Sunday mornings can be very interesting in the Tappan household, depending on the amount of sleep our boys granted us the previous night and on the speed at which we can locate all shoes and socks. If it was a really great night, we might attend the earliest Mass as a family, when I play the organ, as opposed to the later Masses when I direct the choirs. On these days, our oldest son knows that he gets to sit with dad at the organ bench and turn on the organ and pull stops, something he really enjoys and does fairly well. Talk about proud dad moments! Sometimes I have to remind myself that he is only three years old. This was somewhat comically brought home to me last December during a Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when he decided to make his organ playing debut.
He sat next to me as I softly accompanied the psalm verses of the Responsorial Psalm, waiting for me to point to a stop and give him the signal to pull. All of a sudden he dropped a pencil he had been holding in his hand and my world went into slow motion as I watched him jump down onto the pedals (of course I had some loud pedal stops pull out for the psalm refrain) to retrieve it. I immediately when into one-handed playing mode (perfected several years before when I broke my elbow) and grabbed for him frantically with my other hand. My wife jumped up from her pew, still nursing our youngest son, to do the same, while the cantor struggled to get through the verse without chuckling. Father told me he, too, had to chuckle when he looked up at the choir loft and saw what was going on.
I bring up this story because it relates to the vicissitudes of one of the forgotten duties of the parish organist—recruiting more organists. We all know there aren’t many. I remember listening several years ago as a priest told me in desperation he couldn’t even find a guitarist to strum three chords at his parish, much less an organist. If we want organists for the Church in the future, we must recruit them. When a young child comes up and shyly watches you playing your postlude, do you invite him to try push down a few keys when you are finished or do you just close up shop? Do you pull out the trumpet stop and tell him to press down the lowest pedal note and hold it? Do you tell him to try out the swell pedal and watch as the shades open and close? When you ask him if he wants to run his fingers over the keys and instead he plays the first few notes of Fuer Elise to hear what it sounds like, do you immediately chide him for playing secular music in church or do you ask God to understand that it is one of His little ones excitedly trying out the big “piano” in church? Do you offer to teach organ playing to children in your parish who possess a decent piano proficiency (and no, there is nothing wrong with requiring remuneration for this)? If mothers and fathers stopped having children, family life would die in one generation. What will you do to keep the art of organ playing alive?