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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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. All these institutions are oriented toward the organist involved in classical music rather than popular music. There is also the American Theatre Organ Society.
The Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Wilfrid, commonly known as Ripon Cathedral, and until 1836 known as Ripon Minster, is a cathedral in the North Yorkshire city of Ripon. Founded as a monastery by Scottish monks in the 660s, it was refounded as a Benedictine monastery by St Wilfrid in 672. The church became collegiate in the tenth century, and acted as a mother church within the large Diocese of York for the remainder of the Middle Ages. The present church is the fourth, and was built between the 13th and 16th centuries. In 1836 the church became the cathedral for the Diocese of Ripon. In 2014 the Diocese was incorporated into the new Diocese of Leeds, and the church became one of three co-equal cathedrals of the Bishop of Leeds.
John Scott Whiteley is an English organist and composer. He has performed extensively around the world and since 1985 has undertaken an annual tour of the USA. He has performed in most major UK Cathedrals and concert halls, and was Assistant Organist and later Organist and Director of the Girls' choir at York Minster between 1975 and 2010. He is currently Organist Emeritus of York Minster.
The Royal College of Organists or RCO is a charity and membership organisation based in the United Kingdom, with members worldwide. Its role is to promote and advance organ playing and choral music, and it offers music education, training and development, and professional support for organists and choral directors.
Francis Alan Jackson, is a British organist and composer. He was the organist and director of music at York Minster for 36 years.
Ronald Edward Perrin was a British cathedral organist.
The Choir of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle exists to sing services in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Leeds Minster, or the Minster and Parish Church of Saint Peter-at-Leeds,, in Leeds, West Yorkshire is a large Church of England foundation of major architectural and liturgical significance. A church is recorded on the site as early as the 7th century, although the present structure is a Gothic Revival one, dating from the mid-19th century. It is dedicated to Saint Peter and was the Parish Church of Leeds before becoming a Minster in 2012. It has been designated a grade I listed building by English Heritage.
Philip Moore is an English composer and organist.
Andrew Cantrill FRSA is a British-born organist and choral director. He has held cathedral positions in New Zealand and the United States, and was organist of the Royal Hospital School, Holbrook, Suffolk until September 2018. He is a Fellow, prize-winner and former Trustee Council member of the Royal College of Organists, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is a tutor for the RCO Academy Organ School, an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, an active recitalist, and a sought-after broadcaster, writer and presenter.
The Choir of Leeds Minster is the choir of Leeds Minster, Leeds, England, which became a Minster in September 2012. The choir was founded by vicar, Richard Fawcett probably as early as 1815, and was certainly in existence by 1818. The church's choir - boys and men - was, from its origins, a charge on the church rate; and, in what was then a largely non-conformist town, a none-too-popular one. By the 1830s, the choir's resourcing had been taken over by a list of voluntary subscribers. On arrival as Vicar of Leeds in 1837, Walter Farquhar Hook said he found "the surplices in rags and the books in tatters". Additional to its extensive commitment in the provision of choral services, the choir is known to a wide public through many recitals, recordings and broadcasts and by its regular choir tours - the first tour was held in July 1968 and the 40th anniversary tour, from 22 to 27 July 2008, included singing in Ely Cathedral, King's College Cambridge, the National Musicians' Church St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in the City of London, All Saints Pastoral Centre London Colney and the Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
The Southern Cathedrals Festival is a 5-day music festival held on rotation among the cathedrals of Chichester, Winchester and Salisbury in England, in the penultimate week of July. The festival was restored in 1960 after initial attempts to create the annual occasion - such efforts led to 28 years without it. The directors of music act as festival director when it is their cathedral's turn to host the event - currently, they are Charles Harrison, Andrew Lumsden and David Halls.
James Bennett Lancelot was master of the Choristers, and cathedral organist at Durham Cathedral from 1985. He retired in 2017 and was appointed canon organist emeritus by the bishop of Durham.
Roy Cyril Massey is a British organist and conductor.
Paul Hale is an English organist and Organist Emeritus of Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire.
The organs of Chichester Cathedral are the major source of instrumental music at the cathedral, being played for daily services and accompanying the choir, as well as being used for concerts and recitals. There has been organ music at Chichester Cathedral almost continuously since the medieval period, with a break in the mid-17th century during the Commonwealth period.
Sarah MacDonald FRCO is a Canadian-born organist, conductor, and composer, living in the UK, and currently holds the positions of Fellow and Director of Music at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and Director of the girl choristers at Ely Cathedral. She has been at Selwyn since 1999, and is the first woman to hold such a post in an Oxbridge Chapel. In 2018 MacDonald was given the honorary award of Associate of the Royal School of Church Music (ARSCM).
Gordon Stewart is a British organist, conductor, and teacher.
Charles Harrison has been Organist and Master of the Choristers of Chichester Cathedral since September 2014, succeeding Sarah Baldock. He has also held musical posts at Southwell Minster, Carlisle and Lincoln Cathedral.
Steven Grahl BMus FRCO is a cathedral organist and currently the Director or Music and Organist at Christ Church, Oxford. He is also a Junior Fellow at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford. He also presides over the Incorporated Association of Organists, and previously conducted both the Peterborough Choral Society and the Stamford Chamber Orchestra.
William Fox is an English organist, currently Sub-Organist of St Paul's Cathedral.