The organ, "the king of instruments," has been a vital part of worship for at least 1,000 years.
Its enveloping tones and the ability to mimic dozens of instruments can make the organ sound ethereal. With the gradual move toward contemporary praise music, however, can the organ stay relevant?
The pipe organ can be tracked to Greece in the third century B.C., and was the first instrument used in Christian worship, according to www.christiancourier.com.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Gail Nedimyer, organist at Zion Lutheran Church in Hollidaysburg, says she loves the sound the player can get out of an organ.
In modern days the organ has been played in countless churches and concert halls.
In recent years, digital organs have gained popularity, and the passion for organ music has not seemed to wane in many local churches.
Last year, Hollidaysburg Church of the Brethren purchased a new digital organ and St. John Catholic Church in Lakemont plans to celebrate its new digital organ at the end of September.
Patti Jimenez, organist at Hollidaysburg Church of the Brethren and St. John Catholic Church, is lucky enough to join in the excitement of both new instruments. Jimenez, who began playing the organ in ninth grade, prefers playing classical music like Bach and southern gospel on the organ. She also can make contemporary tunes work.
"I don't have to be just playing an organ," Jimenez said. "It's like looking at the little black dress and saying, 'I can wear it to work, out to dinner or to the opera.'"
With the organ, it's possible to play a variety of mixed sounds and melodies at the same time, Jimenez said, and often the organ can sound like other instruments, like the flute or guitar.
Another interesting aspect of some of today's digital organs is other instruments can be hooked to it "to create a more matched sound," Jimenez said.
Gail Nedimyer, organist at Zion Lutheran Church in Hollidaysburg, has been playing the organ since she was 16, and she also was drawn to the variances in sound made by the instrument.
"I just enjoy music. The organ engages both the hands and feet and I love the sounds you can get out of an organ," said Nedimyer, who likes to play old hymns, along with contemporary organ music.
But Nedimyer is noticing a trend of organ music losing ground to church-goers' preference for praise music.
"Unfortunately, I think organists are a dwindling breed, because I think we're getting a lot of praise music," Nedimyer said. "The only thing I can say about the organ is it's a solid instrument, and it's truly timeless. The organ is always there supporting the congregation. It's a constant."
Nick Will, former music director at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, said the organ is alluring because of its variations in volume and sound.
Will, who earned a degree in sacred music at Duquesne University, said he didn't start playing the organ until he was 15, although he was drawn to the instrument as a young child in church.
"Even from an early age, I remember being infatuated with the sound of the pipe organ. It was attractive to me. You can make sounds on an organ that you can't make with any other instrument," he said.
Although many churches are incorporating contemporary worship services, Will said he can't imagine the organ becoming irrelevant as long as there are professional organists to do the instrument justice.
"We have to make ourselves relevant," Will said. "I think a lot of churches are going toward contemporary music as an attempt to gather some young people. That usually works for a while, but I sincerely believe the type of music that the church has supported and used for hundreds and hundreds of years is relevant today."
Organ music, however, can be ruined by organists who do not know how to correctly play the instrument, or are playing pieces not fitted to the grandeur of the organ, Will said.
"Most people, whenever they think of a pipe organ or organ music or traditional music, they think of a not very good organist playing really slow, and it's kind of depressing. If you have a good instrument and a good building and a good musician, I think the beauty of the music speaks for itself," Will said.
If played correctly, Will believes organ music can be heavenly, offering a window into another world, drawing people closer to God.
The dilemma, Will said, is there is an abundance of churches and not enough conservatory-trained organists.
"If you have a bad organist, you'll have bad organ music. I don't blame people if they hear bad organ music and don't like it," Will said.
To try to correct the problem, the American Guild of Organists, of which Will is a member, is trying to reach out and offer support to all organists, even if it is not their full-time career.
"We really need to come together and raise the bar as a whole," Will said. "If churches were to support organists, the returns would be great."