Skip to main content
Society, Arts and Culture

'TikTok Organist' Sounds the Sweet and Sour Notes of Social Media to Business Students

Written By Jay Thompson | Photos by Jay Thompson
Organist Anna Lapwood sits at a giant pipe organ.
Anna Lapwood opened her masterclass by siting at the giant organ in Miossi Hall, playing the haunting opening song from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."

As about 40 Digital and New Media Marketing students took their seats in Harold Miossi Hall on April 16, trailblazing British organist Anna Lapwood looked down from the 2,767-pipe organ and began playing  a haunting and iconic piece of music: the opening song from the 1996 Disney movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” 

Lapwood, known as the “TikTok organist,” was in San Luis Obispo ahead of her April 17 concert at the Performing Arts Center, and made time for a demo-and-discussion master class where she discussed the role social media has played both in boosting her career and bringing organ music to new — and younger — audiences.  

Lecturer Catherine Hillman, who teaches the Digital and New Media Marketing class, said she brought her students to the masterclass because Lapwood “has a powerful and savvy digital presence on social media.  

“I knew she would have some great insights for marketing a celebrity — herself — and she could tell my students what it was like to have that kind of digital presence,” she said. “We often hear about the business side, but not nearly as much the personal side from the influencer. She had great advice for the students.” 

Students smile as they sit in an auditorium.
Students in Catherine Hillman's Digital and New Media Marketing class listen to Lapwood speak.

Cal Poly Arts Director Molly Clark led the discussion with the award-winning performer whose burgeoning popularity is expanding audiences for organ concerts by bridging genres and generations. She performs a wide variety of music, including movie compositions, Bach and jazz-infused pieces. 

During the discussion, Clark asked Lapwood about her choice to use social media as a promotional tool.  

Lapwood, the director of music at Pembroke College in Cambridge, England, said some of it came naturally: she is part of the generation that grew up on social media.  

“I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t kind of aware of social media as a thing,” she said, adding that she still tries to share bits of her life as an organist and musician in the same way she did as a teenager. “There’s now 1.5 million people watching as opposed to about three, which is a little bit intimidating — but you kind of have to not think about it.” 

But some of this is new to her too — namely posting on TikTok, the popular app for short-form mobile video, which some of her students encouraged her to try.  

“And I was like, ‘Oh, but I don’t do dances,’" she said. “ ‘That's what TikTok is. Right?’ They told me: ‘no, no, no, no, no. It’s about sharing what you’re passionate about and trying to provide a sort of window into your world.’" 

Anna Lapwood, left, and Molly Clark, right, sit on chairs onstage as students sit in the audience.
Anna Lapwood, left, speaks with Cal Poly Arts Director Molly Clark during her masterclass.

She posts daily, sometimes “random things” or a space-filling “burner video.” Setting out to create a viral video to resonate with hundreds to thousands of followers usually doesn’t work as “people can tell the moment you are trying” and will tell you “that they’re not interested,” Lapwood said. 

She told students to consider the age of the followers on each platform: Instagram, TikTok and Facebook all attract different demographics.

“But with all of those, I’m basically sharing the same content,” she said. “I’m sharing reels on all of those platforms. It’s the same content reaching people via different platforms.”

“So just don’t be self-conscious about what you share,” she counseled. “Just share the things that make you happy, and other people will relate to that and respond to it.” 

Hillman said her students loved listening to Lapwood, and that her advice to be true to yourself resonated.  

“She is very true to her persona in digital media and that was clear when we saw her in person,” Hillman said. “She also has a lot of passion for what she does, and audiences recognize passion about a hobby or a product.” 

For Hillman, one piece of Lapwood’s advice stood out above the rest.  

“Anna encouraged them to take risks, and not get bogged down in perfection. I love her idea on ‘be happy with 60%,’ because we rarely have days where we perform at 100%.  

“If we convince ourselves to be happy with 60%, we’ll be ecstatic when we have 70%, 80% and 90% days. We tend to overthink our own performances, which can cause us to drown in feelings of inadequacy. Hearing that from a 28-year-old who plays an instrument in front of hundreds and thousands of people resonates with the students.” 

Want more Learn by Doing stories in your life? Sign up for our monthly newsletter, the Cal Poly News Recap!

Subscribe to the Recap