Classical Pipe Organs Making a Comeback

ByABC News
June 20, 2003, 10:32 AM

N E W   Y O R K, June 22 -- To hear Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor on the kind of organ for which it was written is true joy to Kent Tritle.

"That has been, for many people, an entree into the organ," he says. "They say, 'Oh, well, I'd like to learn more about Bach,' and then they get hooked."

Tritle, an organist in New York, says everyone has had the organ pegged wrong.

"The general misconception in the public is that the organ is a boring instrument and is played in funeral parlors," Tritle says.

But suddenly, that's changing. While the pop charts are dominated by Pink and Eminem, cities with concert halls including Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Philadelphia are spending millions of dollars on old-fashioned pipe organs.

"I don't think an organist is going to be headlining the Grammys anytime soon," says Ken Cowan, an organist. "But I think that within the classical genre, it can be definitely mainstream."

People are falling back in love with a sound that had fallen out of favor for almost a century.


But as the giant instruments of classical music have been making a comeback, there has been a shortage of professional organists. They aren't paid very much, and there has been a declining number of students over the years.

The building of these behemoths also can be difficult an art as arcane as wood-carving, or metal work, or, for that matter, computer-aided design.

But there's nothing arcane about the sound.

"There's no reason why the organ shouldn't be considered a contemporary, modern instrument," said Craig Whitney, author of All The Stops, a book about the organ. "The public is coming to see it as something you can listen to."

As people crowded into a concert in Philadelphia earlier this month, one fan said, "With everything going on in the world, we are reaching more and more for beauty."

ABCNEWS' Ned Potter contributed to this report.