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Finding a church to volunteer / play at?

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  • Finding a church to volunteer / play at?

    What would be the best way about finding a church that I could regularly the organ for? I've only been playing the organ for the last couple of years, due to a love for the instrument and not out of necessity or anything like that, and recently I feel like I've become proficient enough at the organ to be able to become a church's organist...

    But it seems as if all of the churches in my area have either no organ, have moved on from organ music (as in they have a worship band or similar) or they already have an accomplished musician for hymn accompaniment. I don't think I'm good enough at the instrument to get paid for it, but I have such a deep, burning desire in me to play the organ for a congregation every sunday. I would love to find a church to volunteer and do that for them, but I have no idea what would be a good way of trying to find a church to this at.

    Would it be a good idea to maybe call / email the churches in my area to see if they would be interested in having an organist would be a good idea.

    Any advice on what to do going forward would be greatly appreciated.

  • #2
    For us to be more helpful, we need to know more of your background.
    -- What other instruments do you play and how proficient are you on them? What other musical training or experience do you have? Do you have any training or experience as an accompanist of any kind?
    -- How much of your life have you spent in churches? How much of your life have you spent singing hymns? Is there any particular church denomination that you or your family have attended for any length of time, i.e. what is your religious background?


    • #3
      Jaysen where are you? Location location location


      • #4
        I suggest the following:

        1. Consider joining your local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, or its equivalent for the place that you live. They post available positions in their newsletter. Be aware that it is considered unethical to apply for a position that is already filled. However, there are other options.

        2. Networking is a good way to get work. After you get to know people in the AGO, someone may want an accompanist for a choir anthem, or a substitute from time to time. Depending on your area, it is sometimes very difficult to find substitute organists.

        3. You might consider contacting funeral homes in your area.

        4. You say that you have only been playing for a couple of years. Have you studied the organ with someone? Your teacher may be able to reccomend you, since good teachers are often asked if they have students who can play.

        I hope this helps. Best wishes to you.

        My home organ: Content M5800 as a midi controller for Hauptwerk


        • beel m
          beel m commented
          Editing a comment
          Great ideas. One thought:
          4a. If you do/did have a teacher, what is/was his/her evaluation of your level of skill? One of the jobs of a teacher is to be objective about their students, and lead them in the right direction. If not, can you get an organ teacher or professional organist to listen to you and give their opinion? I believe most churches, the organist shortage notwithstanding, prefer to deal with self-aware candidates who know their level of skill. YMMV. If your skill set needs work, then you need to attend to that. I believe that volunteer or paid, no church wants an organist who would cause 'cringing' congregations. OTOH, if you are good, or become good, nothing is stopping you from seeking a paid position. Good luck.

      • #5
        I would drop in on churches in my area on Sunday mornings to gauge need. I got a job once when the organist left to take a church right across the street from his home. He only found out they had a vacancy because he dropped in on a Sunday off. Definitely join the local AGO chapter and get on their Substitute List. Good luck, however, the understated concern of earlier posters ought to be addressed, I think. This really shouldn't be about you. Either you are ready, or you are not. There really isn't any in-between. Being good enough to get paid but choosing not to take a salary is different from ... the opposite. You might approach a church with an active musician in place, and offer to help them out in return for access to the instrument. It's just a hunch but I'm kind of guessing you do not have a church style instrument at home. I could be wrong.


        • #6
          Depending on the church that you go to, they may expect you become a regular attender or even a member before they would allow you to start playing. But as others have said in previous posts, your skill level is going to determine how easily you can acquire any kind of position, paid or volunteer. Best wishes to you.

          Hammond L143 with Leslie 760


          • #7
            Someone above mentioned contacting funeral homes, and I would second that. Funeral homes in many areas are desperate for players who will provide music for a service, and they do pay something, if not much. Even if you don't play really well yet, you may be able to do what the funeral homes want, which is sometimes just provide background music before and after the service. I've actually known a few people who played pretty poorly who still played for funerals and were rewarded with paychecks and with thank-yous.

            Funeral homes don't always have good instruments, and some of them have really bad instruments, possibly just a keyboard or an old out-of-tune piano. But it will get you some experience and some exposure. Also, your confidence will grow as you play in a place where other people will hear you. And as an added plus, in many funeral homes you will be out of sight of the congregation, possibly in a separate room separated from the chapel by a curtain or screen. When I was learning, I definitely felt less nervous about playing if I could be out of sight.

            Anyway, don't overlook that possibility. And keep practicing, listening to other organists (YouTube is a good place to see and hear some good players), and playing whenever you have the opportunity.
            *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!



            • voet
              voet commented
              Editing a comment
              Another advantage of this venue is that you can have a relatively small repertoire that you keep repeating.

            • Silken Path
              Silken Path commented
              Editing a comment
              Really? Here folks plan and plot years before and specify what songs they want played at their funeral. When it finally happens, it's sort of like them reaching out from beyond the grave... before they're actually *in* it.

          • #8
            Let me tell you how I get my "job"...
            I was never trying to get a job, not even a volunteer job , because although I have learned piano for 3 years, I had only 4 months experience on the Organ at that time, and I was Not familiar with Hymns, chants, process of a mass etc.
            Yet I was just looking for a place to practice and wondering around in different churches to get used to those things.

            One day, one of my classmates told me one day she is in a traditional Latin mass choir, and invite me to hear her sing. She does not even know I was learning the organ at that time.
            And I did go, mainly to see if they have an organ.
            But I was impressed by their music.
            So later I joined the choir too. The choir always welcome a new member you know, and you don't need a lot of experience to sing in a church choir.

            After the rehearsal I asked their organist if I can try the organ a little bit. That's how they discovered that I can play the organ. Although the church didn't allow me to practice on it regularly.

            A little bit later (just a few weeks later) the organist (who turned out to be a pianist, and he actually never use the pedals when he plays!) reach out to me, and asked if I can substitute him when he is gone, because he is going to Italy. I said sure I am happy to do that, as long as you give me the music beforehand.
            At that time I thought I would just substitute him for a weekend.
            But then I found out he actually let me substitute him for the entire July and August! And Every year's July! And of course whenever he is gone for something...

            But of course I am not getting paid... I am too new an organist to get paid, it's more of like an unpaid internship I guess, which I am satisfied with.
            And I am lucky to get this job because this guy is not an organist either so he is not expecting me to be too advanced, and he doesn't want to pay anybody because the choir's budget is tight.


            • jbird604
              jbird604 commented
              Editing a comment
              Very nice story! Great way to work your way up in the organ world too. After a few stints as a substitute, and some experience with the mass, you may eventually feel qualified to apply for a paying position. More people should consider taking this route into the church music career.

            • myorgan
              myorgan commented
              Editing a comment
              What type organ do you have to practice on at the church? Thanks for sharing your story.


            • Sarah Weizhen
              Sarah Weizhen commented
              Editing a comment
              Michael, there is something difficult with this Latin mass group, they don't have their own church, they float from church to church depends on if this church want to give them space to do the Latin Mass Sunday morning. And I am not an official sub hired by any particular church, it's more of the benefit of the choir (because this choir pretty much manage the whole Latin mass thing). So as a result I have to play anything we can get, different time at different places. It could be a real pipe organ or it could be a broken out of tune Hammond organ. And usually the church where we have Latin mass don't give me too much time to practice other than 1 hour before the mass.
              Right now my practice rely on an other church who allows me to use their organ some times (also very limited), and when I take class in my teacher's church, but most practice are done on my 61 keys Yamaha digital keyboard.