SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The pipe organ has ruled the Christian worship sanctuary for centuries, and the majestic instrument continues to reign supreme in many Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant parishes.
It's a tougher sell for congregations moving toward contemporary worship.
The growth in praise-band led services, combined with a nationwide shortage of qualified organists, is prompting many congregations to leave pipe organs out of their construction plans.
Jerry Aultman thinks that's a mistake.
The longtime organist and music professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological said the pipe organ doesn't need to be relegated to funerals and weddings, and it fits nicely into modern worship when used in the right way.
“We shouldn't abandon the organ in contemporary music styles,” said Aultman, who plays each Sunday at First Baptist Church in Dallas. “The organ is a wonderful instrument to blend in with any kind of instrumental ensemble. It can fill in a lot of holes in the sound.”
The pipe organ, which dates to the third century B.C., “has always been the choice for churches who want one musician to fill the room with sound,” South Dakota organ builder John Nordlie said.
The instrument has been considered expensive throughout its history, with current price tags ranging from $100,000 to well into the millions. But pipe organs hold their value and can last for generations if they're well-designed and well-maintained, he said.
Nordlie crafted his first instrument in 1977 for a church in Appleton, Minn., and has built nearly 50 organs in his Sioux Falls shop. Each part is handcrafted, from the wood and metal pipes that turn airflow into notes to the ornate cabinetry that houses the massive structures.
Although electronic and digital instruments can try to emulate the sound of wind being pushed through pipes, “they will never match the sound of the pipe organ,” he said.