Upcoming Performances

December 1
3:00 pm Eastern

Messiah organist, First Presbyterian Church, Statesville, N.C.

December 3
8:00 pm Eastern

Haydn Creation organist, Rosen Concert Hall, Appalachian State University

December 13
12:15 pm Eastern

Music at Midday, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

February 9, 2020
3:00 pm Eastern

Inaugural recitalist, St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C..

February 16, 2020
5:00 pm Eastern

Evensong recitalist, Church of the Ascension, Hickory, N.C..

March 6, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn.

April 5, 2020
2:00 pm Eastern

Guest recitalist, St. Joseph Catholic Church, Macon, Ga.

April 18, 2020
7:30 pm Eastern

Concerto organist, Milligan College

May 12, 2020
12:35 pm Central

Tuesday Series recitalist, Church of St. Louis, King of France, Minneapolis, Minn.

June 21-26, 2020
Worship Organist, Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, Lake Junaluska, N.C.

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Rinse, repeat

There is a cycle that keeps getting repeated:

1. Church’s organist is retiring after decades of service pretty much for free. Church feels that since organist served pretty much for free that that’s the way it’s supposed to work and anyone who insists otherwise just doesn’t have a heart for God or for his people. OR: Church can no longer afford a full-time person, and so when the incumbent moves on, the church will split the position among two people who have a heart for God, make them part-time, and pay accordingly. In either case, the flow chart continues:

2. Church has joined the national church management club and has been requiring written purchase orders and work orders for years. The paperwork to miss a day, get some tables set up, buy paper clips, or go to the doctor is now staggering. There are now regular meetings to assess performance, paradigm shifts, and purpose-driven drivel to make any church look on the inside like an oil company. And still the part-time help syndrome continues to whittle away at quality in all positions except clergy (and even then...!).

3. And so a job description is formulated, probably by no one who plays the organ. It outlines page upon page of duties, capped by a weekly work hour total of 20-25 or so. That number is critical, because if it reaches 30, then benefits must be paid. And even then, maybe not. And so the church says it can’t pay benefits. And so the hours are capped, regardless of whether the work can be done in that amount of time each week.

4. Church receives paltry applications.

5. Church wonders why. 

6. Church concludes there must be a shortage of organists. So let’s use a pianist on the organ patch of a synthesizer, or let’s just use a band like everyone else. We just couldn’t find anyone to play the organ; we had to do something.


But did anyone try to educate this church that they missed the mark in step 3? The same techniques used to attract and keep a pastor should be used to attract and keep decent church musicians. If you’re going to invoke business models, then invoke them everywhere. But we organists don’t TELL them they’re wrong, do we? We have been burned too many times, and so when we see another misguided job announcement, we just shrug and move on. And so the cycle repeats: church underestimates job and pays accordingly, organists don’t apply and don’t tell the church it has missed the mark, church doesn’t get good talent in the applicant pool or church loses a good person soon because the job and the pay just don’t match, cycle repeats.

Let’s talk about this “organist shortage.” Yes, there are in some ways a lack of warm bodies. But that exists primarily in the medium-sized churches. The big churches have plenty of musicians to choose from and enough money to pay them (for the most part). The smaller churches tend not to need a degreed organist (for the most part), and the degreed organists won’t be looking among the small, anyway (for the most part). And so it’s the medium-sized churches that are trying to save some money or just haven’t figured out that good music and decent pay really should go hand in hand. (For now, we won’t include here the mediocre musicians who are paid all too well. That’s for another post.)

But there are other “shortages” going on: 1) There is a lack of comprehensive teaching. I’m sorry, dear reader, but I’m seeing student after student graduating with no idea how to behave in a church or even in general public. I’m growing weary of hotshots on the scene who can play recitals but can’t keep a steady tempo in a hymn or even sightread a different hymn changed at the last minute. 2) There is also a shortage of money to attend college; families don’t have it to pay, and colleges don’t have it to offer. That alone is reaching critical mass. 3) But there is also a lack of organists with the backbones to tell these churches that they need to pay their musician as handsomely as they pay their pastor. Music is every bit as important as preaching to any given service, and until churches figure that out, they’ll continue to pay it less, ignoring ways to improve their situation.

Organists, get out there and educate these churches. Otherwise, rinse and repeat.

Rinse, repeat, part 2

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