Is there a preponderance of gay organists? [We may need to define “organist.” Many churchgoers remember the dear sweet little old lady who used to play the organ for church. The sweet little old lady was most assuredly not gay. But she may also not be quite the kind of organist we have come to expect from our schools and churches these days. Only in recent years has the memory of many a churchgoer’s organist been that of a gay man with training.] But anyway, is there a preponderance of gay organists? If so, why is that?
Any convention of the American Guild of Organists or the Organ Historical Society or the American Theatre Organ Society will be well attended by gay men (my statistic). Why is that?
The baseline statistic for the gay population is roughly 10% of the entire population. An additional 26% is otherwise not completely hetero. But in the typical organ studio, the gay population statistic is much higher, many times approaching 100% (my statistic). Why is that?
In many churches, gay is not welcome unless it is closeted. And when it is found out, the organist is dismissed. And so a sizeable musical demographic is working for an institution that seeks to reject their very person, sometimes even to destroy them or at least “cure” them. Why is that?
I have no answers for any of this representing actual research, and I doubt any meaningful research has been done. I have found no more than the most cursory attention paid to this subject, usually on listservs or other forums. And I have actually had the conversation only once or twice over the years, usually over drinks. But this would be a fascinating sociological study in many ways. I’ll just offer the following:
1. The preponderance of gay organists seems to have grown. But I don’t think there are more gay people than before. There are, however, many more organists, period. But I don’t think the demographics have changed much. I feel it’s a false statistic. What HAS changed is the freedom for gay people to make themselves known in all fields, not just music.
2. Why are gay young people attracted to the organ? I think it goes back to childhood. The organ is not the cool kids’ instrument. It is not treated at young ages as the kind of thing for straight guys, jocks, or the promiscuous. And so the introverts gravitate toward it, and the Type-Bs get to hide behind its loudness and enjoy the power it gives them. Now, this particular statistic (mine) is difficult to nail down anymore, since so many kids don’t go to church and are therefore not near an organ on a regular basis. There aren’t pipe organs (for the most part) in the public schools or the basketball gyms or the private schools. A kid still has to encounter the pipe organ in a church or a theatre. But there is also another statistic (mine) that says that once a kid encounters an organ, especially a pipe organ, if they are likely to get hooked, then they are likely to get hooked the very first time, for life. And that is encouraging. The organ still has what it takes.
3. The power given the introvert by the organ is also a very powerful force over people’s very souls. A congregation who appreciates organ music and the organ’s role in worship will certainly appreciate the organist with a heart for them. This is powerful. And we can only hope that a congregation who knows the organist for who s/he is will appreciate him/her that much more.
4. If a congregation is open and affirming, then gay really can be happy (my statistic).