3 “M”s: Music, Membership and Money
As I write this at the end of the week when the “new” 2022-2023 Seattle Chapter AGO board had it first meeting, I think of three “M”s: Music, Membership, and Money. I was looking thru the Well-Tempered Future Convention program and noted the packed week of wonderful concerts and workshops. These are inspirations to us as musicians and organists in particular.
Our ability to make music is highly dependent on places to do so, and for the majority of us, these are churches. Unfortunately, churches in general are in decline in the United States. In an internet article published by the American Survey Center in March of this year, the authors write: “American religious identity has experienced nearly three decades of consistent decline. But this roughly linear trend masks significant generational variation in religious identity. Research has consistently shown that every generation of adults is somewhat less religious than the generation that preceded it. This pattern continues with Generation Z demonstrating less attachment to religion than the millennial generation did.” Wikipedia reports that in 2020, 47% of Americans belonged to a church, down from 70% in 1999. I can personally observe that over the years the average age of those in the pews at our local churches is increasing and that attendance both in worship and in choirs is decreasing.
Churches have attempted to deal with declining worship attendance in a variety of ways, including the introduction of “modern music” that typically does not involve an organ or choir. A large protestant church on the East Side has simultaneous “modern” and “traditional” services. Pastors can have significant influence on the direction of music in churches and sometimes have taken action that they believe would encourage increased church attendance or that would reduce the cost of staff supporting those declining services and the associated reductions in church budgets. I can think of several churches in our area that have closed entirely since I came to Seattle in the late 90s, and at our board meeting there was some discussion that a rather large local church with a significant organ is considering selling their valuable downtown property, as others have over the last 10 years.
While church membership is down, our chapter membership remains strong reported at 207 members. Our chapter is also in good financial shape with adequate funding of our annual expenses and donated funds set aside for unrestricted usage. From a professional perspective, the number of “full time” jobs for organists is limited, and a number of our members hold jobs at more than one church. The good news is that there are a number of positions open as listed in this newsletter, and there are still opportunities for our members to serve as organists in regular public performances. We should do so in a professional manner that serves our craft well. I hope to see many of you in person as we recover from the pandemic and are able to assemble at programs being planned by our Dean Elect and his Program Committee.
Sunday, September 18,3:00 pm Dedicatory Recital of Ortloff Organ Opus 2 Aaron David Miller, Organist
September AGO Event
Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, 722 N. 145th St. Shoreline, WA 98133 Please join Saint Dunstan’s and host Susanna Valleau in celebrating the completion and dedication of the new Ortloff organ with a recital played by Aaron David Miller. Aaron David Miller is a renowned organ improviser and composer having won numerous international awards and given concerts across the country. Dr. Miller was recently the winner of the 2021 Ronald G. Pogorzelski and Lester D. Yankee Annual Composition Competition. His orchestra works have been performed by such ensembles as the Seattle Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Zurich Symphony, and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Recent composition commissions include works for Yale University, University of California Santa Barbara, The Taylor Organ Competition, and the Bach Chamber Players of St. Paul, MN. His organ, choral and orchestra compositions are published by Augsburg Fortress, Paraclete Publishing and Oxford University Press. Dr. Miller was a featured artist at the National AGO convention held in Houston, TX of 2016. Seattle Chapter Young Organist Natalie (Nat) Bartels is moving to Scotland’s University of St Andrew’s to study for a PhD in English with a focus on Word and Music Studies in decadent catholic writers of the British fin de siècle, (a French term meaning “end of century” especially the 19th century.) The University of St Andrew’s is in Fife and was founded in 1413. It is the oldest of the four ancient universities of Scotland. The others are Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee. Following Oxford and Cambridge, St. Andrew’s is the third oldest university in the English-speaking world.