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Alternate Career Titles:
Organist, Church Musician
Career Overview: Plays the organ at religious services and wedding ceremonies.
Career Salary Range: $30,000 to $110,000+
Become a Church Organist
A Church Organist plays the organ and provides music for religious services. He or she might be in charge of choosing the music themselves, or they may work with the Music Director or choir to accomplish this task. The Organist might work as the Minister of Music as well. Depending on the size and budget of the congregation, the job may be either full-time or part-time. In larger churches the Organist might also be responsible for rehearsals and playing for church services for TV or radio broadcasts.
It might also be the responsibility of the Organist to play for special services including weddings and funerals. If he or she is working on a part-time basis, they would be paid for extra work. It is also common for the Organist to earn additional income by teaching other students. The Organist should also be on the lookout for musically talented youngsters in the congregation, encouraging them to participate in services.
The Organist is also expected to maintain their instrument, making sure it is in proper working order. In terms of office hours the Organist usually works a regular schedule. He or she might play in a synagogue, temple or church. Contrary to popular belief, he or she does not need to practice the same religious belief as the congregation. The Organist works under the institution’s Music Director or Choir Director, or under the music committee. Sometimes, he or she works directly under the Minister, Priest, or Rabbi.
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Salaries for the Organist depend on a variety of factors. If he or she is working part-time, the Organist will be paid by the service, earning fees ranging from $25 to $250 or more. Those who work full-time can expect to earn up to $110,000 and might earn as little as $30,000 or more per year. Influencing factors include hours worked, duties performed, and educational level. Geographic location and budget also play a part. As one would expect, those with doctoral degrees in sacred music command the highest salaries.
Organists can work in a church, temple, or synagogue, but these positions are usually only part-time. With that said, larger metropolitan areas may have opportunities for those looking for full-time gigs. As is the case with most positions, the more education and experience an individual has, the better chance he or she will find a job.
Advancement is possible in a variety of different ways. He or she may be promoted from part-time to full-time, and may even find a position in a larger institution that pays a higher salary. He or she can also advance by becoming a Choir Director.
Education and Training
As mentioned, educational requirements vary. Small congregations may only require the ability to play the organ well. On the other hand, churches in larger cities may require their Organists to hold a bachelor’s degree, and sometimes even a master’s or doctoral degree in organ or sacred music. If the Organist is looking to work as the Choir Director or Music Director, a degree will always be required. Organists can also apply for an associate certificate, which is offered by the American Guild of Organists. This organization gives a series of tests that are used to certify church musicians at different levels.
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Experience, Skills, and Personality
Obviously, the Organist must have a good handle on playing the instrument, and should be able to accurately read and write music. He or she will need to know how to maintain the organ as well.
Unions and Associations
The American Federation of Musicians (AFM) is an option for Organists if they play outside the church, synagogue, or temple. The AGO (the American Guild of Organists), the Choristers Guild and the American Choral Directors Association are also options.