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Entries in Funeral fees (2)

Friday
Jan282011

Reader has more on funeral fees

Part 2 of a 2-part series.

My friend Roy Roberts, Director for the AGO Committee on Career Development and Support and AGO Region IV Coordinator for Professional Development, has written the following comments on last week's post on funeral fees. I like it all! The time has long been ripe for this dialogue between organists and their churches. So everyone go and do thou likewise. Thanks, Roy!

Roy says:

"Instead of the funeral home establishing the charge, in my case, the church has done so.

"My employer [the church] issued a pamphlet from which people [families] also select readings, music, and overview of the Mass. Also included are total fees (not individual fees). The funeral home cuts a check for the total fees, made out to the church. The church cuts checks to the individuals and records the taxes. Should there be additional rehearsal time (strongly discouraged) then separate arrangements are made.

"Advantage to the church's making the arrangements are 1) if a fee were to change, the church issues a new memo with the new total, 2) Taxes are withheld by the employer (church), 3) The church remains in charge of the service (it is not shared with a funeral home or family who wants a Disney tune as a communion song), and more. For those who have a "day job", I would assert again that the church should be the one making the agreements with the funeral homes and the funeral homes cut checks to the church rather than the individual.

"A sticky wicket could arise if the funeral home is "cutting the check". What happens should a funeral home call Susan Jones to cover a funeral at your church where you are under contract to have first right of refusal? The home says, not our problem that is between you and Bedside Baptist. The church says, not our problem; Creepy Funerals called the other person.

"It seems for every solution, someone can come up with some kind of challenge. Great article. It is certainly a start; funeral homes, churches, and organists need to discuss this topic more often."

Tuesday
Jan182011

Funeral fees

Part 1 of a 2-part series.

Mr. Robert Jones, president of George H. Lewis & Sons funeral directors in Houston, knows how important musicians are to funerals. Years ago, he started the practice of finding out who was playing for a given funeral and bringing for them a check from the funeral home, no questions asked. Good money? YES. Generous Bob Jones? ABSOLUTELY. Did we organists feel appreciated? YOU BET. Bob’s practice spread to other funeral homes from there, and it very much enhanced relations between the musical community and churches.

Can that model be applied universally in this country? I think definitely so. I recommend it to all funeral homes and urge organists to take the initiative to set it up. I think it is a great system that allows churches to leave it to the funeral homes to collect for professional/semi-professional services rendered, as part of the funeral planning process. I feel it makes the best business sense, makes things more consistent for the funeral homes, reduces the to-do list for the family, gets musicians paid regularly and accurately, and makes clearer to families the professional aspects of funeral planning.

That last phrase is the tricky one. Two decisions must be made: 1) Is playing for a funeral a professional or a ministerial endeavor? 2) How much is it worth?

Funerals are always a potential minefield. One never knows how the notion of paying for services rendered will go over. Some families know the value of good music and good musicians and have already made their plans to compensate them handsomely for their time and talents. But other grieving families may not be thinking entirely clearly, especially if the death was sudden. They may balk at the notion of parting with money for receiving spiritual comfort from the organist; they may balk at the notion of paying anyone, including the funeral home, for making money off their misfortune. This discussion gets into drawing the (faint) line between being a minister in music and being a professional musician.

Funerals are services of worship, in which case the argument might be made that payment for them is rolled into the organist’s salary. A quick look at the organist’s contract will answer that for sure. But many organists have day jobs, and this introduces trickier arrangements that must be made in order for the organist to serve. Furthermore, since not just anyone can arrange the flowers or prepare the body, likewise playing the organ is often as professional an activity as anything else involved with arranging the funeral. Many organists are trained and hold at least one earned music degree. This places them on common professional ground with, say, the minister, who is paid a full-time salary with benefits to serve a congregation, in many cases with only one degree. That may be the hardest pill for local folks to swallow, since many organists serve in areas where playing the organ for the smaller or medium-sized churches is rarely considered a career but rather as a service or self-offering to the church.

What about the time factor? Rehearsal time with soloists, plus time spent selecting and playing prelude music and for the service itself can get upwards of several hours. Time spent finding music for odd requests adds to that, as does any extra practice time for more difficult requests.

So, how much to pay? That will have to be decided as a joint effort between the church, the funeral home, you, the cost of living, and your gut. I always recommend a baseline of around $150, much more in larger cities.

I have fielded the question regarding the possibility of the funeral home waiving or reducing a fee if a family makes the request to compensate the organist/pianist privately. I do NOT recommend opening that door. Having too many options allows some families to pay less than the recommended fee or to give the musician some other tangible gift that s/he does not need or appreciate. Given a choice of fees, the lowest fee will almost always be chosen except by those families whose appreciation of music or the musician runs deep. This could also introduce unnecessary bargaining – with the funeral home caught in the middle and the organist on the short end of the stick. It is a critical matter of education to encourage families to respect and pay professional fees out of consideration of those whose livelihoods depend on receiving them. If a family insists, perhaps they could be persuaded to compensate the organist over and above the regular fee already collected by the funeral home and paid to the organist. And of course, if a given musician would like to donate his/her services to a particular family, that should be honored.

Churches might free up some discretionary funds to pay musicians when the family can’t, but that should occur less often as the procedure becomes more familiar to all parties.

No, there should not be a different fee for AGO members. The Guild does not function as a Union, and membership does not elevate one’s credentials as an organist or one's ability to play a service.


Deep breath now: this topic can also apply to weddings. Yes, we need to discuss weddings. And no, I don’t want to. But I will soon. In SEVERAL posts.