- Associated Press - Saturday, January 9, 2016

MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) - Brian Snell of Nora Springs often gets calls from churches in North Iowa asking him if he would like to be their organist.

He has to turn them down because he’s already playing the organ at First United Methodist Church in Mason City.

As organists retire or pass away, there aren’t enough replacements, said Snell, a retired teacher who has been playing church organs in North Iowa for more than 35 years.

Snell said there are some younger organists in North Iowa, but not enough to fill all the vacancies.

First Christian Church in Mason City has been without a regular organist for a long time, according to church council member Bob Ray.

“We have a nice organ, all in good condition and ready to go,” he said.

Glennis Lee, who played the organ at First Christian for 35 years, died in 2012.

Ray said the church hired an organist after Lee’s death, but she moved away from the area after about a year.

It’s not easy to get qualified applicants, according to Ray.

Fortunately the church is able to get a substitute organist a few times a year for services to keep the organ in tune, Ray said. Several area organists also are available to play at funerals, including Snell.

Snell is an on-call organist for several funeral homes. He plays the organ at funerals not only for churches that don’t have an organist but also in cases where the regular organist has a day job and is not available during the week.

The Globe Gazette (http://bit.ly/1RaYHLd ) reports that Snell also plays the organ at weddings.

Mary Jane Crail, who is in her 40th year as organist at the Clear Lake United Methodist Church, said a lot of churches are now using praise bands or having someone play the piano.

Snell said fewer people play organ than play piano, noting the organ requires “a different touch” and more work with foot pedals.

The cost of repairing aging instruments is another reason fewer churches have organ music, Crail said.

Dwindling attendance at some churches can be an issue when it comes to deciding whether to spend the money to repair an organ, according to Crail.

Sometimes the thinking is “that’s a lot of money to shell out for a few people to hear on Sunday morning,” she said.

On the other hand, people often want organ music for weddings and funerals, according to Crail.

She said although organists in North Iowa are getting older, there are some bright young stars.

Crail is a member of the North Iowa Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, which sponsors events such as the annual Brown Bag Bach organ concerts held over the noon hours at Trinity Lutheran Church in Mason City during Lent.

“Organ music hasn’t died yet. We are still going pretty strong,” Crail said.

___

Information from: Globe Gazette, http://www.globegazette.com/

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