Most Church of England churches own an organ, and most are in working order. Organists, however, are less numerous. The InHarmony Report by Richard Hubbard, music development director for the mainly rural Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, found that more than half of active organists in the diocese are older than 70. Less than four percent are 30 or younger.
The report found that most of the churches surveyed had an organ in working order, but a third needed to sing to recorded music for lack of an organist.
“A lot of it is to do with the fact that the organ is particularly difficult to learn and requires a lot of commitment; you normally need to have about grade-five piano to start organ lessons,” Hubbard told the Daily Express.
Another issue was gaining access to an instrument for practicing. Most parish churches are locked and there are few other options for finding an organ.
“In the winter, I know from my own experience that you go to a dark cold country church and practice for as long as you can until your fingers freeze,” Hubbard said. “So it requires a lot of dedication and effort for young people to take up the organ.”
Hubbard said that singing together with a live musician creates far more community togetherness than following a machine. His study found that organ backing tracks are much less successful for congregational singing than a live accompanist.
“Recorded backing tracks are rarely the best method of accompanying a congregation,” the study said. “The quality and production of the tracks varies greatly, as does the quality of church sound systems through which they are played.”