s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: June 2010

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In which the Grand Hypothesis is revealed

A few weeks ago on By Common Consent, there was a post about what's wrong with music in LDS worship services. There was a lot of talk in the comments thread about trouble with organists, in particular, which got me to wondering . . . are we running out of organists?

The thing about LDS organists is that they’re hard to grow. First, you have to grow a pianist. (You don’t technically have to learn piano first, but playing the piano develops finger strength in a way that playing the organ doesn’t. It's like the difference between typing on a typewriter and typing on a computer keyboard.)

And once you’ve grown a competent pianist, they have to unlearn a lot of piano technique in order to learn proper organ technique, plus learn to play the pedals. (Add to that the phenomenon of LDS pianists who don’t really want to be organists, but get called to serve in that capacity anyway and so aren’t very motivated to learn to do it well.) And the capping injustice is that anyone who’s motivated enough to learn to play the organ at a professional level will probably end up working on Sundays at some other denomination (LDS organists aren’t paid), which pulls some of the best LDS organists out of the pool of people who can play during Sacrament Meeting.

The upshot is that it takes a long time to grow an organist from scratch—I’d guess an average of ten years or so—and no one is going to call someone to be an organist ten years in advance, so we rely on being able to call people who are already well into the process of learning to be an organist.

But what if that pool was shrinking? What if fewer people were learning to play the piano (or any musical instrument) in favor of other pursuits? We could be facing a massive shortage of organists for simple demographic reasons, with dire implications.

So, my survey was designed to test whether fewer Mormons (or Americans, in general) are taking music lessons now than in years past. And my stunning results are . . . that I have a serious sampling problem. 80% of my responses were from people born in the same decade, which makes it difficult to do a chronological comparison by decade. Given enough data, I could work with that kind of skew, but the bigger problem is that every single person who responded said they’d had formal music instruction, which I know isn’t true of all Americans or Mormons, as a whole. (This is either a case of birds of a feather flocking together, or my not making it clear that responses from people who hadn’t had any musical training were also welcome.)

Anyway, I’ll have to find another way to gather data for my hypothesis if I want to test it, but it was still interesting to see the survey results.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

A poll

I have a hypothesis and I need your help in collecting some data.

1. What year were you born?

2. Are you LDS (or were you raised LDS)?

3. How many years of formal music instruction have you had? (By “formal music instruction,” I have in mind private music lessons or music classes at school.)

4. Which instruments have you formally studied?

a. Piano only
b. One or more instruments besides piano (including other keyboard instruments)
c. Piano, plus one or more other instruments

If anything is unclear, please ask. (I’m hoping to refine my questions here and then set up a more formal survey.) I’ve turned off Blogger authorization for this post, so you should be able to post anonymously, if you so choose.