Organs date from 200-300 BC and are by far the oldest keyboard instrument. Their use at Roman pagan events ensured that they were not used by the Church until the 10th century; but by the sixteenth century they were to be found throughout western Europe. John Wesley objected strongly to the long voluntary (and probably to the poor quality of the music chosen and the playing!) in the middle of Anglican services as 'an unreasonable and unmeaning impertinence'. But on occasions he was most appreciative of the organ playing in worship. A bass viol was at first the only instrument permitted in Methodist chapels. Although a few Methodist organs appeared at the turn of the century (the earliest being at Bath), they were not officially sanctioned until 1820 and then, as at Leeds, could prove a cause of contention.

However, by the end of the nineteenth century pipe organs adorned many chapels, often being seen as a status symbol. By the end of the twentieth century many churches were smaller, with more flexible worship areas, electronic organs had become highly sophisticated and a number of churches supplemented their organs with instrumental groups. Fortunately, some good pipe organs survived and continue to give good service. A 1996 survey showed that over 90% of British Methodist churches have an organ (46% pipe organs, 44% electronic and 5% reed organs).


'There was no organ at City Road, and there never had been. The singing, I regret to say, was poor, for no attempt at a choir had been at that time made. It was exactly the same at Great Queen Street - a leader of the singing who might or might not have any musical taste or knowledge, with practically nobody to help him. And at this time [the 1840s] the Yorkshire chapels had fine organs and efficient choirs!'

R. Denny Urlin, in Methodist Recorder, Winter Number, 1901

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Entry written by: PLC
Category: Subject
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