The problem is that there are fewer and fewer organists and even fewer students. Many colleges have closed down their organ major due to lack of students. And many organists don't even have one student, and many of the students are older (not children or teenagers).
If this trend continues, I predict that in many cities and towns, there will be no organists for the Catholic churches within 20 years.
It's a darn hard instrument to learn! I'm a very good pianist and often play piano for Mass. (I'm 55 years old.)
I've been taking pipe organ lessons for a little over a year now, and I still can only play 3 hymns, and they are pretty bad. I am still unable to accompany singing on the organ. My feet on the pedals still sound very clumsy--most misses than hits. I can play a few Bach preludes and fugues, and I have been playing these as postludes for the Mass. But honestly, my repertoire is extremely limited.
My lessons cost $250/month--how many families could afford to pay this for a young child or several children? Yes, I have the best teacher in my city, but even a less-experienced teacher will charge at least $50.00 hour. And the music is very expensive, too. And most people don't have an organ in their homes, so this means practicing in a church or university chapel, and in some cases, I'm sure that there is a rental fee for this.
Heck, it's almost as expensive as figure skating! :rolleyes:
Some people on CAF have said that it's better to play the organ "badly" in Mass rather than playing the piano skillfully. I totally disagree with this. I think that part of the reason why Catholic Mass music is often so unpleasant is that over the last few decades, the parishes have allowed less-than-excellent musicians to play/sing/conduct less-than-excellent music.
I think it's fine for inexperienced children and teenagers to sing/play during Mass, so that they can gain experience and skill. But I think that it's wrong for an organist like me to play for the hymns just so that the Mass will have organ instead of piano or guitar. I would refuse to do it (unless someone was dying and it was their last request), and I think many other good musicians would refuse to play/sing when they are not capable of doing so with at least some level of basic skill. A badly-played organ does not honor the Lord or help the congregation concentrate on worshipping and receiving Jesus Christ.
So the answer to the OP is--MORE STUDENTS! This is my challenge to parents--get your kids into organ lessons. And to all Catholics--if you want organ music in the Mass, seek ways to help recruit more students, and if possible, offer to help families pay for their children to take lessons and learn to play the organ.
I personally think that Catholic parish schools should offer organ lessons during the school day. This would mean hiring an organ teacher (the parish organist, if there is one? Although not all organists/pianists teach lessons--I don't teach piano, even though I'm a very good pianist.) This would also mean scheduling practice times during the school day or evening for the organ students, and this could get tricky, since there are often funerals during the day at parishes.
But c'mon--we gotta give a little to get a little! I have learned that in the past, nuns gave piano lessons in the parish schools. Why not start up this very good tradition again, only it probably wouldn't be nuns, but Lutheran organ teachers. :)
There is one more problem that was dealt with thoroughly in another thread earlier this summer (2012)--the Catholic parishes generally do not offer competitive pay to musicians, and the few good organists that are available generally play at Protestant (mainly mainline, or "old" denominations) churches, where they receive a much more realistic salary. I would like to see the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. deal with this question across the boards, and adopt some basic salary policies for parishes and their musicians. I realize that small town parishes will not be able to pay as much as the large city and university parishes, and that's fine--an organist living in a small town does not expect to receive the same salary as an organist living in a metro area. But I think that some basic guidelines would be a good idea so that the parishes could attract organists back to the Catholic church intstead of seeing them immigrate to the Protestants churches. PLEASE--everyone remember that musicians have to make a living--they can't be "volunteering" their skills too often or they will not make enough money to make a living. Would YOU volunteer your welding skills or your waitressing skills?