The pipe organ, a musical instrument historically, culturally, and conceptually associated with Christian worship, is being negatively affected in terms of condition and continued use in the United States by rising rates of secularity, declining mainline Protestant and Catholic adherents, declining worship attendance, and, most directly, the closure of church buildings. No scholarly research addresses the relationship of secularization and the organ, and no professionals in the field acknowledge its seriousness or have presented plans to counter it.
This paper lays the groundwork for future research while exploring the landscape of the organ’s possible secular uses. The organ’s relationship to secularization is defined through the interdisciplinary lens of secular studies, bolstered through an exploration of its past. This thesis analyzes the use of the organ in secularized churches in the United States through case studies of fourteen organs in thirteen former churches. While these examples reveal some promising adaptive reuses of church buildings and their organs, the prevailing conclusion is that the instrument’s future is severely endangered. There are few paid secular positions and insignificant educational opportunities that stem from secularized churches. The public lacks exposure to the instrument because of the infrequency of organ-related events.
Yet because the organ’s principal aesthetic is not Christian but communal, the instrument has the potential to thrive in secular contexts. This reframing and often literal repositioning requires stronger leadership: organizations and individuals promoting the organ must be proactive in working with the new owners of secularized churches to help them incorporate the instrument in new, revitalized contexts. A dynamic future for the organ requires the creative work of many.