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COLM CAREY reflects on the fortunes of the organ


The instrument which poet Nicholas Brady (1659 - 1726) described as a 'Wondrous Machine' has a history and repertoire which stretches further back than most, and it would seem appropriate in this millennium year to reflect on the fortunes of the organ and ask why there has been such a plummet in the popularity of this extraordinary instrument.

The organ has fulfilled many roles throughout the ages. By the beginning of the twentieth century, it was for many in Britain the only access to what is now mainstream orchestral repertoire. Due to the lack of large orchestras, people flocked to town halls in order to hear the virtuosi of the day play their own transcriptions of music that was popular at the time. With the advent of the moving picture, and the subsequent development of the cinema organ, the organ was at an all time high.

Perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when looking at the slow demise of the organ in the latter half of the twentieth century is sociological rather than musical. The secularisation of society during the last fifty years has meant fewer and fewer people regularly attending church. It is not easy, therefore, for people to come into contact with the organ, as the only other place you are likely to come across one is in a concert hall, and there the organ spends more time adorning the wall behind the stage than actually being played! For those who do go to church, their experience is quite often not a good one - sometimes you cannot even see the organ, and when the organist strikes up with the first hymn, he plays far too slowly and never breathes...... Thus, it is not difficult to see why many have been given a false impression of the instrument, and have even become frightened of it over time.

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Copyright © 13 June 2000 Colm Carey, UK



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