Pope Francis On Organists

I saw this and I thought these were very wise and inspirational words. Part of a speech from 12-31-13 before a delegation of organists.

Dear brothers and sisters,

I would like to affirm my esteem for you before everyone, to pay my respects to your achievements, and, if possible, to repair the unjust way society treats you.

Indeed, it is necessary to recognize that you are an ignored group. Even the place where you exercise your art is hidden, invisible to the great masses who, moreover, ignore you or don’t pay attention to you. Our modern times, infected as they are with materialism, become delirious with sports heroes, frantically applaud the gods of the cinema, but they don’t know how to appreciate your noble art, which unfolds itself in the sphere of the most pure spiritual values. Few clap for you; rarely is there someone who gives you a compliment for a piece which you have so laboriously prepared and played with your entire soul.

You are a badly rewarded group. Let’s leave aside the arguments which are always odious; but it is certain that you have chosen (and I say this to your praise) a branch of the musical art which is presently probably the most unselfish.

However, you are a group of great worth. You render a precious service to the Church, you have a role of primary importance in the unfolding of the sacred liturgy, you have a beneficial influence on the soul and spirit of the faithful. Because entire congregations, even against their inclination, are exposed to your actions and many profound and noble impulses from your soul, they are indebted to you who, with your harmonies, touch the most intimate fibers of the heart, and bring to life in them feelings of adoration and aspiration to goodness.

You are a glorious group. When doing your job, you are so close to the Lord! In a way, you also, like the priest, are the delegates and representatives of an entire people and you praise the Lord in their name: you gather together all the voices, all the lamentations, all the sighs of the faithful, and you express them to God through the voice of the organ, sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, sometimes weak, sometimes mighty.

I have addressed this deserved testament of my esteem to you with all my heart. And now, permit me to make some recommendations to you. Truly, as noble as your art is, it also imposes great responsibilities upon you. What are they?

They can be boiled down to two: good technical preparation and an ardent sense of responsibility.
I am quickly going over the first: it is natural that the organist must be versed in his art and consequently have studied enough (there is never enough!), and that he must constantly stay in practice, in order not to decline from one day to the next.

I insist on the second: the sense of responsibility. I just spoke of the power exercised by your music upon the spirit of the faithful: if the organ cries, they experience a feeling of sadness; if it explodes with solemn and triumphant sounds, they feel overcome with a festive atmosphere. It is an honor, but also a heavy responsibility. The organist must draw from his instrument the most sweet and the most celestial melodies. But what can one say, if he draws instead secular songs and ditties? Or if, giving himself over to inspiration, which he perhaps possesses—or does not possess because of insufficient technical preparation—he tries to improvise, deforming the rhythms, using poor melodies, without skill, strained, empty, monotonous, without life, and at times a dissonant joke? Thus, the organist makes a living by disturbing the solemnity of the rite, offending the sensibilities of the people present, by distressing them and troubling them.

The organist who is conscious of his duties will have taken care to diligently prepare his pieces (and not trust himself to a stuttering and deformed way of tearing into them), choosing from the truly artistic and sacred musical repertoire [pieces] worthy of the Church and of the sacred liturgy.

I alluded to improvisation.

I pray you, dear organists, with all my heart, I beg you not to yield too easily to the temptation to improvise. Leave improvising to those who have exceptional natural gifts and a well prepared technique. Be humble; and play [pieces]: even simple, they will at least be correct and have a certain logic and, thus, they will please the ear. But certain improvisations make one’s hair stand up.

I will say in conclusion that the organist, if he wants to discharge his role truly well, must be a person of faith and of prayer. Don’t open your eyes wide: it is true. If the sacred organist is not a person of faith and piety, he will be like someone who speaks a language without understanding it. His cold and conviction-free discourse will never be able to stir up intimate vibrations and spiritual trembling among listeners. If, on the other hand, he is a person who feels pious and religious faith at the bottom of his heart, he will bring to life a wave of piety in his listeners, he will elevate them in a divine atmosphere, will stimulate them to holy ideas, will inspire them to a holy discipleship which the Divine Judge will repay someday with abundance.

In the meantime, I wish that the talents put to the service of the Church by those among you who have accomplished professional study and earned an academic diploma from a conservatory or from our Pontifical Institutes of Sacred Music, should be fairly recognized from the financial point of view, according to the norms of canon 231 of the Code of Canon Law, for the greater benefit of the embellishment of the sacred liturgy, which is “the summit to which the Church’s activities aspire, and at the same time, the source from which all its energy flows.”

And now, with all my heart, I give you the apostolic blessing, and may it accompany you in your ministry and your profession as organists of the Church.

Pope Francis

What I loved about it, too, is that it could be incorporated for any part of the ministry as well as part of your every day dealings with life. While he praised organists, he also reminded them to not take their gifts and ministry for granted, to be responsible, to be a person of faith and prayer. I think that is so important because even the most talented individual, if not a faithful and prayerful person, will not convey the right sacred beauty and solemnity within the sacred music being rendered. I see this with organists or other instrumentalists who really have nothing to do with the Church or not even Catholic themselves. Or even well-trained singers who have beautiful voices, but do not understand or really respect the liturgy the way they should. They are only doing it for the money.

One of the music positions I once held actually went into length within a questionnaire as well as during my interview about my outlook on faith and spirituality. When I was offered the position, what sold them was that I wasn’t there just to show off my voice and for the salary they were paying me. They could see that I was doing it as a form of prayer and respect for the sacredness of the music. That wasn’t for a Catholic church, but I do think that is something Catholic churches should look for when auditioning and interviewing a candidate. I sometimes work for an organist at a Catholic church who is not Catholic and it’s very evident with how the liturgies are planned, that it has more to do with the music rather than the sacredness of it. Also, although this organist is well-trained, the organist does not take the hymns so seriously… not even the more high-art church music. I see that as an insult to the prayer and to God, as well as to the faith, itself.

Indeed, it is necessary to recognize that you are an ignored group. Even the place where you exercise your art is hidden, invisible to the great masses who, moreover, ignore you or don’t pay attention to you. Our modern times, infected as they are with materialism, become delirious with sports heroes, frantically applaud the gods of the cinema, but they don’t know how to appreciate your noble art, which unfolds itself in the sphere of the most pure spiritual values. Few clap for you; rarely is there someone who gives you a compliment for a piece which you have so laboriously prepared and played with your entire soul.

You are a badly rewarded group. Let’s leave aside the arguments which are always odious; but it is certain that you have chosen (and I say this to your praise)** a branch of the musical art which is presently probably the most unselfish.
**
However, you are a group of great worth. You render a precious service to the Church, you have a role of primary importance in the unfolding of the sacred liturgy, you have a beneficial influence on the soul and spirit of the faithful. Because entire congregations, even against their inclination, are exposed to your actions and many profound and noble impulses from your soul, they are indebted to you who, with your harmonies, touch the most intimate fibers of the heart, and bring to life in them feelings of adoration and aspiration to goodness.

You are a glorious group. When doing your job, you are so close to the Lord! In a way, you also, like the priest, are the delegates and representatives of an entire people and you praise the Lord in their name: you gather together all the voices, all the lamentations, all the sighs of the faithful, and you express them to God through the voice of the organ, sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, sometimes weak, sometimes mighty.

Loved that part!

I know… it really was such a beautiful address.

I’m glad someone said this. Organists are extremely under-rated and much isn’t written about them IMO.

It’s interesting that most youtube videos of organists and organ pieces are taken from inside Protestant churches.

This is circulating today online but there is NO proof this actually happened. The Holy Father did not speak before any group on New Years Eve 2013, and this is not to be found on any Vatican Zenit or otherwise Catholic outlet at any point, or in any search engine. It appeared today on Facebook on “the bad Church music” group and here now, so someone please give me an actual source. Thank you,.

Oh, that would be a shame if it wasn’t written by him. That said, it is still beautifully written and wonderful words of advice and inspiration… whoever wrote it. I’ll do some searching, myself.

Thanks for pointing that out.

:frowning: Well, it looks like it wasn’t from the Pope, unless this blog is also fake. It was from an Italian blog called “Liturgia & Musica” by Paolo Bottini. He wished that a pope would someday address the organists with those words. The speech originally appeared in a periodical from 1958 called “Lo Svegliarino Ceciliano”. Organists were addressed with such wisdom and beauty, but not by the Pope.

liturgiaetmusica.blogspot.com/2014/01/il-papa-agli-organisti.html

I’m sure my friend who sent it to me didn’t know this as well. I wish people would just be honest about where these speeches and quotes come from.

Sorry about that, people, but I hope that we could take something away from it as I still think they are powerful words.

Don’t worry about it. I’d get very excited if I heard or read that as well.

here is the actual header translated from the Italian -
Monday, January 13, 2014
What do I expect the Pope to tell organists
[How I wish that a Pope was addressing the organists of the church in these words!]

I’m not sure what the author is getting at with the comments about improvisations.

Improvisation is a part of organ technique and is taught by any college and/or instructor. The ability to improvise is a highly-valued skill among organists. There is a special section in the AGO magazine devoted to training in improvisation. My teacher works with me on the technique. I love listening to him improvise during hymns.

My personal feeling is that there is such a dearth of music education, and public knowledge of hymn-singing to organ accompaniment, that people get “confused” sometimes when an organist does an improvisation during the introduction of hymns, or between the verses, and so they stand there not knowing what’s going on. Also, of course, when a beginning organist like me tries the technique, it isn’t always clear because of lack of experience on my part.

But this doesn’t mean that the improvisation is flawed. It means that our ability to sing hymns is flawed, or that the organist needs more experience.

I would like to see more “hymn sings” done in Catholic parishes (not during Mass, of course) to give organists and congregations more opportunity to “practice” the beautiful skill of hymn singing/playing. I have been tempted to propose doing this at my parish every few months, or even monthly, on Sunday afternoons, and parishioners would be welcome to come in and sing the hymns that I have prepared to help me learn how to better play them and help the people to learn to better sing them. Not sure if the leadership would approve of this activity or not. :confused:

I like this quote

I will say in conclusion that the organist, if he wants to discharge his role truly well, must be a person of faith and of prayer.

Isn’t that so true, not just about organists but about all sorts of art involved in Church activities. The choir and cantors who accompany Mass. The composers who compose the songs and music. The artists and architects who build and decorate the Church building. Ideally these should not be doing their work as a job, but should doing it with all their heart and accompanied by prayer.

Too bad it’s not real. = (

OK, since it’s probably not “real,” here’s my challenge for everyone–this weekend after Mass, go thank your parish instrumentalists and let them know how you appreciate them.

I’m especially challenging those who dislike whatever instruments is(are) played at their Masses! Hey, c’mon–it’s easy to walk up and say, “Thanks!” to the person playing your favorite instrument (organ, piano, guitar, violin, whatever). But it’s a lot harder to say, with a smile, “Thank you!” to the person playing an instrument that you dislike! So gird up your loins and do it!

Good luck all!

(BTW, I’m playing piano for Saturday evening Mass at my parish! Looking forward to meeting you!) :smiley:

Not that easy if you have to climb up to the organ loft to do it. Just sayin…

I took it as advice to less gifted organists/musicians, to not attempt improvisations if you are not exceptionally gifted and don’t have a “well-prepared technique”

The author says here:

I pray you, dear organists, with all my heart, I beg you not to yield too easily to the temptation to improvise.* Leave improvising to those who have exceptional natural gifts and a well prepared technique. **Be humble; and play [pieces]: even simple, they will at least be correct and have a certain logic and, thus, they will please the ear. But certain improvisations make one’s hair stand up.*”

I’ve heard poorly done improvisations by less gifted organists and other less-gifted instrumentalists and they were difficult to listen to and if not done well, can be confusing to a regular person in the pews. This is very good advice for any musician. In my training and I’m sure in yours, good teachers advise to not attempt to perform in public certain pieces of repertoire or style that you haven’t mastered. When I had not mastered coloratura, I would have never dreamed to try to sing that kind of repertoire in front of an audience. The same as improvisation. It is an artform in it of itself and you have to be well-trained not just as an technician, but also as a musician to know what you are doing. On top of that, you have to have a good understanding of the sacred when doing these improvs so that they don’t become out of place for liturgy.

I think that is part of it. It is also a cultural religious thing. When I’ve worked as a ringer for high-church Episcopal or Anglican or Lutheran services, the congregation is very used to hearing improvisations during hymns or in between verses. They don’t even need cantors. On top of that the organists are usually top of the line, well-trained and can lead a congregation perfectly. In recent history of the Catholic Church, that has not been the case with music. (For instance, if it is true, the speech was originally published in 1958.)

Catholics don’t have a tradition of that kind of improvisation with hymns, although with more well-trained organists in Catholic churches there have always been and still is a tradition of improvisations not for the hymn… just instrumental improvs when no vocal or congregational music is being done. I had this conversation with some organists friends of mine years ago. Although they did instrumental improvs, they gave up on doing them for hymns because, culturally, Catholics were not used to hearing them done during hymns and it stopped them from singing. It will take a long time to change that within the Catholic culture.

I agree. It’s both. We need better organists who are both well-trained and use the organ as a instrument of prayer and spirituality, to revitalize an interest in playing the organ so that new generations will continue to play it for our masses. Someone who isn’t a master of any instrument will not inspire a high level prayer within a liturgical environment nor inspire an interest in learning the instrumentWe also need better music education in schools. That is something more difficult to attain since even the government has cut so much of the arts in the public schools. And private schools can only afford so much.

That would be a good idea. Give it a try.

:thumbsup: And not only within Church activities, but also in everyday life. Whoever wrote this was very wise.

Wow! That would sure be nice of Pope Francis had written this.

It is rather unfortunate that the organ seems to be coming less and less important in Catholic parishes these days, and that many Catholic churches don’t even have organs anymore. Yes, decent music can be done without an organ, but so many people don’t know or don’t realize what a good organist can bring to a parish. It can be so grand, solemn, or anything that Church music should rise in people during Mass.

Of course, I’m biased, because I’m becoming an organist. But most parishes that don’t have organs are parishes that were built recently, mostly after Vatican II, and I find it difficult to accept more modern-sounding hymns/music into Church music repertoire, which is what new parishes tend to have.

Some older churches have also lost their organs, or maybe still have them but cannot use them as they are lacking maintenance or don’t have anybody who can play them any more. It is always sad to see a beautiful organ fall into disuse.

I once attended a wedding where the music was played from a CD. I don’t want to come across as snobbish, but that makes me sad.

Great message!

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