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How do the new organist in NYC or NJ area find a place to practice?

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    How do the new organist in NYC or NJ area find a place to practice?

    I started learning the organ from a great organ instructor a few months ago, under his help, I have been making a huge progress, not only in playing the organ but also in the general understanding of music.

    However, I have been going through a lot of pain trying to find some places where I can get some practice.

    Currently, the only place in Jersey City where I can practice is Our Lady of Mercy, However, the only time I am allowed to practice there is Saturday afternoon, but that is also the time when I am taking classes from my instructor, and recently I have been assisting him in the service during Saturday Vigil in his church, which is in Larchmont NY, and that makes it impossible for me to practice in Our Lady of Mercey.

    The only other places where I can practice is St Mary's church in Auburn NY, which is 5 hours traveling each way, which makes it even more unpractical to practice in a regular basis, although I do go there some times, but because I have school and job five days a week here in New Jersey, and it's a very high cost to go back and forth Auburn, I could rarely visit there.
    My teacher's church is also at least 2 hours away in Larchmont, and I don't know if they are willing to let me practice there other time then when I am taking lessons.

    I have been trying to contact many many churches in Jersey City area, including Our Lady of Carmel, St Anthony of Padua, Holy Rosary church, St Michael, and many many others, but the problem is, first of all most of the time the church's email system seems to be very inefficient, it's hard to get a direct contact with the music director, and the pastor simply don't reply my email, although I am sure that my requesting emails are nice and humble enough.
    Second of all it seems most churches in Jersey City area and New York City area are closed all the time, they don't open the door unless it's the service hour, so they are not willing to have anybody in their church when they are not having the event, and surely it's impossible to practice when there is a event.
    And also some churches directly tells me that "because of security reasons and liability reasons", they "do not allow anyone to practice anything at any time", such as St Anthony of Padua and Our Lady of Carmel.

    I guess the time when I have time for practicing is kind of tricky too. Because I have school and work, I am usually not free during the day time, the only time that I can practice is either after 4:30pm in the evening or before 8:30am in the morning, or, weekends (such as Sunday after the mass or Saturday before the evening mass).

    In fact, not only I couldn't find any place to practice the organ, I have hard time trying to practice Anything.

    My instructor told me that I could just practice on the piano, in order to get fluent with the manual, and then add the pedal later when I have a chance. However, due to my living situation, I don't have a piano. It's shameful to say this but my budget is very very tight, and I also don't have a steady place to live.

    Just last week I found a cafe near my school which has a piano. For a while I was very very happy, because I thought I could spend time practicing there, and after a week's practice I have actually accomplished a lot. However, just today, the staff in the cafe told me that they are NOT OK with me practicing there every day any more, although I have been doing it for only one hour every morning, they mentioned that it's a cafe not a rehearsal room, they don't want to let people use their piano too much.
    I really feel very very heart broken, I just feel that I really love music very much and I really want to learn well, but I couldn't, I feel helpless and weak like a bird with wounded wings.

    I think maybe I can get a cheap electric keyboard and practice on that. I hope it would help, although then my roommates might complain (I hope not).

    However, the pedal is important to practice too, I can't find anyway to practice the pedal without doing it on the organ.

    Every day I have to remind myself that I should be satisfied because I am already doing better than what I expected, because at first I thought I would be happy even if I have only one chance in my life to touch the organ, now, I have already touched it many times, and I have already learned to play some part of my favorite pieces. However, the more I love one thing, the stronger the desire of doing it well. It hurts me to think that I probably would never be able to do it, no matter I have talent or not, no matter I have passion or not.

    Last but not least, to my great honor, an organist of a Latin Mass choir in which I sing some times offered to let me substitute him this summer, for about two months, because he is going away for Italy. I am more than happy to do that for him. However, the Latin Mass Choir and it's pastor do not have their own church. Even the organist himself doesn't have a place to practice, because the convent lock up the door whenever the mass is over. Right now I am very worried about it, because if I couldn't practice anything, how can I play the mass well? I don't want to disappoint the choir nor mess up the service.

    If you guys have any information about where I can possibly practice, for even just one time a week, or any suggestions on how to find a church that would probably allow me, either in New Jersey or in New York, please let me know. I really appreciate!

    What a touching account of your desire to learn the king of instruments. Shame on the people who don't want to give you every opportunity. You look like a proper young lady and sound like a gentle soul impossible to mistake for a would-be thief of hymnals or altar crosses. And when you're going to work and school at the same time.... without a steady place to live? THAT is dedication.

    I'm empathizing with you as an escapee from greater NYC. (My parents sentenced me to it for 37 years as a tender babe and came with me to enforce it.) Everything's an armed camp up there. “they don't want to let people use their piano too much” – really now!

    Have you asked your teacher for help finding a place to practice? I'm surprised he didn't take the lead right off and contact churches in your behalf. If he won't, consider finding one who will. Failing that, a few more ideas here.

    Attend church somewhere near home and get to know the organist. Praise her playing. Before long ask for a moment of her time after the service – tell her the saga you've just shared with us, and pop the question. Repeat the process elsewhere as needed. Smaller churches may be more philosophically open to your needs and less itchy about security systems, bigger ones have more evening activities to cover your practice period. In that context, a 4:30 or later starting time should be fine.

    Join a church choir. Once people get to know you personally, different situation than a stranger with requests. It's excellent you've sung with a homeless congregation's choir. If it didn't have the potential to damage their relationship with the convent, I'd be bold and demand the convent accommodate you.

    Call the office of a church near your home every other day for a month till you get the organist's name and number. Politely throw the alleged lack of organists out there up to them – serious business! I once asked a muleheaded priest where the next generation of organists was going to come from if he wouldn't let an well-behaved kid jam quietly on the console after church with his mother beaming on.

    If you have a personal contact in a viable church, e.g. a friend who's a member, ask them to vouch for you. Maximize whatever chance comes your way. A 1962 spinet is pitiful compared to the Skinner of your dreams, but it's vastly better than nothing – even if not all working.

    Yes, a home 'keyboard' would be a must -- and the easy part. There are numerous inexpensive 61-note models out there via Ebay, Craigslist etc. plus retailers – even Walmart. Yard sales and thrift shops could be your bonanza here. Get a couple of such instruments, preferably major brands, and position them on a table like organ manuals and you're ready for 3/4 of organ practice. Impressive that your teacher's asked you to sub for him – once you're gigging, a great milestone is reached even if it's only the hymns.

    It would be a mistake to discount the value of small-keyed 'keyboards'. They're terrifically compact and it might surprise you how easy it is to go back to full-size keys at your lesson. (Youtube demonstrations exclaim this in reverse.) People are making serious music on them

    It appears they don't make a single earphone anymore, but at my local library they'll sell you a pair of buds for like 75c. You can get two sets and plug one into each keyboard, snipping off the one on each set that won't be used and your roommates will have nothing to complain about. This is what God gave us two ears for. If a headphone or “line out” jack on a 'keyboard' is bigger than the plug on some buds, there are adapters.

    Don't laugh but silent practice can be extremely beneficial too. Please keep in touch with us about all this. Care to tell us your age? You haven't mentioned transportation. Do you have wheels, how far can you travel to a practice location from Jersey City?


    • Sarah Weizhen
      Sarah Weizhen commented
      Editing a comment
      Thank you so much for your details answer which includes many love and useful suggestions.
      I am actually already 26 years old now, and I am actually not from this country, I grow up in China, and moved to the US as a student in 2015. The reason why am I in such a hard living condition now is because I changed my major and school from an large famous university to a small private school, for the education of traditional fine art. That's a complicated story by itself so I won't say too much here.

      Right now I am a academic trained classical realism oil painter, and will graduate next year this time.

      I think, by the time I graduate, everything will be better, simply because I don't have to worry about the tuition for school anymore.

      Right now I don't really have a car, however it's kind of easy to get to places by public transportation in the city.

      You are right I should get a well functional electric keyboard, that would solve a lot of problems and it doesn't take too much space.

      Also, I am thinking, If in the future I can get a not too small apartment where I am sure I will stay for a long time (instead of always moving), I will consider getting something like a old electronic organ or Hammond organ, something that makes sound on the manual and have a pedal that looks like a organ pedal.

      The connection to the church is important, you are right, the church especially in big cities always have trust issues and security problem plus liability issues, so they won't talk to a stranger who is requesting for something. The biggest reason why I can't practice in my organ teacher's church is because it's too far away. When the American guild of organist metropolitan Jersey chapter introduce me to this teacher, they didn't know that he actually works in a church that is two hours away from his home. But because his home parish is a church nearby (which is Holy Rosary in Jersey City), we are actually trying to let me becoming a member of this church and see how things go from there. The organist in this church didn't say no to me practicing, although the arrangement of the time or the permission from the pastor could be a issue.
      I guess if I join this church's choir it would help too, at least the music director and the priests would know me better.

      The organist who wants me to play the mass when he is on vacation is not my teacher. He is just a friend of mine who plays the organ for this "Latin mass group without their own church" that's why even this organist himself doesn't have a place to practice, and the organ they are using is a really bad Hammond organ that is barely functional.
      However that's the exact reason why I get the gig, they can't find a professional sub, while they need a sub badly, that's why the chance come to me. I really appreciate it and believe that is a wonderful start.
      And things might be changed as well, they are looking for a church where they can have more freedom and rights. Maybe in the near future everything would get better.

      I think I just need to give it a little bit more time, because the whole thing about learning the organ has endless connections with people and churches, and the relationships takes time to build. Yet of course I will keep trying and never loose hope.

      Although I am already a 26 year old adult, too old to become a professional concert organist, but I am glad that I am doing what I can, just for the pure love of music and of the instrument, and for the courage of pursuing my dream. I still have a life long time to do it, and little by little everything will come as they ment to come.

    • myorgan
      myorgan commented
      Editing a comment

      In passing, you mentioned about being part of the local AGO in the Jersey City area. Could you present your dilemma at the next AGO chapter meeting? I would feel fairly positive someone there could assist you there.

      Welcome to the Forum, and best of luck finding an organ on which to practice.


    I am so sorry you are having such a hard time finding a place to practice. This is a major problem around my area also. As the older organist die off, the pipe organs I service just sit there. This has helped the praise band group to move in. Wishing you the best.



      If you lived here (Arizona) I would certainly allow practice privileges at my church. The church owns the organ, not the organists who play them. I wish you all the success in finding an adequate practice instrument.

      Another avenue to check is your local university - they may have practice rooms for the music students - some universities even have organs (electronics and/or pipes).


        When I first took organ lessons, my teacher had access to some practice rooms with small pipe organs (see my avatar) at a local college conservatory and got me a key. My apartment was within easy walking distance so I practiced every day.

        A year later I moved to another city and found a new teacher. They were a grad student and I think they could have gotten me access to their school's conservatory but it would have been a long drive. I bought a Hammond RT3 for $3k, no Leslie just a regular tone cabinet, which I put in the front bedroom of the mobile home I was living in at the time.

        Not sure what your living arrangements are, or your financial situation, but if you have space and can afford a used organ with AGO pedals, I say go for it. Still have that RT3 decades later.
        Hammond RT-3, Estey circa 1903, Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano, Fender Rhodes Mark I 73 stage piano.


          The practice situation really hits a raw nerve with me because I have been on the receiving end of it as recently as a couple of years ago when I moved to my present location in Portland, OR from elsewhere in Oregon. I had to get a paying position in order to have a practice instrument. I grew up in NYC and I know many churches there. I don't know anything about Jersey City. If the original poster can get her way to downtown Brooklyn which isn't all that far from Jersey City she should check with the Lafayette Ave. Presbyterian Church (85 S. Oxford St). They have an amazing 4m Austin in there. The organist that I knew is still there but I am pretty sure the pastor is long retired and the church administration will all be new to me. They actually gave me a key to the building and I could practice any time of day or night for years. I even gave a recital there. I was not a member. I knew nobody there. I just walked in off the street one day out of the blue.

          If that doesn't work, the last church I worked at in NYC before leaving the state in 2009 might be a possibility. John Wesley UMC in Bedford-Stuyvesant. There was a non-working Austin when I arrived there. I played the Bosendorfer piano for a year until I couldn't stand it anymore and found a 3m Allen (analog) on Craigslist and asked them to buy it. It should still be there. Deeper into Brooklyn is the Bethany United Methodist Church. I grew up in that church. If the o.p. asks I can make introductions although I have not been in touch in many, many years. I've heard bye and bye that they have a nice organ there now. But really, Jersey City and Hoboken should have some spots that are more convenient. Getting to a practice instrument shouldn't be a slog. And, IMO if someone is going to have just one keyboard at home for practice it should have weighted piano action. Even if organ sounds are going to be used. When I play organ sounds on a keyboard with a weighted action it feels very much like a tracker style pipe organ to this organist. Hope this helps.


          • Sarah Weizhen
            Sarah Weizhen commented
            Editing a comment
            Thank you for the useful suggestions. I really appreciate. I will try to ask them.

          My son was in the same situation. Nowhere to practice.
          Eventually decided to grab an old electronic organ off facebook. There are tons of free organs on craigslist and facebook marketplace, because.... they are huge, and heavy, and a pain in the butt.

          Those 60s and 70s analog/transistor seem especially common. A big thing was he really wanted a pedalboard as close to ago spec as possible. Most of those free organs have tiny pedalboards. Eventually we found an old Wurlitzer 4520. Huge and heavy. The amps had to be serviced, but it worked out for him in the end


          • Sarah Weizhen
            Sarah Weizhen commented
            Editing a comment
            It's just kind of hard to have a organ in a rented apartment, even the small ones. If eventually one day I can afford my own apartment and be steady I will consider buying one. The pedal is a problem yeah. I saw a broken church organ with a 32 keys AGO pedalboard, I wonder if it would help if I just take the pedals, they can keep the broken heavy big organ. Then the pedals won't make sound but might be a good idea for temporary practice? They want $199 for the pedalboard and bench.

          • myorgan
            myorgan commented
            Editing a comment
            I wouldn't just purchase the pedals. AGO pedals are much larger than they appear because we're used to looking at them from above from the bench rather than seeing the whole set.


          "Keyboards" are cheap, fun and vastly better than nothing. Here's your $40 great manual -- I just replied to the seller to check that it's a standard brand.

          It's got the 12-button grid for sound selection like a touch-tone phone, and that is a GAS. Here's the list of its likely sounds:

          With those less than 3 digits, add zeroes as need be -- 001, 002, 024, 079 etc.

          Jersey City search page:

          Typical search terms could be Casio, Yamaha, Roland, keyboard etc. I suggest only getting units with MIDI connections because they're 10 times the fun and likely to be more recent.


            Hi Sarah,

            have a look at the linked video. Here the pedalboard is attached via a pretty simple string mechanism to the lower octaves of the keyboard. In the Hauptwerk software one can split the midi keyboard ad libitum, so with a 76 note keyboard one could mimic a 2 manual organ plus pedal division using this approach. Hauptwerk runs on even modest Laptop hardware and can make for a practice organ until funds are there to go bigger.

            If you have a laptop already, the software is for free as are many decent and excellent sample sets. If you had to purchase a 76-notes Casio WK-245 ($199 new and has USB Midi), your cost would run around $400 if you purchased that AGO pedalboard and bench. Obviously, one would need to be a bit handy to wire the strings from the pedals to the keyboard. Nothing a friend with some modest skills couldn’t achieve in my opinion.

            Even the keys could be made heavier with additional weights underneath them for that tracker organ feeling.

            In my opinion, these makeshift solutions deserve more admiration than deep pocket installations. Even such modest practice setup at home enables to practice in short or long bursts daily, at all times. Should prove more effective than having to travel to a church in order for hours of practice in a row but with daylong breaks in between.



            Last edited by musicmaker84; 06-08-2019, 07:05 PM.


              I'd hold out for an organ with AGO pedals, when you are living in a place that has room for it, and you plan to live there for a while so you aren't always having it moved. I've recently seen some Hammonds with AGO pedals in the Cincinnati area for $2,600 to $3,000, if you want to keep that price in mind to save up, establish credit, etc.
              Hammond RT-3, Estey circa 1903, Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano, Fender Rhodes Mark I 73 stage piano.


                Hi Sarah, I just moved to Jersey City 2 months ago myself. I have my own instrument but I know where there are a couple free AGO instruments. There's an Allen TC-1 in Clifton NJ (Craigslist) a Rodgers 655 in Queens, another Allen for $500 in Garfield NJ (likely very negotiable) on Facebook Marketplace. And these are just the 32 note AGO pedalboard models fairly local to us. There's even more of the 25 note pedal variety but you really should stick to 32. The Rodgers pedalboard and speakers are missing (not impossible to remedy though) so maybe you'd want to look into these for starters. Just search Organ in both FB Marketplace and North Jersey Craigslist and they'll come up. Bottom line is, they are out there and if you want one badly enough you'll find the room and a way to get one home!


                  Wow, you're resourceful -- kudos on that. Care to tell us why you moved to JC?