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Professional Organist: Job Description, Duties and Career Outlook

Oct 02, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a professional organist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and average salary to find out if this is the career for you.

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If you are musically talented and enjoy performing, you could consider playing the organ professionally. Organists most often work on a part-time basis for religious organizations, but could also be employed by performance companies. Some organists work independently. Practice and experience are key, but you can also gain a competitive edge by earning a bachelor's degree.

Essential Information

Professional organists are often employed by churches and synagogues, although some work as independent contractors. They play for worship and special services, such as funerals or weddings. They also rehearse with choirs and soloists. Their duties may also include inspecting and arranging for repairs to the facility's organ when needed. Becoming a professional organist takes several years of study; some people complete bachelor's degrees in music theory or performance to qualify for the position.

Required Education No set requirements, but performers of classical music or opera need at least a bachelor's degree in performance or music theory
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 0% for all musicians and singers
Mean Hourly Wage (2018)* $37.51 for all musicians and singers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Description

Professional organists who are employed by churches and synagogues play at regular services and special events, including weddings and funerals. Some organists work as independent contractors, serving as substitutes for full-time organists, teaching lessons or performing only at special events.

Duties

According to job postings from various churches around the country, the job duties of a professional organist may include choosing the music for the organization, which must be appropriate to the service or event at which they are performing. They may also work in conjunction with the other staff members of the organization to coordinate events and prepare their portion of the budget.

Organists must rehearse sufficiently to be able to play the various pieces required of them; this may entail rehearsing with a choir or other singers or musicians. They generally are responsible for maintaining their instruments. This involves inspecting the organ, arranging for necessary repairs and keeping it in tune. If an organist is unable to perform for regular and special events, he or she must find a replacement.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of musicians and singers was expected to grow by 0% between 2018 and 2028, which is slower than the national average for all career fields. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports wages for all musicians as hourly rates because most work on a part-time or contract basis. Musicians earned a mean hourly wage of $37.51 in May 2018, although there was a wide variance in salaries, the BLS reported. Many jobs were available at religious organizations, where the mean hourly was $36.23, according to the BLS.

Those who wish to enter this field should expect competition. Applicants can gain a competitive edge by earning a bachelor's degree or higher. A major in music with an emphasis on organ studies or piano is most applicable. Professional organists may choose to join the American Guild of Organists, which sets fees for weddings, funerals and substitute musicians.

To summarize, job growth is expected to be slower than the national average for all musicians in the coming decade, including organists. However, a bachelor's degree in music theory or performance may make you more attractive to employers. Professional organists plan music programs and perform for religious organizations or fine arts companies.

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