Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Good Luck Finding an Organist
This subject is personal to me. I served as organist in my home parish (14 rank Estey tracker), in college, substituted in several parishes, played every Sunday at one service on vicarage, and still fire up the pipe organ from time to time (mostly for my own enjoyment). In addition, I have been instrumental in obtaining a new organ (pipe or pipe electronic) in every parish I have served -- from vicarage through this present congregation. So when I read a report on the tough times faced by congregations in search of an organist, I read every word.
The ABC News story begins in Oakland, Nebraska, not far from my home town. The organ at the First United Methodist Church in this largely Swedish community has not been played since their 80 year old organist "retired" almost one year ago. The story moves to Redeemer Lutheran Church, St. Clair Shores, Michigan, and a seminary classmate reports that this 400 member church is scheduling substitutes because they cannot find a permanent replacement for their last organist.
In our own case, we went through a similar journey. We had two organists when I arrived but both of them left (following their military spouses) leaving us without an organist for quite some time. We eventually found a temporary part-time organist for one service and depended upon pianists for the rest of the services. We advertised and advertised without success. After purchasing a used grand piano from a piano performance student at the local college, we got our first "permanent" organist -- though he had never played the organ before but was a gifted and quick learner. When college was coming to an end, we advertised up the hilt for our part-time position and had a few applicants. Nearly all were really looking for a full-time position which we were not capable of (at the time). The applicant whom we hired turned out to be the perfect match and his interest and enthusiasm have multiplied our music program and helped us acquire two pipe organs (one, 65 ranks for the sanctuary, and another 12 ranks for the chapel). But I still fear for the long term future.
The cause of this organist crisis is not primarily due to the growing number of churches using a praise band, as some would like to say. We have a large number of organists but only 1% of all the positions are full-time and the pay is abysmal. Both part-time and full-time organists face a big job description and responsibility in the worship service for what ends up being minimum wage or less. Too many congregations are trying to be cheap in an area where you get what you pay for and you go begging when that pay is sub-standard. I, for one, believe that the most important budget line in the congregation's spending plan is the section that covers worship -- staff, benefits, music, maintenance, and supplies. Worship is the heart from which all other aspects of the congregation's life and work flow. If that heart is well cared for and strong, the rest of the congregation's life and work will probably be strong. If that is weak, the whole rest of who the congregation is and what that congregation does will surely suffer.
This is not about organists. This is about putting our money where our mouth is. We say worship is the most important activity, the central focus of our Christian lives as individuals and our life together as the people of God. Why is it that we are so unwilling to pay a living wage to those who are key leaders in the worship services -- specifically the organist, parish musician, choir director, or cantor? I actually heard of one demented Pastor who, in his search to make the parish financially viable, decided to make the organist position an hourly position -- with the clock commencing at the time the organist began playing and ending with the final note of Sunday morning (or other service) was sounded. It would be like paying this Pastor for the time in pulpit but refusing to consider sermon prep part of his official duties. What is wrong with us sometimes?
It is certainly true that there are less pianists out there as a potential pool of organists. It is certainly true that some congregations are giving up organ for "keyboard" and the praise band. It is certainly true that many congregations are financially hard pressed on all fronts. I am not denying this. But if our priorities are centered upon the worship service, some of these factors might fade away in our struggle to find someone to lead God's people in praise from the organ bench. Why not offer to pay for organ lessons for a piano student (youth, teenager, or adult)? Why not check the salary and expectations and make sure you are not asking for the impossible when employing an organist? Why not consider job sharing and adjusting the service times to allow those congregations with one Sunday service to share and therefore provide adequate compensation for some organist who would need only one part-time job to make it a go?
Lastly, and then I will get off my soapbox, the organ is uniquely qualified to lead congregational song. We do not have well trained singers in the pew and so they need certain and solid melody to encourage their singing. The piano, being an acoustic instrument, does not hold the sound and emphasize melody in the same way an organ does. Praise bands are great if you want people to listen to music but they are generally ill equipped to lead hymns (and most of the time they simply serve as back up to the lead solo singers -- generally female -- who sing center stage where the focus is on them and less on the song). The organ can be a solo instrument and some organists act as if it is all about them and their sound, but they are few in comparison to the total number of organists. Think about the role of music within the Lutheran Divine Service tradition, the high place of hymns and sung liturgy, and the theological underpinnings of music within the liturgy -- we can either gripe about it or do something about it to make sure that the people hear the sound that calls them to sing the praise of Him who called us from darkness into His marvelous light... Try going a few weeks without any music at all and you may begin to realize what you are missing. . .
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We are a Midwest congregation in
Illinois and pay our organist $50
per service which comes to $100 per
Sunday. This is probably too low
and doesn't reflect her true worth.
There are several directions to go to answer this question; first since the 1940's we've been a nation that has steadily moved away from producing its own music to being consumers of music. Prior to WWII and the prevalence of affordable records and radio, if you wanted music in your home you had to make it yourself. This meant that the average person was accustomed to hearing themselves sing and be accompanied by a musical instrument. In the 1950's the split began between claassical music, church music and popular music became a matter of cultural identity. Or the 'you have your music and I have mine' dichotomy became a right. In 60 or so years we've gone from playing a musical instrument and singing along as a necessity to a sign of a well rounded education, to a luxury to something that only nerds do. Most music in some way is derivative of its predecessor, but lack of musical instruction and the ability for anyone to 'create' through computer software, it has become so derivative as to make most 'new' popular music to be a banal shadow, vaguely familiar to something we've heard before too many times.
Contemporay music is insisted upon in a worship setting because that is what we Baby Boomers (and our offspring) have been doing since we reached over the front seat and changed the channel in the car on our family trip to Yosemite. Music is seen as an expression of individuality and we will insist on having our music our way or we'll walk away. Boomers especially want to continue to be what we were in our 20's and having our music is one way we do so, it gives us a false sense of relevance. And rather than a walk out the church yields. I also think one of the reasons why contemporary worship tends to appeal to people isn't the music itself but because it appeals to us as consumers of music rather than makers of music. We prefer to listen rather than sing. There is a difference between clapping your hands, swaying to the music and repeating a refrain ad nauseum and singing a hymn in unision with 100 plus other people, as the hymn was written. Often contemporary worship is sold as encouraging 'participation.' That is not far from the truth, not because the historic liturgy bars participation, but because many contemporary americans (of every age) look at a hymn in a hymnal the way a holstien looks at a new gate; i.e., little or no idea what to do with it.
And so the organ as an instrument is as foreign to most suburban middle class Americans as it can be. The only time many young people hear Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D is at a Halloween haunted house, and when they hear it as pre-service music in church it makes them giggle. Mention the word 'organ' and it conjures up the sound of the ubiquitous Hammond B-3 with a tremulant set on 'coma,' not Paul Manz' glorious improvisations on "St. Anne."
If the music of the church is to continue beyond a class at a university, or a recording in our iPod we're going to have to educate, educate, educate our congregations. We cannot take anythig for granted, we cannot assume that our members know what it all means, that they get it simply because it's all that they've ever known. We need to have good reasons for what we do, and we have to teach and inculcate the beauty and the joy of liturgical worship and the music of the church. That means we should also be open to improvements, and have a high standard for worship, it should be the very best we can do, not pandering to the lowest common demominator.
There now, I've vented long enough.
There are many directions one can go to address this problem. First, prior to the 1940’s and the prevalence of radio and recorded music if you wanted music of any kind in your home you had to make it yourself; which meant hearing the sound of our own voices singing along. After WWII and on into the 1950’s the split between popular music, classical music and church music grew and became a part of our culture. Eventually the ‘you have your music and I have mine’ dichotomy became a right. In 60 years or so we’ve gone from making your own music out of necessity to being able to play the piano as a sign of a well rounded education, to music lessons as a luxury to music instruction of any kind being a tedious chore relegated to nerds.
We Baby boomers in particular have been insisting on our music since we reached over the front seat and changed the channel on the family trip to Yosemite. We (and our offspring) still insist on our music, because it is a sign of our individuality and personality and we will inflict this on the church or we’ll walk. Our music is the way we cling to the past and pretend that we’re just as young as we’ve always been. Yet I think the fact that we are predominantly consumers of music rather than producers of music is what makes contemporary worship appealing. It suits the listener more than the participator. There is a difference between clapping your hands, swaying and singing a praise refrain ad nauseaum and singing a hymn in unison with 100 plus other people. Contemporary music is often sold because it encourages ‘participation’ and that I think is not too far from the truth. It is not that liturgical worship bars participation, but that when modern Americans see a hymn in a hymnal and grapple with the meter of the text, the notation of the tune its rather like observing a Holstein encountering a new gate. They just aren’t sure what to do with it all.
Needless to say the organ as an instrument is completely foreign. I would venture to guess that the only time most young people hear Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D is at a haunted house on Halloween. And when they hear that same music in church on Sunday it makes them giggle. Mention ‘organ music’ and it conjures up the sound of the ubiquitous Hammond B3 with its tremulant set on ‘coma’ not the glorious sounds of Paul Manz’ improvisations on “St. Anne.”
If the liturgy and music of the church is to exist in the future outside of a university music department and a few selections on our iPod we will have to educate, educate, educate. We cannot take anything for granted. We will have to have good reasons for what we do and be able to articulate them. We will have to inculcate the theology as well as the beauty and joy of the hymnody and liturgy of the church. We’ll have to be open to improvements, but also be firmly set on excellence and not settle for pandering to the lowest common denominator.
It is not just musicians to play our organs that we’re running short of. Contemporary worship is prevalent enough in the Synod that we have candidates at the Seminary who have not grown up with a hymnal in their hands, or used the historic liturgy on a regular basis. I’m not sure what these fellows will do when they discover that not everyone gets to go to 1000 member churches with video screens and praise bands. Most candidates get placed in congregations with around 100 members, comprised of blue collar workers, farmers and ranchers; and whose worship is found in the hymnal, and the accompaniment is a hand-me-down organ in ill repair.
There now, I’ve vented for the day.
Hope you feel better, Allen... I do when I let go... Blessings to you...
Why, of all the crazy...
Actually, Pastor Peters, you describe what I believe to be a critical issue and, Pastor Bergstrazer, you offer what I believe to be an incredibly viable solution.
The parish I now serve has been blessed with an incredibly gifted organist. The congregation I served previously had an organist whose dedication to the task more than covered what may have been lacking in ability. In both cases, these organists recognized that their tasks figured incredibly the formation of faith. If we believe what we say as Lutherans, the hymnal is a critical text in learning the faith, more than simply knowing what our favorite hymns are. I would dare anyone to find modern praise songs that stack up in their theological content (if they have any) against the hymns of the Reformation.
Pastor Bergstrazer's suggestion of cultivating young people within the congregation to become organists certainly has merit. In our small context, we have had at least one young person who has voiced an interest in this line of service. I credit the organist at my home congregation with beginning and cultivating my own interest in sacred music for the organ, and with a desire to build the entry level skills I have.
The only issue with such a plan is that it takes an incredible amount of time (years) and the support of parents.
By the way, a Lutheran educator recently died in our area. I commented to our secretary that this was a near and dear event to me. I didn't personally know the individual, but I do sense that fewer Lutheran school teachers are being produced by our Concordia system, though I don't know it as fact, and that means fewer synodically trained organists.
We got an awesome new organist fresh out of school. Yes, I am bragging.
At least, in one parish in the United States, the senior pastor gets it!
You are a blessed exception to the rule. May I make a few gentle suggestions?
1. Keep conveying what you know to your fellow clergymen, and to the seminaries, if they will deign to listen to you. The fact that you are well-informed, and are running a successful parish, make actually be two strikes against you in academia.
2. Your organist is undoubtedly a member of AGO. They have a program in place, 'Pipe Organ Encounters' that puts interested young people with some keyboard skills in the company of accomplished organists for a week in the summer. It works very well.
3. From the pulpit, encourage families to direct their children toward music studies, and away from soccer and football. There are a hundred good reasons for this, but one of the best ones is that little Nathan or Samantha won't be needing knee replacements at age 40 if they become organists.
4. As you know, the organ is not an easy instrument to learn to play well. That's OK, because we should bring our best gifts to worship. But it does take time, energy, and effort to grow a good organist. Encourage families to do it anyway.
5. A church concert series, done the right way, can really help you out.
There's much more to say, but don't wish to bore you. If I can find your email, I'll be in touch.
Best wishes, and a thousand thanks for this post.
I'm feeling much better now, thanks. The matter is not always money in a parish, I've had numerous organists who refused to be paid, in this case one must make sure that your volunteers have the best possible instrument and that it is in good condition, as well as encouragment,(do what you can to make their efforts a joy) support and the occasional workshop if they're so inclined. I also visited my in-laws recently renovated Catholic church, everything was repaired, restored, refinished except for the Pipe organ, that was left to rot away by choice while a keyboard is used instead. The money was there for repair and restoration, but it wasn't seen as a priority.
Organ encounters are an excellent idea if you have AGO in your area, an organ crawl can get your members to realize you have a wonderful resource in your church as well.
I think the church (LCMS) should have a special college devoted to training/educating single women as accomplished organists, fully trained in leading hymnody and liturgy.
This college should be located on the same campus of the seminary. All seminarians must be single and can only date females from their "sister" college. In order for a seminarian to graduate, he must be engaged to a graduate from organist college. This, I believe, would solve the problem. It falls nicely with most congregations: two for the price of one! Our churches are cheap - they buy or tollerate junky inexpensive appliances - if they do have a pipe organ, they don't want to pay to have it properly maintained. They don't want to pay a decent wage for a good organist so they settle for a volunteer who once took piano lessons and can "tickle the ivories." And then there's the pastors who allow their organists to play services unprepared . . . . with glaring mistakes. (What's even worse are pastors who have been given highly trained/skilled "ministers of music"/"Kantor" organists and they demote them to "the parish musician" and are instructed to play contemporary church music.) It's the former that has brought about contempory music in the church - - bad organist? Go Guitar or Karaoke. The latter has caused many great organists to hang up their hats. My graduating class at River Forest had 38 organists. There were 37 better than I and yet, today, only 3 have full time church music jobs in our church . . . I'm one of the three.
At music conferences, fellow organists complain about their pastors - I would guess that at Pastor conferences, pastors complain about their organists. Seems like my original plan at the beginning of this "comment" is the answer . . . but I'm also afraid it would lead to higher divorce rate in the clergy!
Wow, what a great conversation. There is so much to be said. I'm really happy my friend forwarded this to me, but I feel guilty spending the time reading it and commenting on it. I am fortunate to have a full time organist position (Kantor). I have a great Pastor, a wonderful choir, and the support of most of the congregation. I am truly blessed. But I play at a second church on Sunday afternoons, I have 10 piano students, and I take what ever side jobs (weddings, funerals, concerts) I can find just to make ends meet. I live outside of one of the richest areas in the nation. My church is inside that area and my congregation has more millionaires than you can shake a stick at. But even though I'm "full time" my wife and I can barely make ends meet. We are'nt going into debt, thank God (literally), but the cars are 10yrs old (231K miles in one case), the appliances are failing one by one, you get the picture. And the church budget passed because they reduced spending in every category. My salary will be the same as last year, but over the next 3 years I will take on more and more responsibility for my health care. I'm getting tired, and I'm no where near retirement.
If you want organists, they have to have organs to play on, and they have to be able to prepare. I don't play as well as I know I'm able because I don't have the time or energy to practice they way I should. Wouldn't it be great if an organist could spend his work week preparing for worship, instead of wondering how he was going to get everything done that he's committed himself to do because I needs the cash?
And, this is about more than just the organist! When we go away (we will, it's happening now), I suspect that our Lutheran heritage of worship and congregational singing will go away too. What goes next?
I was so happy to see this site. I have been an organist all of my life. Yes, the pay is horrible. Now in my fifties I have finally found a church that pays an adequate salary. I get almost $70.00 per service which is not up to standards set professionally but better than I had been getting all my life. We also have to pay for our music out of our salary. People do not realize this. I was happy to see the point he made about the Praise band doing more entertaining than leading the singing. I feel the same way. The organ leads the congregation. The praise band can not lead in the same way that the organ leads.
We have one Lutheran church in Appleton that does not pay their organists at all. The pastor feels it should be a service to the congregation. LOL They also can never get organists to play there.People forget how much we have had to pay for lessons over the years, books, etc. I will serve coffee in my free time. I did not havebut not play to take lessons to serve coffee.
This takes education. The problem is that there are so few organists. People do not understand the issues, the time it takes to get to the point where one can lead, and the cost involved.
I appreciate your blog and understand how little priority is given to the position of organist. I have been providing my current congregation with music for close to 15 yrs now. We are a small congregation and have limited resources. I have limited "talent" but am able to get us through many services most days without too many errors. :-) All that being said I view my "talent" ( limited as it is) as a gift from God and can not bring myself to accept payment for giving back what God has given to me.
Some people do use this talent as a source of income so they most certainly should be compensated for it. Unfortunately, there are few congregations that have need of an organist for more than the hour or two on Sunday morning. So a large salary is not considered when putting together a budget
Personally I didn't not take my instruction with intent to earn a living with it so this probably why I have a slightly different view of it.
Just some of my ramblings
I played for Baptist churches for 40 years, 33 of them without a salary. When I started doing weekend night shifts 9 years ago, I kept on coming even after 26 hours of no sleep. While most of the congregation appreciated it, one church leader had no appreciation and in fact tore my head off when I had neglected to do something that week. She timed the blast for maximum effect.
The church ended later that year (no surprise) and I was ready to give up church organ playing and most of all, stop coming to church after my night shifts!
In a couple of months, an ad appeared in the paper for an organist and choir leader for an Anglican church. I called them up and offered to perhaps play on just my off weekends. They were so anxious that they raised their pay offer twice to an amount I couldn't refuse, for every Sunday, about $500 a month, which makes a huge difference to my retirement (from work) plans.
Now I have a lovely pipe organ to play, and a quality choir to lead, and money! And to think I was prepared to keep playing an electronic organ every Sunday for nothing, in the Baptist church with that dragon lady in it! Praise.
Hi, all! Thanks for the incredibly fine reflections. I grew up in the LC-MS, but have been a member of the ELCA now for twenty years plus. That said, I also wish to be respectful (as much as possible) of the unique historical, theo-political realities/differences which do exist among denominations. I also believe, as we are of the US culture, that many are (if unintentionally) discouraged from taking up an instrument which has something of a comparatively steep learning curve. It is however far from impossible. Alas, as with many artistic and scientific pursuits, we are discouraged from learning to explore and then exercise skills and talents regardless of how well gifted/disposed one may be. Our US culture (and baby boomers especially) tend to insist on such superiority, that it has squelched much openness to explore and learning even if it can't be done without excellence. Think about the joke, "What do you play?" (response) "I play my stereo." There have been thousands and thousands of people who learned to play the organ and did a perfectly reasonable job with modest skills: but they did play, and they were faithful, and they tried; week in and week out, for decades. Were they encouraged to keep going further, possibly many times not. When did a congregation or council just outright offer to pay for lessons to that faithful woman or man or high schooler, because of the investment she or he had made to them? In the past 75 years, I daresay rarely. We have indeed made our own beds. But we don't have to just wring our hands. Go the heck out there and do something about it. Be invitational. Don't hit anyone over the head. Just be there for that person--young or old--who's been trying. Make a point of making the organ available to the 6-7-8th grader who seems to be taking a shine to all the buttons, and sounds, and keys, and beauty of the instrument. We don't all have to be the world's best. The instrument can do far more than what we ourselves often think we need to make it do for us. Let it shine as a remarkable musical gift God has given us.
It's the same all over the place. Christianity has built too many large institutions that need to be fed, and the first thing to go is the music budget. I've been very lucky to have 10 great years at my church, but they have lost their ability to pay someone too. Who knows where all this is going?
3. The catalyst for my leaving this particular church fell to whether I, as the prospective director of music, could be granted the authority to turn off the four area microphones positioned two feet away from my choir during the Choir Offertory. Not only was the church incredibly small and with a favorable natural acoustic and no 'dead-spots' to speak of, but I had also spent at least a month re-training their choir to project (and sing correctly) without amplification. This request was forcibly denied, and nothing quite kills a Palestrina motet like a hard-of-hearing sound technician turning the unneeded amplification up to 'level 11' half way through from the back of the room.
I provide this specific example in part because it is ultimately an amusing story, and in part as a key illustration of how
a fundamental lack of respect for your trained musician and for the role of church music in general can contribute to the difficulty in finding and retaining an organist.
And for any other organists \ musicians \ clergy that are reeling in horror from this story -- things can and do improve: I was fortunate to find a different church a month after that incident that turned out to be a much better fit all around. Not only does my current church value traditional worship and liturgy, our Rector is also a very fine and capable musician in his own right, and also respects the role that music plays in Worship.
(Also as a side-note, I am in no way complaining about the fact that the organ at the first church was digital. I am a firm believer that putting a good quality two to three manual digital organ into a small church with limited maintenance funding is a far better overall investment than putting in a real instrument of lesser quality, smaller capability and less versatility that will be a strain on the budget to maintain. Fellow Organists need to get over the snobbery towards digital instruments. I'll take a good quality Rodgers over a 70's rebuilt Moller that barely plays any day of the week! That said, churches that have the room and budget, however, should always aim for actual instruments when presented a realistic choice. )
You omit one other key factor in the dearth of organists: the AIDS crisis killed off a number of my colleagues. May they rest in peace.
While a sophomore in High School I stood up at a parish business meeting and asked for a raise in the salary I received as the Hammond Organist in the large Trinity Baptist Church ($20.00 per month in 1953 for the purpose of taking Organ Lessons running $12.00 a week in those days. The Pastor said Brother George we can't afford you a raise. I resigned with a two week notice and the next morning caught a bus ride across town to the also large South Main Baptist Church with a Kilgen Pipe Organ. The Minister of Music, Thad Roberts, was brand new on the job and walked me into the Sanctuary and showed me how to experience the organ (and not do any damage to it as well!) That was around nine a.m. I finished enjoying my new found friend at 5 p.m. and asked if I could return on the next morning and I was granted that privilege. Next morning, the Minister of Music greeted me with the news that someone heard me play and said "I'll give that boy lessons! ...but this must remain anonymous!" So began two years of study with Anthony Rahe, Organist-Choirmaster of Trinity Episcopal Church down the street. The Baptist Organist, Charles Lively, sent me there to receive the lessons because he owned the Baldwin-Lively Piano Store in town and would not be available to give the lessons himself. My Senior Year in High School concluded and I begged to meet the donor before heading off to Baylor University. Permission granted, I and my parents were invited to dinner with Henry Alvin Lott (H.A.Lott Construction Company who built the Astrodome!!!) and then again on the thirtieth anniversary of the Minister of Music there, the Lott's, me and my wife, Leslie, again went to dinner again after I played a recital for the opening of that church's new chapel, and also I played for the thirtieth anniversary services of the Minister of Music. Every where I've ministered over this 63+ years I've told Men's Groups you have not because you've not invested in the youth of your congregation. Look around and see who can be helped to become that organist, pianist, choir director, pastor, among you and invest in them. It worked for me and can work today! George Ellis Mims, D. M.
I'm one Boomer who won't set foot in a 'Praise' setting. That's not music. I sang in a stunning little choir for nine years: Arvo Part, Mozart, Rachmaninof, Bach, Charles Villiers Stanford, Casals, Biebl, Tavener, William Byrd...It's the one thing I most miss in synagogue services. Yes, I'm a Jew. And Jewish music, that once followed the latest trends - from late medieval to baroque - that had a great tradition of cantorial soloists, is now reduced to sing-around-the-campfire simple melodies most often accompanied by guitar. No offense meant to Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, but - it's not right.
I miss singing in the Episcopal church choir. For which, one really needs a nice little pipe organ.
payment for playing? I play keyboard at our church, spend a few hours on Thursday night practice and love every minute of giving back to God the talent He so freely gives to me. I also coordinate and take turns cleaning the church as an offering of love and gratitude. Wow...it never occurred to me to be paid. What a joy serving God!
Great topic. I completely support the payment of organists. As professionals in our field, as are pastors, we need to be supported by the congregations we serve. I am blessed to serve in a part time position at a congregation that truly loves the talents I bring to the Divine Service. My heart goes out to the musicians who can't find work. Because, for every congregation who bemoans that they can't find an organist, there is an organist who has to change careers since s/he can't find gainful employment.
Could not agree more. I'm blessed to hold on of the few full-time organist positions in the LC-MS, but it was tough landing this job. We are currently trying to hire a part-time assistant organist and have had 0 responses. Yes, zero. And we're in Chicago! It's a sad time in history.
Could not agree more. I'm blessed to hold on of the few full-time organist positions in the LC-MS, but it was tough landing this job. We are currently trying to hire a part-time assistant organist and have had 0 responses. Yes, zero. And we're in Chicago! It's a sad time in history.
Mormons have members of their own congregation playing in nearly every chapel in the country every Sunday of the year. Many are very good. Most are very passable for any denomination's services. I would be willing to bet a dollar that if you contacted your local Mormon bishop, he would be able to find you a Mormon organist willing to come and play your organ for free many, many Sundays for your services.
Unfortunately, the trend is toward fewer full-time positions.. for clergy as well as musicians, and that will probably not change in the near future. In response, some seminaries are beginning to talk about preparing clergy (if/when needed) to be bi-vocational. Is this also true of those training organists?
I'm a classical organist and church musician with 30+ years under my belt. I'm also an amateur organ builder and have shepherded several revoicing and expansion projects, and most recently found all the parts needed and had a professional organ company assemble what became a 6 rank unit organ for a church seating about 90.
Sometimes we organists are our own worst enemy. I'm thinking of people who play a lot of serious and often dissonant organ works, or a constant diet of full organ. Ponderous hymn tempi can add to what I have heard from those in the pew more than once "sounds like a funeral." The organ can be incredibly exciting, and can also add greatly to praise music. In one of my churches, the priest insisted on "Cursillo" songs during communion. These fall into the "praise" category. My choirmaster played the piano, we had a violinist or oboist pretty regularly. Priest particularly wanted the bass the organ could provide. With piano and other instruments leading, it freed me to improvise descants and provide other color. In the absence of violin or oboe I could solo out the melody. I also provided the interludes and modulations between selections. It was the best music we offered at the time, better than our choir anthems. And for heaven's sake, don't lock up the console like Fort Knox, have the office people welcome visitors who wanted to try the organ. Don't hesitate to make the organ fun! play "Happy Birthday" with a brief fanfare type intro once in a while (I don't do it often but people like it.) Last Sunday I heard my assistant's husband ask her if she brought the Marine Hymn (we did a 20 minute hymn-sing using patriotic music before the service) She didn't have the music, so I improvised on the Marine Hymn (from the halls of Montezuma) for a few minutes before service started. These things are good for the organ and its future.
I haven't read all the posts, so this may be a repeat.
Other manners of compensation include paying for continuing ed - encouraging the organist to continue to learn from a mentor (or a college or university where organ is taught). One church allowed the organist to hold piano lessons in the choir room. He also taught music, voice, and music appreciation at the local college. His students were allowed to practice on the church organ. These students then filled in when he was on his month's vacation. There was a concert series - funds collected went to the organ fund, as it is important to have a reserve for repairs). Students played their organ recitals in the church.
This broadened the appeal of the congregation as a place that nurtured the arts. It attracted new members who lived exceptional music. The choir expanded - was professional - and performed challenging music. Some members and members of the choir left bequests to the music program.
In MI especially there are a number of historic organs (fine instruments) that need extensive repairs. Leather bellows that need to be repaired or re-glued. Some have had minimal work done over decades. Encouraging people to train in organ restoration is key. It would cost close to a million dollars for some of these fine instruments to be restored.
What if someone who does this work spent summers traveling with a group of apprentices?
I realize I am addressing the passing on of an art form, of keeping these skills alive.
Once or twice a year I go to a "big church" to be filled with the experience of a fine instrument,well played. I feel the floorboards vibrate under my feet, and tears will probably slip down my cheeks. I am clergy with a good organist at one church, and a failing organist at the other, playing inexpensive electronic organs. They are willing, and we accept their gifts.
M - Yes but then clearly that means that this is not your livelihood. Serving God is a lovely thing - but so is being able to afford rent and groceries! I would think then, also, that an organist who plays in churches as their full time career is probably a higher caliber of performer, leader, and musician. Shame on you for trying to make professional musicians feel ashamed of earning a living!
In response to earlier comments about young people in local conversations: Allow me to plug Lutheran Summer Music (run by the Lutheran Music Program). I am an alum, and current music professor; many of my fellow alums are teachers, professional musicians, and yes, both church musicians and pastors. At a critical time, when I had not yet decided what role either music or the church would have in my life, it was a vital experience. Unlike many of the festivals and camps for young musicians, it was a serious and intensive place, but one that suited undecided folks like me well; you were not locked in a practice room. And also unlike many music festivals, there was a strong and dedicated program for organists, singers with a choral interest, and the other aspects of a life/career in music (and specifically church music) that are overlooked in most festivals, which tend to be more geared towards kids already aspiring to orchestral, conducting, or composition careers.
The first summer I went, I had to be strong-armed. A month? At a music camp? But it really was a life-changing experience.
I was a music education major in college in the early '70s, and organ was my primary instrument. In the 40 plus years since I graduated, there have only been a few years I didn't play on a regular basis. I have been the organist for a moderate sized Presbyterian Church in a small mid-western town for the past 30 years. For 11 of those years I was also the choir director. I am currently paid twice a month (which amounts to approximately $136 per week), and am allotted 2 vacation days and 2 sick days (paid) per year. I feel very fortunate to have a very supportive administrative staff and congregation.
Our greatest difficulty at this point is maintaining a dedicated choir. I believe there are several reasons for this, one of which is another major reason for difficulty in finding competent organists, and that is the increasing elimination of music education in the schools. Before public school music programs completely disappear, we have to find some way to impress on school administrators, the public. and most especially, government officials, the importance music plays in the development of the brain. There is no other school subject that utilizes both hemispheres of the brain, as well as what is commonly called the old brain, mid brain and new brain. Music enhances the ability of all those segments of the brain to work in harmony with each other. There is no other subject . . . bar NONE . . . that children study in school that has this capability. When schools don't see the importance of school music, it is a sure bet that most parents are not going to grasp the concept either.
At least it was left in place, and perhaps in the future, someone wiser than the current incumbant will see it as a priority.
Sounds like a very good payment to me, doesn't anyone want to share their God given talents just for the joy of it and appreciation for having such a talent...
Sounds like a very good payment to me, doesn't anyone want to share their God given talents just for the joy of it and appreciation for having such a talent...
Many good comments here. However, my own observation is that the problem is much deeper than what is happening in the church. Music education is rapidly becoming extinct in many school systems. Until that deficit is repaired, availability and skill of musicians in the church is going to continue to decline.
In reference to the "Halloween Music", I think you mean the Toccata and Fugue in d minor, BWV 565. If you're going to cite Bach, at least get the title right.
Vicki -- Unfortunately, that's the usual attitude toward musicians -- don't you just want to do it for free? Ummmmm ... no. Not when music is supposed to be your PROFESSION. If it's just about getting music for free, you shouldn't have a trained musician at all. Just pick a random congregation member every Sunday, and he or she can take a crack at the instrument for that day's service.
Years of study, lessons, education and sitting examinations don't come free. Musicians are just like any other people trying to make a living. We would like a return on our investment!
I am also an LSM alum (attended 3 summers). Growing up in a small town/school that favored athletics much more than fine arts, LSM provided a setting where I could advance my skills and delight in my passion for music, rather than being mocked for it as I was in high school. It was great preparation for serving in a church music position, and also gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded people who became life-long friends. My wonderful experience at Lutheran Summer Music certainly guided me in my decision to major in music in college, and continue to serve as a church musician (though poorly paid).
Vicki - do you do your job for peanuts? Assuming you said no, then why should your organist? $50 for a service is abysmal pay.
I moved back to my hometown just over 12 years ago and currently serve as one of several rotating service accompanists. I am a competent pianist, but not someone who can just "show up" for a service and feel good about my performance. I also regularly learn, prepare, and polish new music to add to my repertoire. For an average Sunday, I put in 6-8 hours of practice/prep time in addition to the time spent in the service (2 services/Sunday in the school year, 1 in the summer.) I am paid $56 per service (before taxes) and it is disheartening that, even with 13 years of piano training, 30+ years of accompaniment experience, and a bachelor's degree in music, the entry-level rate at the local Wal-Mart beats what I get paid at church. All of the organists / pianists receive the same rate, even one who is still a high school student, adequate but not at the same skill or experience level as myself. I receive a small "honorarium" for accompanying the choir 9 months each year, and for the last year or so, I have been selecting weekly hymns (without compensation) - another time-consuming task in which I need to select hymns that are relevant to the service while considering whether or not the scheduled accompanist for a particular week will be able to play them. I also provide vocal solos and accompany for other church soloists/groups throughout the year (unpaid). I work from home, assisting in our family business - a pipe organ building, service, and restoration company - and am a busy mother of 3 kids. Church is really my only outlet for music at this point, so I continue to serve in that capacity, primarily to feed my soul and maintain my skills. More and more, however, the low (if any) pay for what I do just doesn't seem worth the stress, time, and effort required for me to do a good job. I "give" in a lot of other ways to the church (lector, volunteer/donate items for church-sponsored events, serve on committees, etc), none of which have require extensive training or experience.
I think more students would consider organ/piano lessons or even majoring in music if they were fairly confident that putting forth that time and financial commitment would eventually pay off. Along with my music degree in vocal performance, I have a minor in business, and special certification in fine arts management. I think my skill set and experience would be a very good fit in a church music coordinator position and/or staff accompanist position for a church or school, but I don't think this is a position that should be expected to be filled for free. Given my current geographic location, however, I guess I have to take what I can get or quit making music altogether.
My husband (considered the default organist for any sort of special service) and I have become somewhat of a "power couple" regarding music in our church. We are concerned about what will happen if we decide to move out of the area at some point, and we have tried to convey that to the church. One of our biggest fears is that the beautiful pipe organ that my husband rebuilt in 2012 will sit quietly, not because our congregation cannot afford to pay, but because the staff and greater majority think musicians should share their talents simply for the "glory of God."
Daniel, most scholars doubt the T&F is actually by Bach. If you're going to cite Bach ...
$50 is ridiculously low. I worked as a church pianist in high school and was paid $75 per service; organ is a more complicated instrument with a lower supply of players, so of course they should be paid more than I was as a high school pianist.
Vicki: Yes, many musicians feel called to share their gift of music. I am a professionally trained vocalist whose primary job is teaching voice lessons at a local college. I provide special music and serve as cantor periodically in my home congregation. I also occasionally sub and accompany at my mother's churches where she serves as organist. I do this without compensation in my own congregation and for the very small honorarium my mother's churches pay. Here's the thing though - I am not involved in any worship planning, and I do not do this on a weekly basis. If I did, I would no longer view this as a voluntary position that I give of my own time out of my own convenience. If I were to take on the responsibility of leading the congregation week in and week out, learning hymns, preludes, postludes, offertories, planning worship, choosing hymns, maybe leading the choir or organizing a praise team - that no longer falls in the realm of volunteerism. That is now a vocation - a job that deserves to be paid. If you expect to have continuity and to have people work to make the music truly something that enhances worship week after week, you have got to pay them for that service. One thing that people overlook is that there is a smaller pool of qualified musicians, but there ARE still many out there. The thing is that with a smaller pool, those who have training can and do choose positions where they are seen as VALUED for their skill and their training. If you go to college, take lessons, invest time, maybe even get a degree - if you're WORKING in that field, then you expect to be compensated for that PROFESSIONAL training you have received.
I have been a church musician for over 30 years, have a Bachelor's in Voice and Piano with a minor in organ, and a Master's degree in Church music and Liturgy. My annual salary is $40,000. This is pretty normal pay for a well qualified church musician. It's no wonder it's difficult to find organists!
Musicians have to eat, too.
The point about the lamentable disappearance of music education in schools is a good one. However, it only identifies a need which the church is superbly equipped to serve. The church should not just stand by and wring her hands. Children-- particularly boys-- have graced church choir stalls for centuries-- most of the greatest church music even in the twentieth century was composed with their voices in mind-- and there is no reason why they shouldn't again. The church, after all, was the cradle of our heritage of music in the West. I know of at least two parishes once about to close their doors which got behind a serious choral program for boys and girls as an outreach to the community. In came the kids. Then in came their parents. Now they are flourishing congregations. Statistics also show that young choristers are among the likeliest to remain faithful churchmen their whole lives. Furthermore, nothing is more natural than for talented and enthusiastic choristers to aspire to the organ bench. This youthful experience sparked the careers of many of our great organists today. Contrariwise, I find it no coincidence that in year X prominent churches abolished their choristers, and in year X+10 a great university in the same city had to close its organ department for lack of interest. All it takes is congregations who care enough.
An autograph manuscript to BWV 565 was found several years ago. It is by J.S. Bach, the manuscript they found was slightly different from the modern version, Hector Olivera has memorized it and performs it as Bach himself did. Well, the notes anyway, maybe not the registration...
And, maybe they DID hear the Prelude and Fugue in D major (I mean BVW 532, not BVW 850, for you academic nit pickers) at a Haunted House, one never knows.
Why is it that everyone who thinks musician should just donate their talents do not hold true for other professions? Would you ask the same of a surgeon, baker, dog groomer, car salesman. What people fail to realize is that musicians are trained professionals. We take music lessons at an early age. Instruments, books and lessons all cost money. For those musicians who are more talented, time is sacrificed from other social interests to expand our talent. When we reach 16-25 years old there has been a small fortune spent for musical education. I personally find it offensive, when someone assumes that I will just play for free because we are friends or because it is for church.
People think musicians should donate their talents because most church musicians are amateurs. I was a music major my first two undergraduate years and have performed for decades without being paid and I wouldn't take the money if it were offered. Most churches cannot afford a professional musician full time and the piano or organ is played by an amateur for services. If the services of a professional are desired, say for a very large church, then they should be properly compensated. But that is a very narrow sliver of church life. Our church is on a reasonably tight budget with simply providing decent compensation for our pastor, whose services are infinitely more necessary than those of a professional musician.
You get what you pay for. As a musician with a BMED, I spent 11 years learning my instruments before even going to college. The degree was 18 hours of classes each semester - days started at 8am and ended at 11pm. By my junior year, 4 hours playing my instrument each day was about the norm. I had also learned how to play every woodwind and brass instrument, percussion, and (I still am not very good at ) strings. We all suffered through something known as sight singing, which means I can look at a piece of music and sing the melody or harmony lines to you if you give me the starting note. Believe me, choirs love when I visit, one rehearsal and I am golden.
I earned that degree 32 years ago and I volunteer my services when it is something I feel passionate about doing. Otherwise, expect to pay a fee for my time, gas, purchase of music, and time spent in making it sound EASY and more than just the right notes at the right time. That's what a professional does that someone who just knows how to play never can copy.
Give me a break. I had music theory and I can sight sing. Sight singing isn't exactly rocket science. And yes, my choir director likes that I can sight sing. A music degree, either performance or educational, isn't particularly different from other degrees except for the time spent in performance, which ought to be enjoyable. If someone with a background in business or accounting serves as church treasurer are they being cheated?
You do get what you pay for and a reverent liturgy does not require the services of a professional musician. Frankly circumcised hearts are more helpful than a music degree.
I'm not knocking a music degree. I almost got one, my cousin has one, at both undergraduate and graduate levels, and if a church wants the services of a professional musician they should pay for them. But they don't need them and I wouldn't dream of accepting money to participate in worship in my own church. And most churches simply can't afford a professional so it is an academic discussion in most locations.
I am a church musician and have been for well over thirty years. I taught music in school as my living income, as I could have never survived with the salary of a church musician. Unfortunately, this has been a fact of life for any years. As for, doing it for the "glory of God" or to help your congregation, etc. that is all well and good, but I studied for many years (from age 5) and majored on the organ in college. This deserves compensation if no other reason than for a congregation to say they appreciate your ability. A church organist is not someone the staff parrish committee can pull off the streets.
We have multiple organists who range from acceptable to very good. None of them are professionals. My son is learning right now.
Guess what, people? It is possible to do without any musical instruments and yet have good and full participation in hymn-singing. The Church of Christ people do that, and the two congregations I am familiar with do a great job of singing hymns--in parts. It was a revelation to me, and i bet it would be to a lot of people.
Yes, so true and so sad. A whole generation of wonderful musicians was decimated.
Without getting into anything (other than mentioning it) about a GOD-given musical talent, I might ask those of you that ask a musician why they would want to give up their time for peanuts (or essentially nothing?) to be permitted to play the church organ - what kind of fire department do you have? Why do I ask that question? Volunteer firefighters work for one thing, and ONE THING, ONLY - the FEELINGS you get when you save someone's property or more especially, when you save someone's life! Anonymous August 26, 2016, firefighters ARE professionals too - even those that are not paid in any way whatsoever for what they do which is called SAVE LIVES! (Even yours!) August 25, 2015, firefighters sometimes don't get to eat - even when they need FAR more calories that you do. For those of you who say $400 to $500 a month is ridiculously low/small might I tell you that my wife and I (we live on Social Security (also known as FIXED INCOME)) spend about (Any guesses???) $400 a month on food - partially because we don't need as much any more and partially because we grow a lot of our own. Vicki Dorsey, if I had that God-given talent, I would want to share it; if not so others could hear what God allowed me to do, so that I was praising Him for what he gave me!
There is only way churches will understand how to compensate musicians -if we musicians stop working for peanuts. I had a sucessful career in church music for 15 years. My last church, was a white, upper middle class, wealthy church. Magnificent 3 manual pipe organ. Beautiful facilities. When I was offered the job, I knew I had finally "made it", then saw the salary -less than I had made at my previous church. So, now I'm a music teacher in an elementary school and this church can't find anyone to replace me because they want the moon and the stars for a discount price. We musicians are our own worst enemy. I know so many people who complain about what the church pays them, but they keep working. How will the church learn? I'm subbing at a church and when they mentioned a low pay, I told them I don't work for that. They met my asking price.
They should have told you to take a long walk on a short pier...
I played in a church for 20 years, earning "basically OK" money, and I "retired" from it when my full time M-F job allowed me too. You talk about "God Given" talent: I am reminded of a story one of my pastors (read:boss) used to tell from the pulpit, that of a parishioner who invited their pastor over after church, the pastor walked though the beautiful garden adjacent to the parishioner's home and said "My goodness, the lord has certainly blessed you with a fine garden" the parishioner answered "You should have seen it when he had it all to himself" Herein lies the rub: It's a job, no matter what. It's a job where if you ask a business question (like discussing rate of pay) you get a faith answer, and there's no equity in the discussion. I have some talents that are "God given" that others apparently don't have, but I also spent a lot of time and money on education developing these talents to the point of being a professional. That needs to cost money. IF you can get a qualified, learned musician to give it away for free on faith, more power to you. Have a toilet in the church back up, call a plumber and try the same treatment on him.
You don't need a professional. Ultimately you don't need an organ or piano. But you can do very nicely with an amateur pianist or organist.
If I worked out my pay "per service", I would be getting roughly $250.00 per Mass. But you don't pay Ministers per worship service... they are paid to serve in a very specific and important role within the church. To Anon at 2:14pm above. What you say is true, however, I'm not sure that it takes 8 -12 years of rather expensive study and instruction to be a volunteer fireman, not to mention the prerequisite 4-6 years of piano prior to tackling the organ. The reason there were, in the 60's and 70's, so many "Old Ladies" on the bench playing in churches was that learning piano and organ used to be basic education for young women at the end of the 19th and early 20th century. Those days are gone. Becoming a competent organist who can serve at a church can cost anywhere from 30k in college and private instruction costs (State school if possible) to well over 200k for those who go the private conservatory route. I'm not whining... I love my job. I do not make an exorbitant salary, but it's difficult to listen to Church committee's and the such complain that nobody is responding to their ad when they aren't offering enough per year to even cover the cost of moving!
To Vicky Dorsey. "Good payment"? Really? Do you expect the plumber, attorney, electrician or any number of other skilled professionals serving your congregation to "share their gifts"? And most of them do not have to put up demanding and hyper-critical members of the congregation and church leadership. Too many churches are toxic cesspools of negativity run by people protecting "their" little fiefdoms and agendas. Church musicians, without the benefit of being clergy, must often endure abuse and endless hours of preparation for what is often a thankless, and highly insecure, job.
We don't pay those who maintain the grounds. Or the building. Or who keep the church books and website. All these functions are performed by church members who volunteer their time, just as is true of our organists.
I still remember back in the 70's a guy who graduated from Westminster Choir College moved to Oklahoma, for whatever reason, wrote and said the churches all wanted to give him $10 and the love of Jesus. Sounds like not much has changed out there. Everyone has to live, and if you want to make your living in working for a church, you should still get something that will at least pay the rent. In my student days in New York, I had a Sunday church job, and a job singing in the "Ars Nova Singers," and a temple job in addition to my "day job" which was in an office at Columbia University plus a sometimes gig at Schola Cantorum, and a couple of other pick up gigs. Those singing jobs paid me way more than my 9-5 office job. I lived very well. It took all the skills I had at singing, sightreading and all the skills that most people wouldn't have, but it let me live very will. I actually could have made it without the office job, but the office job gave me free tuition at Columbia that enabled me to get a free Master's degree. Life shouldn't be difficult. Like "Anonymous" I ended up having a good career teaching Elementary School Music. Now in retirement working for a wonderful church that doesn't embarrass me with the salary. If you're starving, get the hell out of the red states.
Yes, please do.
And you guys seriously overestimate how unique the ability to sight sing is...
Rev. Bergstrazer...you touch upon a very poignant point - that of educating our congregations. We restored an 1889 Whalley & Genung tracker for a Lutheran church in the Seattle area. When a young artist came to give a recital, he programmed two Lutheran chorales that even to me (as a Presbyterian) were very familiar. Yet the congregation seemed totally unfamiliar with the music. It IS in their MO. Synod Hymnal. I was pretty shell-shocked. But this, then, nods back to the issue of compensation. Why would an organist who is under-paid want to put-forth the effort to teach a congregational how to sing (from a hymnal and NOT projected words)? Where is the motivation? I also think we can partly blame the secular world. as education erodes in this country, it is sadly the Arts that seem to go first. But yay rah for something happening with a ball!!! :-( Kids don't get any viable music education in school any more. I certainly did (I'm 56 now). I also have to ask how much music education are pastors given in seminary? Because I've seen many who ran roughshod over their organists - and had NOT the viable musical training to do so. So it is a multi-facted phenomenon.
We are a congregation of Evangel Lutheran Diocese of N America and our last true organist retired and moved away a year or two ago. Since then, we suffice with three strings (violin, violas) and myself on electronic organ (piano background from childhood). Baylor University and a smaller clone thereof (U of Mary Hardin Baylor) did have organ instruction - Baylor still does - but UMHB ended theirs when the students petered out. No one wants to learn to play the organ, let alone piano, anymore, as others have stated. NOW Baylor DOES have a summer accelerated instruction program, in Waco, TX. for pianists to learn organ quickly.
About $50 per service for quality music, provided your organ has a MIDI interface, we use it in our parish: http://www.churchmusicsolutions.net/
4 different tuning forks (or one handy iPhone app), and a baroque flutist probably owns two or three different flutes at different pitches.Organ Store
Ecclesial Darwinism. For decades traditional choirs and their musicians dismissed alternate forms of worship leadership that included anything other than a pipe organ. Now they are in a panic because those younger generations walked away, showing their disinterest in maintaining that model. Sow. Reap. Etc.
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