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John Tabler (above) plays the historic 1928 E.M. Skinner pipe organ at First Presbyterian. The instrument was completely restored in two phases, in 2008 and 2011. “It looks like and acts like it did in its original 1928 condition,” he says. Sara Bryant (right), the organist at Basilica Shrine of St. Mary, is looking forward to the Christmas season and carols like “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” “They sound really good on the organ,” she says. The instrument, originally installed in 1914, had fallen into disrepair and was on the verge of being replaced by an electronic organ in the late 1980s, but thanks in large part to parishioner Oand Wilmington Symphony Orchestra board member Lorraine Westermark, the church decided to repair, renovate and enlarge it. ver the past few decades, membership in the American Guild of Organists has declined. The AGO’s magazine states the number of students seeking a mas-ter’s degree in organ performance in the United States fell nearly 14 percent from 2012 to 2013. Data compiled by the College Music Society also shows fewer students entering bach-elor’s programs. Add in the prevalence of churches adopting contemporary forms of worship with electric keyboards, guitars and drums, and the cost of installing and maintaining a pipe organ, and it’s no wonder the once ubiquitous instrument is now comparatively rare. Still, organists are not ready to associate the word “dying” with their art. “It’s still vibrant,” says Sara Bryant, who plays an organ origi-nally installed in 1914 at Basilica Shrine of St. Mary. “With the decline in the number of mainline Protestant folks there are fewer than there used to be. A pipe organ is a huge investment for any church. A small church wouldn’t be able to afford it. But there are still a lot. There are great lovers of the organ.” Organ proponents cite the instrument’s ability to convey a vast range of sounds and emotions. During an organ blessing in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI said it “gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the mag-nificence of God.” Its pipes can sound like flutes, or strings, or trumpets, or even tubas, French horns, oboes, and clarinets. “It’s melodic,” says Judy Siebold, the organist at Grace United Methodist since 2004. “It can be dynamic. It can be nice and slow, soft and beautiful. I love flute stuff.” Organists like Tabler, who has been playing for more than 35 years, 17 of those at First Presbyterian, are happy to enthusiastically educate neophytes and hold lengthy discourses about the mechanics of the organ. Some can easily pass over the head of beginners, but this is the gist. The sound is produced by air passing through the pipes. The 50 WBM december 2015


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