Johannus moving forward in China

For the past few years, Johannus has noticed a dramatic increase in its organs’ popularity in China. What is behind this rise in interest? And how do the Chinese learn to play the organ? Johannus representative Penny Pan explains.

Penny lived near Shanghai, China until 2011. When the pastor of her church asked if she would be willing to look for a suitable organ for their growing congregation, she initially thought: an organ in a church? Why? “I was completely unfamiliar with the instrument”, she says.

And Penny was not the only one. When all forms of religion were banned from this Asian country during the Cultural Revolution, between 1966 and 1976, all of the churches were shut down, and with them the organ disappeared from the public consciousness. The later generations never even knew that organs existed.

But Penny explains that China did have an organ tradition; it just went into hibernation during the revolution. “The organ came to China via the Islamic world in the 13th century, and later they were imported from Europe. At one time, we had a rich tradition of organ music here in China.”

Growth of Christianity

As Christianity has found more secure footing in the country and churches are more generally tolerated, the demand for organs has increased. Penny: “So my congregation went looking for an organ. We were eventually introduced to Johannus. In late 2012, our pastor went to the Netherlands to hear for himself the Johannus organs being played. He was immediately convinced by their sound, and the organ was installed six months later.”

That was one of the first assignments where Penny was involved, but it didn’t stop there. Penny moved to the Netherlands, and since 2013 she has been the Johannus representative for China, where she has seen many new relationships develop. She regularly travels with a delegation from the organ builder to Asia in order to visit churches and meet other new clients. Johannus also takes part in an important annual trade fair for music instruments in Shanghai.

Overwhelming reactions

The Chinese reactions to the Dutch Johannus organ are overwhelming, says Penny. “For example, I will never forget the one boy, around six or seven years old, who came to look at one of our organs at the trade fair. His mother followed him over, where he began to play and was clearly enraptured by the experience. ‘Mom!’, he yelled, ‘Come over here! You need to hear this!’ That’s wonderful, isn’t it? In contrast to the Netherlands, we have noticed that it is primarily young people who are interested in the organ in China. But of course, older people are interested as well. They think it is fascinating how our organs have multiple manuals, a pedal board and so many stops.”

The sale of Johannus organs to China has dramatically increased since 2014, says Penny. “Before then, we also had orders to deliver organs, but the demand was mainly reactive, initiated by the customers. Over the past few years, we have become more proactive, and have grown to become one of the leading players in China, where we sell dozens of organs per year. For example, we installed a Rembrandt in the famous St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai, and we delivered an Ecclesia to St. Paul’s Church in Nanjing.”

In order to provide optimal support and advice to Chinese churches and private customers, Johannus currently has two dealers with a showroom in China: Shandong Qiaonasi Trading in the north and Xiamen Huacheng Musical Instruments in the south. Plus, the organ builder from Ede visits several trade fairs in Asia each year in order to build its brand awareness.

Organ lessons in China

Not only does Johannus aim to supply people with organs; Penny explains that the organ builder is also investing in a quality education for organists. “There are enormous numbers of Chinese who want to learn to play the organ, but it is a completely new instrument for the current generation. In order to meet the high demand for musical education, Johannus sends Dutch organists to China to provide master classes and teach organ lessons. In so doing, we not only make the Chinese happy, but also the Dutch organists. They think it is wonderful to see so many young people passionate about the organ and enthusiastic about learning to play it.”

Although the Chinese organ market is expanding, Penny warns that there is reason to be skeptical about the economic and political developments in the country. “Chinese culture is very complicated, and that affects us at Johannus as well. I’ll give an example. Next month, we will install an Ecclesia in two churches in the megacity Chongqing. The local government is subsidizing the renovation of the churches, including the organ. That is fantastic, of course. But at the same time, we received a report that a pastor at a church where we delivered an organ in May has been put in prison because he refused to remove the cross from outside his church. These are contradictions that are not always easy to understand.”

Expanding position

Nevertheless, Penny expects that the growth of Christianity in China will result in continued demand for organs. Johannus will continue to build on its position in the Asian country over the coming years, and in so doing hopes to contribute to the development of a renaissance in organ culture.