An organist is a musician who plays any type of organ. An organist may play solo organ works, play with an ensemble or orchestra, or accompany one or more singers or instrumental soloists. In addition, an organist may accompany congregational hymn-singing and play liturgical music.

Organist at Lausanne Cathedral
A cathedral organist in Lausanne Cathedral

Classical and church organists

The majority of organists, amateur and professional, are principally involved in church music, playing in churches and cathedrals. The pipe organ still plays a large part in the leading of traditional western Christian worship, with roles including the accompaniment of hymns, choral anthems and other parts of the worship. The degree to which the organ is involved varies depending on the church and denomination. It also may depend on the standard of the organist. In more provincial settings, organists may be more accurately described as pianists obliged to play the organ for worship services; nevertheless, some churches are fortunate to have trained organists capable of more elaborate "voluntaries" (the solo music before, during and after the service) and improvisation. As most churches can afford to employ only one musician, the organist is usually also responsible for directing and rehearsing the choir(s). In the twentieth-century, many pipe organs were replaced by pipe-less electronic and digital organs, often as a low-cost alternative to rebuilding older pipe organs.

In the English cathedral tradition the organist is now generally called "Director of Music", although their function is mainly in the training and direction of music rather than actual playing; there will generally be one or more assistant or sub-organists who play for most services and some recitals. Sometimes the organist will be assisted by an organ scholar. The post of organist at most of the great cathedrals includes recital work and choral training. Another function of an organist is often as teacher to future players. Few organists hold historically special positions such as Raùl Prieto Ramitez who is the Civic Organist of San Diego, the last true Civic Organist position still active in the USA.[1]

Frederik Magle playing organ 2011 (III)
The concert organist Frederik Magle in Koncerthuset, Copenhagen

Since the strengths and weaknesses of the organ are difficult to understand without a good deal of playing experience, most music composed for organ has been written by organists. Since the majority of pre-twentieth-century organs were installed in churches, classical organ literature was almost exclusively written for liturgical use.

Many composers, therefore, are equally known for their performance talents, some historical examples being Johann Sebastian Bach, Dieterich Buxtehude, Felix Mendelssohn, Franz Liszt, César Franck, Camille Saint-Saëns, Charles-Marie Widor, Louis Vierne, Marcel Dupré and Maurice Duruflé, as well as improvisers such as Charles Tournemire, Pierre Cochereau, Pierre Pincemaille or Thierry Escaich. In Europe, the historical importance of churches as employers of musicians meant that many composers who now are very seldom remembered for their association with the organ were, nevertheless, engaged as professional organists: for example, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Edward Elgar.

Ancient titles still in current use

In English churches, chapels and cathedrals the Organist may also be known as Master of the Choristers, Choirmaster or Director of Music; however, there are some ancient titles still in current usage:

Theatre organists

LA El Capitan organist 1
An organist playing the organ of the El Capitan, Los Angeles

The theatre organ has a separate repertoire and playing style, and in its heyday (during the first third of the twentieth century) there were considerable numbers of organists employed, many of whom played on Wurlitzer organs. A few carry on the tradition today.

Organists in popular music

There are many organists employed in the production of popular and jazz music. In the United States most of them play the Hammond organ, and many are classically trained, often in piano rather than organ. In England and Japan, one of the most popular series of instruments is the Yamaha Electone; while Electones of recent decades are more properly characterized as digital synthesizers rather than as organs, the player interface, and the skills and coordination required to play, mean that it may be effectively regarded by some, as an organ in these respects.


The Royal College of Organists (RCO) in the United Kingdom is the oldest institution of organ studies. From that sprang the American Guild of Organists (AGO), the Gesellschaft der Orgelfreunde (GdO) in Germany, and the Royal Canadian College of Organists (RCCO). The Incorporated Association of Organists is an international society fulfilling a similar role.[2] All these institutions are oriented toward the organist involved in classical music rather than popular music. There is also the American Theatre Organ Society.

See also


  1. ^ Jennifer Medina, "Year That Began Like a Dirge for San Diego’s Organist Ends in Joy," New York Times 26 December 2011[1]
  2. ^ "The Incorporated Association of Organists (IAO)". IAO. Retrieved 6 October 2018.

Further reading

External links

American Guild of Organists

The American Guild of Organists (AGO) is a national organization of academic, church, and concert organists in the U.S., headquartered in The Interchurch Center in New York City. Founded as both an educational and service organization, it was chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York in 1896, with the authority to grant titles of associate or fellow to members who passed required examinations. Henry Houseley was a Founder of the American Guild of Organists, and Clifford Demarest played an important role in its first two decades. The Guild seeks to set and maintain high musical standards and to promote understanding and appreciation of all aspects of organ and choral music.Membership is not limited to professional organists, but is open to anybody with an interest in the organ and organ music. There are approximately 16,500 AGO members in all categories, of whom 14,500 are voting members as of 2017. The AGO's current president is Michael Bedford, elected in 2016.

Don Patterson (organist)

Don Patterson (July 22, 1936, Columbus, Ohio - February 10, 1988, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American jazz organist.

Freddie Roach (organist)

Freddie Roach (May 11, 1931 - October 3, 1980) was a soul jazz Hammond B3 organist born in the Bronx, New York. He was one of a handful of legendary jazz organists that made history in the 1960s, the golden era of the Hammond organ. Roach made his record debut in 1960 with saxophonist Ike Quebec on the albums Heavy Soul and It Might as Well Be Spring and played with Willis Jackson. From 1962-64 he recorded 5 albums as a leader for the Blue Note Records label and also recorded with Donald Byrd on the album I'm Tryin' to Get Home. Roach's original writing, steady basslines, and highly musical fleet-fingered right hand set him apart. From 1966-67 he recorded three more albums as a leader for Prestige Records, which are in a more commercial vein than his Blue Note dates. He left the music business in 1970 and became involved in theater, playwriting and film. Reportedly, he moved to California to the film industry, where he suffered a heart attack and died in 1980.

Roach was a soulful organist, certainly influenced by Jimmy Smith, but with a distinct sound and a quite original concept, which was perhaps best heard on "Good Move" for Blue Note. His Blue Note albums are critically acclaimed.

Good Move!

Good Move! is the third album by American organist Freddie Roach recorded in 1963 and released on the Blue Note label.

Manual (music)

A manual is a musical keyboard designed to be played with the hands, on an instrument such as a pipe organ, harpsichord, clavichord, electronic organ, melodica, or synthesizer. The term "manual" is used with regard to any hand keyboard on these instruments to distinguish it from the pedalboard, which is a keyboard that the organist plays with their feet. It is proper to use "manual" rather than "keyboard", then, when referring to the hand keyboards on any instrument that has a pedalboard.

Music written to be played only on the manuals (instead of using the pedals) can be designated by manualiter (first attested in 1511, but particularly common in the 17th and 18th centuries).

Music director

A music director, musical director, or director of music is the person responsible for the musical aspects of a performance, production, or organization, for example the artistic director and usually chief conductor of an orchestra or concert band, the director of music of a film, the director of music at a radio station, the person in charge of musical activities or the head of the music department in a school, the coordinator of the musical ensembles in a university, college, or institution (but not usually the head of the academic music department), the head bandmaster of a military band, the head organist and choirmaster of a church, or an organist and master of the choristers (the title given to a director of music at a cathedral, particularly in England).

Nancy Bea

Nancy Bea Hefley (born February 24 in San Pedro, California) is a long-time former stadium organist for Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers.

Nancy Faust

Nancy Faust (born March 11, 1947) is an American former stadium organist for Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox.

Organ scholar

An organ scholar is a young musician employed as a part-time assistant organist at a cathedral, church or institution where regular choral services are held. The idea of an organ scholarship is to provide the holder with playing, directing and administrative experience. It is an important part of music-making in Christian worship and is strongly associated with, but is not limited to, Anglican church music in the United Kingdom, Australia and the USA.

Organ scholars may sometimes be found at a cathedral or a collegiate church. Many colleges at Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin universities, as well as other universities, offer organ scholarships to undergraduates. At some institutions (for example, Christ Church, Oxford, New College, Oxford, Trinity College, Dublin or King's College, Cambridge), the organ scholar(s) work under the direction of a full-time professional Director of Music. At other institutions, the organ scholar is in charge of running the choir.One of the first organ scholarships in the University of Cambridge was set up by Queens' College, Cambridge. An early scholar there was the composer Charles Villiers Stanford, who took up his position there in 1870.Many organ scholars have gone on to notable careers in music and in other fields. Two notable ex-organ scholars who went on to achieve fame in other fields are Edward Heath, who read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at Balliol College, Oxford and later served as British Prime Minister 1970–1974; and Dudley Moore, who read music at Magdalen College, Oxford and went on to a career in acting.

Organ trio

An organ trio, in a jazz context, is a group of three jazz musicians, typically consisting of a Hammond organ player, a drummer, and either a jazz guitarist or a saxophone player. In some cases the saxophonist will join a trio which consists of an organist, guitarist, and drummer, making it a quartet. Organ trios were a popular type of jazz ensemble for club and bar settings in the 1950s and 1960s, performing a blues-based style of jazz that incorporated elements of R&B. The organ trio format was characterized by long improvised solos and an exploration of different musical "moods".In organ trios, the Hammond organist plays several roles, including playing the basslines (either on the bass pedalboard or on the lower manual of the organ), playing chords ("comping"), and playing lead melodic lines and solos. In organ trios with a guitarist, the guitarist usually 'fills in' the musical parts that the organist is not performing. For example, if the organist is soloing and playing a bassline, the guitarist may play chords.

Organ trios of the 1950s and 1960s often played soul jazz, a groove-infused style that incorporated blues, gospel and rhythm and blues. 1970s-era organ trios such as Tony Williams' band Lifetime played jazz-rock fusion. In the 1990s and 2000s, organ trios such as Medeski, Martin and Wood and Soulive became involved in the burgeoning jamband scene.

Paul Richardson (organist)

Paul Richardson (1932 – October 2, 2006) was the home field organist for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1970 to 2005.

In 1980 when the Phillies won the World Series, Richardson was awarded a World Series ring alongside the players.

Richardson also played organ for the New York Yankees (owned by his friend George Steinbrenner) from 1978 to 1982 when the Phillies were on the road.

He is credited with popularizing the use of the "Charge!" fanfare in sports games, and with being the first to play a theme song for each player as they stepped up to the plate.

Once a staple of Phillies games, Richardson's organ music was heard much less frequently from the mid-1990s on, as pre-recorded ("canned") music became more prevalent. When the team moved into Citizens Bank Park in 2004, Richardson was not given a booth, and was seen only before games on the Ashburn Alley outfield concourse. A recording of his version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame was used for the seventh-inning stretch. This diminished role combined with health problems and no longer having a place where he could see the game were factors in Richardson announcing his retirement prior to the 2006 season.

On October 2, 2006, Richardson died after a long battle with prostate cancer [1]. The Phillies paid tribute to him prior to their 2007 home opener and also during the seventh-inning stretch of that game.

Richard Holmes (organist)

Richard Arnold "Groove" Holmes (May 2, 1931 – June 29, 1991) was an American jazz organist who performed in the hard bop and soul jazz genre. He is best known for his 1965 recording of "Misty".

St. Patrick's Cathedral (Manhattan)

The Cathedral of St. Patrick (commonly called St. Patrick's Cathedral) is a decorated Neo-Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral church in the United States and a prominent landmark of New York City. It is the seat of the archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York as well as parish church, located on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in Midtown Manhattan, directly across the street from Rockefeller Center, facing the Atlas statue. It is considered one of the most visible symbols of Roman Catholicism in New York City and the United States.

The Horrors

The Horrors are an English rock band formed in Southend-on-Sea in 2005, consisting of lead vocalist Faris Badwan, guitarist Joshua Hayward, keyboardist and synthesizer player Tom Cowan (also known as Tom Furse), bassist Rhys Webb, and drummer and percussionist Joe Spurgeon. Their music has been classified as garage rock, garage punk, gothic rock, shoegazing and post-punk revival.The band have released five studio albums: Strange House (2007), Primary Colours (2009), Skying (2011), Luminous (2014) and V (2017) all of which charted within the UK Top 40.

The Organist Entertains

The Organist Entertains was a long-running music programme broadcast on BBC Radio 2 presented by Nigel Ogden. The 30 minute programme focused on the organ in its many guises, and played recordings and live broadcasts of theatre organs, pipe organs and electronic organs around the United Kingdom and the rest of the world.

The programme ran as a weekly feature on Radio 2 from 11 June 1969 and was presented by Robin Richmond until Ogden took over in 1980. In his absence, the programme was occasionally guest presented by Blackpool Tower organist Phil Kelsall.On 10 January 2018, the BBC announced that the programme was to be discontinued after being on air for almost half a century. The final programme was broadcast on 8 May 2018. The introductory music was "From This Moment On" by Cole Porter, played by Ogden.

The Organist at St. Vitus' Cathedral

The Organist at St. Vitus' Cathedral (Czech: Varhaník u sv. Víta) is a 1929 silent Czech drama film directed by Martin Frič.

Viki, Estonia

Viki is a village in Saaremaa Parish, Saare County, on the western part of Saaremaa Island, Estonia.Before the administrative reform in 2017, the village was in Kihelkonna Parish.Composer and organist Peeter Süda (1883–1920) was born in Tammiku farmstead in Viki village.

Vince Lascheid

Vince Lascheid (26 December 1923 – 19 March 2009) was a prominent Pittsburgh organist, best known as the organist for the Pittsburgh Pirates from the 1960s to 2009 and from 1970 to 2003 the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was inducted into the Penguins' Hall of Fame. He was honored by being awarded the "Pride of the Pirates" by the Pittsburgh Pirates and with a moment of silence from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Wild Bill Davis

Wild Bill Davis (November 24, 1918 – August 17, 1995) was the stage name of American jazz pianist, organist, and arranger William Strethen Davis.


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