic employers, though misguided on some issues you may believe then to be.

    I take your point, although I have sympathy for the AGO's positions—they are not a Catholic organization, but rather serve professionals in a broad range of settings.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    No, AGO is not Catholic and never was. ECUSA, yep they, for the most part, have drunk the Kool-Aid the liberal left promotes. There are other Episcopal bodies outside ECUSA that adhere more closely to traditional Christian practices. We have some of them in my area and I give them high marks - no pun intended - for holding to their beliefs.
  • Kevin814
    Posts: 41
    To get back to the original topic -- let's remember that the organization bills itself as the American Guild of Organists, not the American Guild of Pipe Organists. Many of its members play on digital instruments...some of them reluctantly, others wholeheartedly embracing the possibilities that the technology opens up.

    Although I prefer pipes by a long shot, I don't see why makers of digital instruments shouldn't be able to advertise on the cover, and why the magazine's readers shouldn't be allowed to decide for themselves whether pipes or digital is superior.
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  • I cannot but affirm Charles' estimation of the AGO. It isn't what it started out as. It isn't and for many years hasn't been just a guild of serious organists. It long ago opened its membership to the most tenuous of organ amateurs and afficianados. It even considers theatre organ buffs to be worthy of membership! Nowadays, it even prevaricates on what an organ is, has long ago accepted advertisements from those who are the nemesis of organbuilding - why, it even seriously debates whether their synthetic instruments are organs at all. It has no scholarly integrity and its journal, TAO, is most likely the most boring and worthless (most of the time) journal published by any learned society on this earth. Once in a while there may be an article of serious or scholarly interest - most of the time not. And now, philistines that we are, we even sell our cover to the highest bidder - even to organ builders' existential nemesis.

    It isn't likely that I'll renew my membership next year.

    The American Guild of Organists is no longer what it says it is.
    An organ is an organ.
    No pipes speaking by wind = no organ.
    It's that simple.

  • Kevin814
    Posts: 41
    I dunno...I have a feeling that if next month's cover featured a vintage harmonium, you wouldn't be quite so distraught.

    And again, the organization doesn't bill itself as the American Guild of Serious Organists. Maybe that's just not what it wants, notwithstanding your opinion of what its purpose ought to be.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    I have noted earlier that our local AGO chapter membership is dropping. Is this the case nationwide? I haven't seen any national figures.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    Yellow square. Head for the shelters. ;-)
  • It is, I think, typical, Charles, that organisations that are facing demographic or professional decline will 'broaden' their horizons, loose their not-after-all-cherished integrity and become mere shadows of their former selves. This happens in the music world, the religious-church world, and in many other worlds. A point is reached at which perceived survival is more important than faithfulness to original founding principles or beliefs. It never occurs to those who engineer these morphologies that the name that is retained has little or no relation to what the organisation has become, that it really isn't what the name implies. Sometimes, as in the case of the AGO, this means a tacit duplicity by which words mean whatever we can conjure them to mean. Honesty would suggest that the name should be changed to reflect morphed reality - but, such intellectual honesty is rare.

    Alas, the organ world has company in this regard. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, several months ago when, reading an issue of The International Pianist at B&N's coffee shop, there appeared a page on which none other than Benjamin Grosvenor was waxing strong about the virtues of a certain brand of synthetic piano. This would be the equivalent, say, of Hans Davidsson or Robert Bates (handsomely bought, of course) appearing in one of rodger's slick advertisements in TAO. And, of course, neither of these scholars, nor their ilk, would stoop so low.

    As far, Charles, as declining membership, I cannot say. The Houston chapter is certainly flourishing, and others, at least in major cities and areas, seem to be flourishing as well.
  • >> No pipes speaking by wind = no organ. It's that simple.

    OK (raising flame shield) ..... so no one is to ever have a digital camera, or take pictures on their phones, because no film to be developed = no photographs.

    Maybe it is that No pipes speaking by wind = no *pipe* organ. No argument there.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,921
    [Admin note]

    Hey, folks, some of the talk on this thread has really been over the top. Is it really beneficial to your work to post insults about other music organizations, or about churches you don't belong to?

    That sort of talk does not represent the CMAA, or its board, or the members in general.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,676
    As I have indirectly noted before, very few of us actually buy the church instruments we play. Whether pipe or digital, it is what it is. We play it if we want to work there. So yes, I prefer the pipe organ and am lucky enough to have one. Other organists may not be so fortunate, but do the best job they can with what they have.
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