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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

May 12, 2013

Organwear (2): Clothes

evelyn @ 7:06 pm

Just how formally anyone dresses for church on Sundays will vary according to the denomination and the occasion, but for the organist an important factor is the extent to which he or she is visible to the world at large when at the console. Of course, even the most invisible organist will be seen entering the church, passing through porch and passages, greeting people on the way. Once up in the dimness of the gallery, however, jackets, ties, and other unnecessary items of clothing can be discarded with relief. All that is needed is the preservation of basic decency in case unexpected visitors turn up.

For those on display while playing, things are more difficult, to the point of needing some advance preparation. Jacket sleeves which are on the long side can inadvertently push a thumb-piston and completely change the mood of your voluntary; best to adjust them before starting. The frequent but necessary watch-checking before things begin gives a wholly unmerited impression of impatience; an unobtrusive little clock would help here. Also, find a hidey-hole so that the shoes you came to church in, plus your gloves and umbrella, are not being examined with great interest by the congregation during the sermon.

In some churches, a glance round the congregation would suggest that skirts are favoured over trousers as ladies’ wear for church   Visiting lady organists should pay no attention to this but instead be guided by pragmatic principles. My own preference, other things being equal, is for a skirt, although experience has taught me to avoid pencil skirts – you just can’t reach the outer pedals – and also the Indian-style wrap-around variety, which may start to unwrap if the pedals get busy.  However, trousers for female organists are necessary if one has to vault over the organ bench to reach the console, and absolutely essential when it comes to sunken and semi-sunken consoles; negotiating these is like getting in and out of a low-slung sports car, or a pit.

Reynolds books

But the last word on this subject simply must go to Professor Gordon Reynolds (1921-1995), Organist and Master of the Choristers at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace for nearly 30 years. His two gloriously hilarious books about the vicissitudes of organ-playing, Organo Pleno and Full Swell (pictured above) should be required reading for all organists. Look how dog-eared my copies are.

Writing in 1970, in an Anglican context, Professor Reynolds issues the following solemn warning on page 22 of Organo Pleno:

Finally, ensure (in the case of males) that the trousers are well clear of the shoe toes, and the waistband firm. No one will know if you accidentally debag yourself in the Benedictus, but you will gain a reputation for insecure rhythm and may have to play an extra long voluntary at the end to ensure total exodus of onlookers. A box of safety pins is in any case a wise precaution.”





  1. I suppose another officiant with a similar problem is the Registrar at civil weddings. They always manage to look smart, as befits an important occasion where they have a significant role; but you would never mistake them for a wedding guest. Their dress is generally fairly sombre. And then of course they don’t have the physical demands upon them that the organ imposes.

    Comment by Anne Armstrong — May 19, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

  2. That’s a good point about weddings. An organist has to look smart at a wedding, but business-like as well. An obvious briefcase is a useful accessory.

    Comment by evelyn — May 21, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

  3. Up here on Stronsay the congregation in the kirk have opted for “smart casual” dress on Sundays. I usually wear a sweater or cardigan with no tie. The exceptions where I wear a jacket, collar & tie are weddings, funerals and the special 11:30pm Christmas Eve service where I’m joined by the Silver Darlings, a group of local folk playing guitar, violin, cello, accordion, mandolin & harp. The only problem on Christmas Eve is that the Silver Darlings just play the hymn tune fortissimo and sufficient times for the number of verses, no heed paid to punctuation. However, the locals love it and I encourage the group whose ages range from 12 to 65. See

    Comment by Bruce Fletcher — June 1, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

  4. Silver Darlings information http://www.orkneycommunities.co.uk/youthmusicforum/index.asp?pageid=2848

    Comment by Bruce Fletcher — June 1, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

  5. I like your Silver Darlings – what a great name! And it’s good that people of all ages are involved. I wish that happened more often.

    Comment by evelyn — June 2, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

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