Saturday, March 8, 2008

Pay Your Organists

If someone were called on with four hours notice to work part of his/her weekend, should that person expect to be paid for time, skill, and inconvenience, or at least not lose money by being reimbursed for mileage? If you are a Lutheran organist, the answer you’ll still get at some congregations is a stunned “What?!”

Yes, we all “serve the Lord with gladness”, but that gladness is tough to muster when being taken advantage of. Organists, for the most part, buy their own shoes and books, paid for their own training, and provide their own transportation. Most also do not just show up for services and sight-read but take time out of their schedules to do careful preparation for each service.

Organists are largely very generous and don’t mind donating their time as the pay per service is usually quite low. However, it is one thing to give a token amount as a thank-you and acknowledgement that the organist did some skilled work for the congregation and quite another when the organist is expected to take the good ol’ Lutheran “bend over and grab your ankles” routine with good humor and grace. Some congregations have financial constraints which make it next to impossible to pay the organist anything near what is suggested by the
American Guild of Organists, but those congregations can still pay something. If a congregation of less than one hundred souls in a poor, rural area can still toss ten dollars the organist’s way each service, so can yours.

It’s not about the money, it’s the principle. Most organists do not make a living playing but do it as a service to a congregation, while keeping other jobs that actually pay the bills. Many give back their organ pay and much more in offerings. The surest way to tighten organists’ grips on their wallets and purses is to not pay them. They will not only not give monetarily to your congregation, they probably won’t answer the phone the next time you’re looking for an organist either.

The argument has been raised: “Well then, why don’t we pay Sunday School teachers then too?” One answer those in Lutheranism will understand is “We’ve never done it that way before.” And possibly with good reason. Organists are trained (or should be) longer than Sunday School teachers, and most organists paid for that training, while most Sunday School teachers did not. Also, the time involved for a dedicated organist is far more than most Sunday School teachers. Plus, most organists provide their own music paid for out of pocket, but most Sunday School materials are provided at no cost to the Sunday School teachers by the congregation.

If pastors would like to have organists who take the time to prepare carefully and bother to learn why the Lutheran church does what it does and sings what it sings, then please show them enough respect to pay them.

What if your organist refuses pay? This sometimes happens whether for pious or self-serving motives on the part of the organist. It might be best to say, “Gee, (insert name of organist), we appreciate your willingness to play for free, but you won’t be able to always be here, so we need to have a fair pay scale in place for those rare times when you need a substitute and for when you, sadly, are no longer able to play. If you’d like to donate your pay back to the church or to any charity, you are certainly free to do so, but we would really like to show the congregation’s appreciation for your work and the work of other organists by paying you $x per service.”

There are very legitimate concerns about where a future generation of church musicians will come from. Encouraging young musicians to serve in the church might be at least a little easier if they knew they would be appreciated and not sink farther into debt by giving of their time and skill to work in the church.


elephantschild said...

Organist-abuse is widespread, and a shame upon all congregations who engage in it.

At my own congregation, no one consulted our organist about adding a late afternoon Lenten service (4pm) She is a school teacher, but no one thought to consider that she might have difficulty teaching all day and then driving 45 minutes straight from her school to our church to play for the 4pm service and then the 7pm service as well.

I don't know if she was paid extra for playing for the extra service.

Angry Lutherans said...

She sure as h*ll should have been!