Professional Concerns
The following was prepared by the Professional Concerns Committee.

Sacred Music: Why, Where and How?
Determination of Salary
Weddings & Funerals

If you have ever noticed that a hymn text or choir anthem pertains to the scripture and/or sermon for the day, or if a hymn is introduced by the organist's prelude, you have seen how the way in which music can enhance worship. In the ideal setting, where clergy and musicians plan the worship service together, this will not be unusual.

If there have been times when you have suddenly become aware of the contrast of mood from one stanza of a hymn to another, you have experienced the power of an organist to underscore the meaning of the words being sung. This is not an accident; it requires practice time and sensitivity from the organist, implemented by skillful use of the organ's different stops, called registration. This skill is not magical, though it may appear so, but is the result of much study and practice.

Organists and choir directors often begin their training at a very young age as choir members or students of keyboard or other instruments. Many years of instruction and hard work are required in order to produce the results one experiences in a good worship service.

Like other skilled fields that require a great deal of hard work and personal sacrifice, the calling of the music ministry is as much a labor of love as a vocational choice. Because it is a labor of love, and because of the apparent lack of understanding of the true importance of music within the life of the congregation, these highly skilled and dedicated people are often underpaid. An unfortunate but real effect is that the worship service suffers as does the sense of community and the religious education that can be fostered by the music program through various choirs and ensembles.

The reason for this is that many individuals who are able to plan and administer a large program in music ministry are forced to be part-timers while they work elsewhere to support themselves. While not suggesting that part-time musicians bring inferior quality to their work, time restrictions will necessarily mean a less extensive array of opportunities in music for the average congregation member. When there are musical events and opportunities for all ages, more people are able to realize that they, too, are needed. People who feel involved are loyal and willing to support the various programs.

By participating in choral organizations, congregation members are being exposed to the Word of God as set to music as set to music by composers throughout history. In planning music for the services, a musician just as much as they clergy in the following ways:
  1. The choir anthems are most useful an effective when they pertain to the scripture for the day as chosen by the minister, or taken from a denominational lectionary.

  2. In preparing to sing an anthem, the choir members repeat excerpts from scripture many times, often memorizing them in the process.

  3. In preparing to sing an anthem, the choir members repeat excerpts from scripture many times, often memorizing them in the process.
The actual duties of a musician may be varied and in some cases, as in a large institution, divided among several people. In many situations the organist is also the choir director, but separation of these two duties is not unusual.

One who administers the musical life of a congregation is not just someone who makes music, but is a minister of music, regardless of the actual title. Our foremost law of economics is found in Psalm 24:1:

The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.
All of life's gifts, corporate and individual, are just that - gifts on loan from the Creator. As the apostle Paul asserts in 1 Corinthians, those who preach the Gospel should earn their living by the Gospel. These guidelines are written with the hope that the importance of sacred music will be fully realized.

While a musician's work is always visible during worship, the planning and preparation of that work is not only necessary but also time consuming. The majority of the congregation rarely notices this behind-the-scenes work. The following list of duties can be applied to a combined organist/director position, while parts of it will be relevant to organist-only or director-only situations:

    • Staff meetings and consultations.

    • Worship planning with staff.

    • Program planning and implementation with worship and/or music committees.

    • Development and administration of the music budget.

    • Recruitment and education of choir members.

    • Maintaining and expanding the music library.

    • Selecting music for services, from the library, through review of new publications, or through borrowed music.

    • Studying music for artistic interpretation.

    • Personal continuing education through periodicals, books, recordings, and workshops.

    • Arranging or composing music for particular needs.

    • Maintaining choir robes.

    • Preparing for rehearsals: music to be rehearsed, pacing, and variety.

    • Preparing the rehearsal room: chairs, music, instruments, visual aids.

    • Conducting rehearsal: teaching music, religious education, vocal training.

    • Sending choir reminders, consulting with choir members: encouragement, personal ministry.

  3. KEYBOARD WORK (Organ, piano, harpsichord)
    • Reviewing, selecting and purchasing appropriate music for services.

    • Learning the music and determining organ registrations.

    • Learning (and if necessary, adapting) choir accompaniments.

    • Accompanying choir rehearsals and/or soloists.

    • Supervising use and maintenance of keyboard instruments.

    • Maintaining technical skills through consistent practice.

    • Performing recitals, and involvement in other programs where applicable.

    • Individual practicing and warm-up.

    • Choir warm-up and pre-service rehearsals.

    • Playing/directing musical portions of the service.

    • Setting up rooms instruments materials (chairs, stands, bells, etc).

    • Developing congregational participation through hymn, psalm, liturgy singing.

    • Developing a liaison between music programs and other activities.

    • Planning and implementing special programs, camps, concerts, tours.

    • Auditioning and employing singers and instrumentalists.

    • Consulting with families regarding weddings and funerals.

    • Writing for newsletters and preparing publicity about important events.

    • Office work, including phone calls and correspondence for the care and nurture of music ministry Volunteers.

    • Securing substitutes when necessary.

    • Pastoral care of congregation members as appropriate (such as hospital visits).
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Professional musicians, whether part-time or full-time employees of religious institutions, bring to their vocations not only considerable and costly education and training, but also a commitment that requires a great deal of hard work and personal sacrifice. While the decision to commit one's life to music and religious service may come at a point of reasonable maturity, in most cases there have been many years of education prior to such a decision.

The church or synagogue should commit itself to pay an annual salary in line with those of other professionals of comparable educational background and experience. Not to do so reflects poorly on the institution's overall commitment to the ministry of music and on it's care for the security of its employees. Reducing the salary paid to the previous person before hiring a replacement is, in most cases, a step backward for the congregation and its' programs, and should not be done except in unusual circumstances.

In determining compensation, three points need to be considered:
  1. Ability, preparation, and experience required for the position.

  2. Demands of the job.

  3. Impact of the position on the overall work of the institution.
In determining compensation, points to be specifically excluded are:
  1. Any other employment that the musician may have.

  2. Any employment that the musician's spouse may have. A person does not deserve to be paid less because their spouse may be a source of additional income.

  3. Size of the musician's family. A single person does not deserve to be paid less than one who has chosen to have a family.

  4. Salaries of musicians in other religious institutions in the area.
The total compensation package should include benefits in addition to salary:
  1. Major medical insurance.

  2. Professional expenses.

  3. Continuing education allowance (workshops, conventions).

  4. Paid vacation of at least for weeks per year - restful breaks in routine are necessary, and should not be an 'earned' benefit.

  5. Paid sick leave.

  6. Life insurance / Disability insurance.

  7. Pension plan.

  8. Social security.

  9. Workers' compensation.

  10. Sabbatical (leave of absence).
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Please consult the National AGO website for current salary and related fees.

Variations should be made on the basis of years of experience, additional duties, and number of services per week. In determining just and fair compensation, be sure to include the previously mentioned points.

These base salary guidelines do not include other employee benefits such as major medical, professional expenses, pension etc. discussed earlier. It is recommended that compensation be increased by one education/experience lever for each ten years of experience. Salaries should be adjusted annually to reflect cost of living and merit increases.

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The American Guild of Organists recommends that its members sign written contracts with their employing institutions. The contract is an important tool of communication by which possible problems or misunderstandings may be avoided. A typical contract should contain the following sections:
  1. Duties and responsibilities of the musician (job description).

  2. Responsibilities of the religious institution (salary, benefits).

  3. Termination / review procedure.

  4. Code of Ethics (that of the AGO should be incorporated by reference).

An excellent sample contract is available from the National AGO website.

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These occasions are considered services of worship and are approached accordingly by members of the Guild. Organists try to be sensitive to the needs of the people involved while upholding concepts of appropriate worship music, although not limiting themselves to one particular style. Musicians are well equipped to work with families and clergy in making intelligent selections and locating good performers.

Most religious institutions consider wedding and funeral fees as above the regular compensation of their employees. Professional musicians bring a great deal of knowledge, training, and sensitivity to their work in these areas. A significant amount of preparation time goes unseen by those attending the service including choosing and preparing the music, practice, conference with the family/clergy, and rehearsals.

Unless the service is unusually complex, the musician can easily prepare through a short discussion with the clergy involved and rarely needs to attend the wedding rehearsal.

As a matter of courtesy, the regular musicians should perform these services or choose substitutes if they are not available. Since these musicians are usually responsible for maintenance of the instruments, permission should be obtained before others use the instruments. Should a family request that friend play a service, most organists would graciously step aside as long as proper care of the instruments was assured. In these cases the regular musician should, at least, be offered the regular fee for the service.

Those musicians who are expected to serve members of their congregation at no extra compensation should receive a higher salary to reflect the extra time spent.

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