What is an Organist?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
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  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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An organist is an individual who plays the organ, an instrument with one or more keyboards. There are many kinds of organs throughout the world, and one who plays any kind of organ is considered an organist. One may play the organ in a variety of settings; organists commonly play with orchestras, in churches, or as accompanists to singers. Organs are particularly well known for their roles in church settings; pipe organs in particular are commonly used to accompany church hymns and to produce ambient music during the western Christian mass and during other times of worship.

The term organist most commonly refers to those who play the pipe organ, as it is the most commonly used variety of organ. Pipe organs can vary greatly in size, ranging from small individual keyboards to massive musical devices with more than 10,000 pipes that are played with multiple pedals and keyboards. The pipe organ is so named because it produces sound by sending pressurized air through pipes which resonate at a specific frequency to produce a certain sound. Pipe organs, along with other types of organs, are often very artfully designed, as they tend to be permanent emplacements in some very ornate churches and chapels.


An organist typically begins learning to play the organ at a relatively early age. Aspiring students often can find one-on-one instruction. There are many organists, especially church organists who are seldom paid for playing at mass, who are more than willing to make money on the side as organ teachers. Students can also learn to play the organ or refine their skills as an organist in college, as there are many undergraduate and graduate programs focused on organ performance.

Besides an organ on which to practice and a teacher from whom to learn, one wishing to become an organist may also need organ shoes. Organ shoes are specialized shoes that reduce the risk of injury from the repetitive motions of operating the pedals of an organ. Also, they are only worn at the organ, so they prevent dirt, stones, and grime from damaging the organ's pedals.

The skilled organist can perform in many situations and settings. Organists are common in churches, and particularly skilled organists may even get the opportunity to play at large and important cathedrals. An organist may also be called upon to provide music for local community musical theater. While organ music is rare in much contemporary music, it is quite prominent in classical, jazz, and many other forms of music.


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