Organist Transplant

Would you pull out all the stops for six hundred dollars a year? That's the paltry annual pay for most of England's church organists, and now they've had enough of pumping pipes for a pittance – and they're heading your way fast.

Who's at the keyboard in Washington's National Cathedral today? One of our lot. Down the road at St Thomas's – the guy who used to play at St Paul's, right here in London, is installed in the organ loft. You can even venture out to Rock Creek Parish, in Washington DC, and find an Englishman doing the Episcopalian honours on the local instrument there.

At least a dozen top English organists have already quit their threadbare church stools here and headed over in the past year. More are coming - with a case full of music and an eye on the top notes. Because US pipers get proper pay – sometimes ten times more than the mean old Church of England offers back here in the Old Country.

It is causing a bit of a toccata and fugue on both sides. The American Guild of Organists has already complained to our Association of Anglican Musicians. You think we're pinching your jobs, undermining home-grown talent. You say: How would we like it if Westminster Abbey's organ was played by an American? Fair point – except we couldn't pay an American. We're broke and scared because soon there'll be no one left to finger the keys.

English organists used to be content to play "just for God". But times have changed. Our churches, even the big ones, don't get many customers. Our organists don't get professional recognition, let alone money to match. Our loss is becoming your gain. Call it an organ transplant, if you like, and spare us a bit of sympathy. There's an old English catch-phrase: "If you pay peanuts you only get monkeys". But when it comes to English organs we can't even afford the monkeys these days!

By Ed Boyle
  • Bob Bicknell

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