Demographics and Changing Interests Lead to a Shortage of Church Organists | Don’t miss it

Climbing the stairs to the balcony of Grace Lutheran Church on any given Sunday brings you to Chuck Hoogland, who finds himself in his sixtieth year playing the pipe organ.

He thought he would be done with his beloved instrument once he reached his sixties – perhaps, he thought, he would play for church services until he was 65. organ bench.

“You can’t do without them because there are so few,” he said recently of the number of local organists. “There is such a need. There are just not many of us anymore.

Hoogland’s predicament is partly due to the fact that a decreasing number of young people are learning to play the king of instruments. The American Guild of Organists is concerned that too few new musicians will be around to take over the roles of longtime church musicians.

At the current rate of decline, the organization projects that its membership will more than halve by 2045.

At the current rate of decline, the organization projects that its membership will more than halve by 2045.

Chad Winterfeldt, a music professor at Gustavus Adolphus College who specializes in organ, said four to eight students enroll in his studio classes each semester. Over the past 20 years, he said, music programs have seen a marked decline in the number of students majoring in organ studies.

College students may not have seen the organ as a primary instrument during worship services, he said. Pianos and guitars featured in praise bands have become more popular.

Although the complexity and intimidating appearance of the pipe organ appealed to Winterfeldt, it may drive others away.






The organ of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. Built in 1976, the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists lists the organ as the largest in Mankato.




Most church organs have three manuals for the hands and a fourth for the feet. The shoes are specially designed for pressing on long wooden pedals.

The organist sits on a bench surrounded on either side by a panel of knobs or knobs called stops, which can be pulled out or pressed to control the sound and volume of the instrument. The trademark hum emits from a network of hundreds or thousands of pipes, the shapes and sizes of which alter the sound of the air passing through them when a keyboard is pressed.

No matter how a person reacts, however, chances are they first encountered the instrument in a church. Several local actors claim that less exposure during religious ceremonies contributes to the drop in the number of people choosing to become a professional organist.

Hoogland’s path to the instrument began in church, where he loved its resonant sound, and blossomed into a business that eclipsed half a century.

“It wasn’t long after my day when there was no more cycle of organists,” Hoogland said.

As a Marine enlisted in the Vietnam War, Hoogland said he played about five church services every Sunday and averaged two memorial services a week.

However, he understands that there are several obstacles to learning the trade and his profession.

Essentially, you need to have access to a church to practice this imposing and expensive instrument.

And lower salaries mean that playing the organ in a church or synagogue is the main source of income for only two in five active players, according to the AGO survey.







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Grace Kunkel, who plays the largest organ in Mankato at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, is a rarity among professional organists for her youth. She is 29 years old.




Grace Kunkel, 29, is the dean of the local AGO and plays the largest organ in Mankato at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church. The church pays her a salary of $32,000, she said.

Kunkel’s youth makes her a rarity, a fact that was advantageous when applying for the church.

“What really, really appeals to me about the organ is just its versatility,” she said. “And just the range of dynamics and tones – it’s like having an orchestra at your fingertips.”

She said that of the dozen musicians who graduated from her side, about half are now full-time organists.

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