letters | on the venerable church organ

Organist sounds a bitter note

Jennifer Graham’s screed against organs betrays an ignorance of music and currents in sacred music practice (no serious organist takes Cameron Carpenter seriously). However, the fundamental point is that Graham seems to blame the organ itself for the Roman Catholic Church’s colossal failure, since Vatican II, to devise a viable body of quality hymnody or to show any respect for its own glorious musical tradition or the skills of trained musicians.

I speak from bitter experience as an organist. The attitude of Roman Catholic leadership toward musicians is usually punitive at best. Organists are routinely tyrannized by so-called music directors who insist on practices violently antithetical to congregational singing, and who hold up trite rubbish as “relevant” music.

Add to this the fact that organs in Catholic churches have generally been allowed to fall into ruin or been replaced by horrible impostor electronics, and that cantors are chosen for reasons other than ability to sing, and it’s no wonder Graham is distressed by the grinding misery of the responsorial psalm.


I offer her an invitation to visit a church that has not made a 50-year project out of vandalizing its own tradition, and to open her ears to the glory of a fine instrument played by a skilled liturgical musician in a liturgy that maintains a shred of dignity. If she’s deaf to to what she hears then, there’s no hope for her.

Douglas Witte