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The Reed Organ.


Let this be a plea for the despised reed organ; not to make it appear to be that which it is not, but simply to give it credit for that which it is.

Do you ask, what can be done with the reed organ? And do you say, nothing? You don’t care to use sandstone for the statue in your parlor, yet you prefer it for the foundation of your house. You do not derive your literature, your science, your philosophy from a series of common-school readers, and yet they served you well in your childhood. You don’t found your system of theology on “Now I lay me down to sleep,” but you acknowledge that the prayer on your baby lips helped to make your present religious state possible. We are too apt to despise our own small beginnings, or at least to underrate them very much. How many of you, teachers, did not press out your first faltering tones on the keys of a melodeon or reed organ? And you have been measurably successful upon such a meagre beginning; why should not others, if circumstances forbid their having a better one?

True, the reed organ has proved itself a nuisance, in a variety of ways to many a progressive teacher; and I confess to having found it burdensome at times, although, far from disliking the instrument. But, circumscribed and unsatisfactory as it is in many respects, it is with us, and around us, and in a sense, upon us, and we must make the best of it. City teachers may be exempt from this obligation, but it is certainly incumbent upon those of us who are in smaller colleges, towns and rural districts.

The American people are music loving, and will have music if it must be furnished by a mouth organ; but it is not the fault of these same Americans that each one of these mouth organs is not a concert grand piano or an organ that is worthy of the name; for they are ambitiously progressive, and as rapidly as finances will permit, they advance through the intervening grades toward the most perfect instruments man’s skill can produce. Nevertheless, in many humble homes, musical aspirations are never permitted to soar beyond the scope of the cabinet organ. And, again, in many homes, the organ is but a short-lived precursor of the piano, the parents not feeling justified in investing the required sum of money in a piano, until their children have given some evidence of taste or aptitude for the study of music. A pernicious practice, perhaps some think; but I am not prepared to say that it is altogether evil; for I contend that he who plays the piano and nothing but the piano, misses much of real beauty. Practically, what does such a one know of the sustained power of a note, or the force of a swelled note? What use for or knowledge of the various tone qualities produced by combinations of stops has he? And it is the single ones here and there who go on to the pipe organ, while it is the hundreds who never get beyond the piano. Hence it is, that if these things are to be a part of their musical experience, they must be obtained from the reed organ.

Perhaps as teachers, we do not exactly despise or even dislike this factor in our profession, but do we always appreciate its importance, its bearing upon our later work that must, of necessity, be built upon the basis it furnishes? Can we tell approximately, how many of our pupils became discouraged and gave up the study entirely, because the teacher showed a lack of interest in the lessons? Do we remember how one pupil stumbled and blundered when he came to the piano, because we had been indifferent with him about his organ work? And did we not find it difficult to teach him to study the peculiarities of his piano, because we had neglected to point out to him the distinguishing qualities of his organ? Although by its very construction, the range of the organ has been fixed, do we not often limit it still further by our ignorance of even its possibilities? I sometimes meet young teachers who come from musical institutions, prepared, as they think, to teach all pupils that may appear in a small town or country district. They understood the piano well; indeed, they have never studied anything else. And they are further equipped with the erroneous notion that anybody can teach the organ. They confess they have no taste for it, are ignorant of its resources, have no knowledge of instruction books and organ music, but what of that? The inevitable result is that their pupils are playing piano music, as far as possible, and that with a touch that is sempre staccato. And perhaps they wonder that their organ pupils become listless and soon discouraged.

A great hindrance in the way of successful organ teaching is the scarcity of material to teach from. Few organ instruction books that are in the market are of any use to a conscientious teacher, and composers seem to think that the instrument is unworthy of their notice. As a consequence, pupils must feed on the very meagre food of much diluted piano music and puny, sickly waltzes and marches. Almost every teacher has been tried by the cheap “methods” and “schools” which organ dealers are wont to bestow upon the unwary purchaser of an instrument, and nine cases out of ten the teacher has found difficulty in persuading the parent to buy a good book, since he cannot understand why the inferior one will not do. If composers could be enticed from their lofty flights to serve the common people, and if organ dealers could be prevailed upon to desist from “throwing in” their mischievous books, the profession would be less wearisome to the ordinary teacher. However, I have found one or two instruction books that are systematic and progressive, and have no doubt there are others published that are equally as good, which have never come to my notice; and by dint of careful searching, I have discovered a reasonably satisfactory amount of music for supplementary work. And after all, the success of the work depends largely upon the will and energy of the teacher.

Since then, whether we wish it or not, the organ will affect every phase of our profession, since hundreds of country children must depend upon it for their start in the study of music, and since to these same children future years must look for those teachers who shall be the most desirable additions to the ranks, is it not imperative that we who teach interest ourselves in this neglected line? If the quality of the instrument be inferior, is not the use to which it is put sufficient to appeal to our attention? Think of the homes that are brightened, the hearts that are cheered, even the souls that are uplifted by the aid of this humble instrument. Think of the immense number of churches, whose music is almost entirely controlled by a reed organ, and call to mind some of the times when your own worship was sadly interfered with by the bungling playing of an untrained organist, and you will have an unanswerable argument in favor of a more careful, conscientious system of reed organ teaching.

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