“Tick, tock, tick, tock” can be heard from the practice room across the hall. We have all heard it before: “use the metronome.” Label me a progressive, but I don’t believe the metronome is the panacea for all things musical. Here are some specialized tips to maximize your practice room efforts.
For students, practice time can be a commodity. Maximizing every minute can result in alleviation of unneeded stress. The confidence of being “ahead” while learning a piece can assure you more time to “fine-tune” and provide great satisfaction. Happy practicing!
“Have you recovered from Christmas, yet?” I’m sure that we have all been asked this question! After several months of planning, practicing, and executing music, we are exhausted. We can’t rest too soon, though, as Lent is right around the corner (Ash Wednesday is on Valentine’s Day this year – after all, what’s more romantic than ashes smeared on your forehead???). In the life of a church musician, it can seem that we can never catch our breath; there’s always something. And that “something” is precisely why we love our job(s). We are constantly engaged in some musical activity, administrative function, or pastoral duty that keeps us sharp and focused.
Some of us have titles such as Organist or Director of Music, or some combination of the two with assistant or associate tossed in for good measure. But let’s face it – the titles are misleading. The skill set required to be a church musician in 2018 is fairly extensive. We must be equal part organist, conductor, singer, administrator, counselor, confidant, leader, follower, and the list goes on. There isn’t a single title that can encapsulate the varied responsibilities of a church musician. So, how can we wear these different hats effectively? Hopefully, my post will provide a starting place for you to think.
1. Time Management is Vital to your Survival: When I was in college (lol jk, I still am), my commute from The University of Alabama to The First United Methodist Church in Anniston, Alabama, was 110 miles (roughly a 2-hour drive). Fortunately for me, I was not required to attend Wednesday night rehearsals, although there was the occasional funeral or rehearsal to attend. With such a long-distance commute, I was forced to schedule my time in Anniston to be as efficient as possible. On top of a full college course load, trying to practice for lessons, recitals, and church seemed like an impossibility. Again, managing my time was the key to success. Here are a few things I did (and still do) to stay ahead of the game:
2. Prepare in Advance: So now that you’re a master of planning and prioritization, it’s time to put it into practice by preparing for the responsibilities of actually performing the music (or leading a rehearsal, as the case may be).
3. Be a Stellar Colleague: It doesn’t matter how talented or skilled you are, if you don’t know how to treat your friends and colleagues, you won’t get the job. While this is somewhat of a generalization, I’ve seen it happen, as I’m sure some of you have, too. At the end of the day, clergy, staff, and musicians are all in it together (to quote High School Musical). Depending on your level of responsibility, the level of interaction with clergy and staff members varies. You have to use your own judgement to understand the appropriate boundaries and interactions.
Not only are there numerous hats that musicians must wear, there are numerous ways that those hats are worn. The above methods and suggestions that I have offered are simply reflections on my life and career, up to this point. Keep in mind, I was born and raised in a small town in Central Alabama (Talladega, for those NASCAR fans among us). In a small town, you are keenly aware of the fact that everyone knows everyone. In many ways, churches are the same. Churches are communities with their own social hierarchy.
I don’t claim to be an expert in professional etiquette or organizational structure. I am just another young organist trying to find my way through this thing we call life.
I hope that my comments have been helpful to many of you! If not, perhaps this article has stimulated some thought that will encourage you to find your own voice and your own style.
Christopher B. Henley
Organist and Music Associate
Anniston First United Methodist Church
My name is Ashlyn Batten and I am a part-time organist, part-time piano teacher and part-time therapeutic horseback riding instructor. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Comprehensive Music with a double concentration in piano and organ from Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC, as well as a Master’s of Sacred Music in organ from East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. I am also a certified therapeutic riding instructor through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) International. I work 30 hours a week at a therapeutic riding program, am the organist and choir accompanist at a small church, and teach 5 piano students each week.
Many people ask me why do I not just get a full-time organist position? Well, quite simply, because then I would not have time for my other biggest passion in life: horses. While getting a full-time music job would be financially more stable, I would never be happy just doing the church music thing. That leads us to the next most obvious question: how do you make it work?
The first thing that I usually tell people is that I believe that God gave me both of my passions and that He will provide for my needs if I am using the gifts He gave me. I don’t believe that He would give me something that I’m so passionate about and not want me to use it or not provide for me while I am doing what He designed me to do. Follow your dreams and passions and, while things may be tight for awhile, they’ll work out. If your dream is to be a full-time organist and church musician, go for it! People may say you are crazy when you become a music major, and question your ability to make ends meet, but if that’s what you’re passionate about, go for it!
Secondly, while I may not be wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, I love what I do, and there’s a lot to be said for being happy where you work. It’s better to be happy and make a little less money than spend your life being miserable. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a job that you hate! If you have to work for most of your life, do something that you know you’ll love doing. As musicians, we can always find extra gigs to get a little extra income, so you have to focus on the “big picture” of finances rather than the small number of a part-time salary. You can easily make a couple hundred extra dollars by playing in a Christmas cantata, an Easter program, accompanying singers or instrumentalists, teaching lessons, weddings, funerals, etc.
Lastly, in my particular case, the schedule works out great! I work at the therapeutic riding program most every weekday morning, and teach lessons there almost every weekday afternoon. Then I have the regular Wednesday night and Sunday morning church gig, and fit in piano students wherever is left! The hardest thing is finding a day to actually take off. (Speaking of, that’s very important! If you don’t take time off, you will burn out, no matter how much you love what you do!)
All that to say, follow your dreams and your passions, and things will work out if you set your mind to it. Even if your biggest passions in life are polar opposites, there’s always a way to do what you love. Sometimes one will be a full-time job and the other a hobby, or perhaps, like me, you’ll have several part-time jobs.
While it may not be the easiest or wealthiest life, it’s a pretty great one!
Written by AGOYO-SE Guest Columnist, Minerva McGonagall (as featured previously with P.L. Travers last year). She wishes you all a Happy Advent and strict reminder that it's not Christmas yet!
Christmas is fun, they say. The holidays are a time of joy, and family and relaxation, they say. Well, if you know anything about what it’s like to work in a church for the holidays, you know that this is a false statement (especially this year, when Advent IV is also Christmas Eve!) While everyone else is off enjoying their holidays filled with beautiful Instagram posts of trees, food, and holiday activities, we’re stuck on the bench, experiencing what my colleagues so fondly call “A little bit of Christmas Rage.” So if this statement applies to you, we’re here to give you, “5 Ways to Combat a "Little bit of Christmas Rage!”
2. Instagram Posts About All the Fun
Family Holiday Activities You CAN’T Enjoy
3. Christmas Eve Dinner Envy
4. Christmas Music, Everywhere You Turn
5. All the Music Themed Gifts You Will Receive
These are just a few of the problems and solutions, but we hope they help you survive the holidays with just a little less of that Christmas Rage!
As a graduate student nearly finished with this chapter of my education at Mississippi College, I often consider the stark numbers published in a recent issue of The American Organist regarding the number of organ performance majors in the country. It will not shock anyone to hear that the numbers have dropped each year.
This results from a variety of factors, but I hope to address the most stressful aspect of life as an American college student, according to a recent study by Ohio State University: money. Of 19,000 students surveyed, 70% voiced tuition costs and day-to-day expenses as their greatest source of anxiety.
With majors such as visual arts and music topping many unemployment lists, and top music programs for organ performance costing more than $160,000 just to attain a Bachelor’s, it seems inevitable that fewer students enter the field each year. According to the Guild, 90% of available organist jobs are part-time, which may not appeal to students spending up to $300,000 for top-tier graduate schools.
But these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
While I can’t guarantee scholarships or good jobs, I want to dispel the myth that organ degrees are too expensive and don’t “pay off.”
Many young college graduates in a variety of fields struggle to find jobs. According to Business Insider, majors that may appear more practical such as biology, mass media, environmental science, and communications yield the highest percentage of unemployed graduates. In fact, music did not appear on that list.
Although music degrees can require a hefty price tag, many schools have noticed their suffering and increased scholarships accordingly. A degree in organ or sacred music with an emphasis in organ can often qualify for organ-specific endowments.
1. The availability of part-time jobs allows for students to work while in school.
Just recently in my city, five churches were offering part-time and two were offering full-time organ positions. Because Jackson, MS is not nearly as big as other metro areas, the multiple job openings tells me that other cities probably have equally large needs for organists, if not more. All the student organists I’ve known have been steadily employed on Sundays and Wednesdays since sophomore year of my undergraduate degree—a direct result of beginning to learn the organ in my freshman year.
Many students across other work fields pick up minimum-wage jobs that require more hours, and often inflexible, but part-time church work tends not to interfere with school. A colleague of mine didn't study the organ until nearly the end of undergraduate career, but picked up a job that fits his schedule within a short time of moving to MA.
2. Organ degrees often provide transferrable skills.
As one of my fellow AGOYO-SE board members pointed out, many music majors who don’t find full-time jobs in music after graduation generally succeed in non-music fields. The discipline, flexibility, and resourcefulness that accompanies an education in organ will transfer to other employment opportunities. Within the field of music, organists can also compose, arrange, lead choirs, write liturgy, cantor, teach, and the list goes on.
While majoring in organ doesn’t mean that everyone will acquire every one of those additional qualities, it is likely that an organ degree will provide instruction in at least some of those areas.
3. An in-state or smaller school can offer unique opportunities.
Everyone wants to attend the most prestigious schools, but this can result in overcrowded practice organs with outrageously low availabilities. Schools that don’t offer doctoral programs also tend to have fewer TAs, and thus eliminate the issue of dealing with an inexperienced assistant for classes like theory or aural skills. Similarly, smaller classes sizes can allow professors more time to thoroughly evaluate lengthy assignments.
Out-of-state tuition is responsible for some of the worst price tags, and nearly every state has at least one option for aspiring organists. If you live in the Southeast, check out our website database of local organ schools. Save the travel expenses and out-of-state tuition for your Master's, when you can nab a paying assistantship!
And let’s face it: departments for all majors can become highly competitive in areas where job positions fill quickly, and students are vying for particular professors’ studios. Smaller colleges promote camaraderie with less local competition. In a time when mental health among undergrads and graduate students is notoriously low, a welcoming and unified student body is essential to a positive experience.
There’s more than one way to receive a substantial music education, and even more ways to offset tuition.
No matter what path you choose, there are probably more options than you think. In the post-Recession economy, the idea of following one’s dreams may seem impractical, but I knew from a young age that I wanted to make music in the church. The three above points are just some of the ways that can offset the cost. There are many myths surrounding a major in music, especially organ, but I hope this article has put at least some of them to rest.
-Amy Lauren Jones, SE blog coordinator
In the last three years I’ve been employed by five different churches in four denominations: ECUSA, UMC, ELCA and PCUSA. These moves have been for one of three reasons: enrolling in graduate school, completing graduate school, or for a better opportunity/salary. I haven’t always agreed with the churches I’ve served, whether it be theological or political issues, and that’s okay. Church musicians often struggle with separating their beliefs from the beliefs of the churches they serve. My hope is that, in an increasingly polarized society, we can serve in churches that don’t necessarily preach what we want to hear.
1. You’re not alone. Most churchgoers do not agree with every belief of their church. Whether it be a disagreement with denominational leadership or a local pastor on staff, it’s impossible for an entire congregation to agree fully with doctrine from leaders. It’s next to impossible for people to agree as a congregation. Have you ever sat in a meeting with church elders or vestry? Ask a pastor how much disagreement exists in the pews, you might be surprised what you find. As a staff member it’s important to maintain a sense of loyalty when you’re on the clock and representing the church, but that doesn’t mean you have to agree with every decision.
2. Research. Why do you disagree with the church? Are you well-versed in related scripture texts? Do you fully understand the other side of the argument? It’s easy for us to see what divides us over what unites us. Is the opposition inspired by Satan? Likely not. While you may wholeheartedly disagree with someone on an issue vital to your own existence, that doesn’t mean they are out to get you. Chances are they don’t understand your opinion and you don’t understand theirs. Greet disagreement humbly and keep conversation respectful with those you disagree with.
3. Have Patience. Our world is increasingly impatient. When my iPhone doesn’t recognize my fingerprint on the first try, I feel the rage brewing. I often remind myself that just a few years ago we were forced to hit the number 9 four times to type one Z in a text message. Waiting a whole week for the next episode of our favorite television series to air seems absurd when entire series are available to binge watch. Before you reach conclusions about those you disagree with, take the time to listen to their opinion. It might take weeks, months, or even years but if you approach a problem with an open mind and heart you won’t regret the time you put in.
4. Communicate openly. After I left my last job I explained in an exit interview that lack of communication was a big problem in the position. I was told “You don’t exactly come from a profession known for practicing good communication.” It’s true, many organists would rather retreat to the bench than deal with a conflict head-on. Like any relationship, communication is the key to success. Working in a church is a unique place because staff members are Christians who (typically) genuinely care about each other’s well-being, family life, and are interested in your life outside of work. Trust me, it’s not easy. Try telling a conservative pastor that you’re in a committed same-sex relationship. But my pastor knowing about my home life has helped in more ways than I can count.
5. Embrace your differences. Whatever your differences may be, embracing each other is Christ-like. I’m no theologian, but disagreement didn’t stop Jesus from approaching people. I think of Mark 2 when Jesus dined with tax collectors, John 4 when Jesus talked with a Samaritan woman, John 8 when Jesus encountered the accused woman.… Whatever you think of these stories, Jesus did meet and talk with these people. We too should strive to work with all people without first checking their beliefs.
6. Separate work and personal life. It’s one thing for fellow staff to know about your personal life, but another for them to be a part of it. I have never joined a church I served. Joining a church as a member while working on staff can create conflicts. This isn’t true in every situation, but there comes a time where you’ll be thankful to represent yourself as a paid member of staff, and not a member of the congregation. In formality you are still an employee of an organization. I don’t check work emails from home unless I’m working from home, and I don’t get work emails on my iPhone. I know a very gentle, non-confrontational Pastor who, in a session meeting, was told “As a Pastor you are to be on call for members 24/7.” He delivered an eloquent speech explaining how that claim is false. Everyone needs time away from the office, even if the office is a church. See Exodus 20: 8-11.
7. Have a "line" and know what to do when the line is crossed. Decide which disagreements can be swept under the rug, which are worth fighting for, and which are worth leaving for. As a gay organist, I have no problem serving in a church that does not bless same-sex weddings. If my Pastor ever preached against homosexuality I would log into ONCARD and start the job search. Determine a course of action for yourself if you’re forced into awkward situations. How will you handle a homophobic comment from a prominent church member? Do you address your concerns, smile and nod, or run away screaming? I hope it’s not the latter.
8. Remember why you serve. I was a Music Education major as an undergrad. One of our first assignments was to develop a personal “Philosophy of Education;” what we believed about teaching and learning, why we wanted to be teachers, etcetera. To find meaning in your work it’s important to know why you’re doing what you do. It’s especially important if your position or salary ever comes into question. My purpose in serving as a church organist is simple: to lead people in praising God. The wording is intentionally abstract; it’s not limited to a specific genre of music or instrumentation and it doesn’t limit me to a specific audience. Theological disagreements don’t inhibit my ability to lead worship through music and thus such disagreements take a back seat to the task at hand.
I once heard a story about a senior pastor interviewing candidates to serve as executive secretary at a large suburban church. One of the final candidates, whose previous experience was largely in law offices and government roles, was asked “Why are you compelled to serve in this role, at this place?” The candidate’s answer: “I’ve been looking for a more peaceful, more relaxed, less political place to work!” You can probably guess - that candidate was not hired. Churches are political places and Jesus was political. Navigating difficult situations is part of being a Christian. As church musicians we have the unique responsibility of serving as influential leaders in worship without the ability to preach as ordained clergy. It’s up to each of us to find balance between our own beliefs and those of the church we serve.
- Monty Moniker, Southeast Guest Columnist
Hello all! My name is Amy Lauren Jones, and I will serve this year as a member of the AGOYO board and new coordinator for this blog.
Midway through a piano performance degree, I discovered the organ and fell in love with the instrument. In 2015, I completed a B.M. in Organ Performance at Mississippi College as a student of Dr. Robert Knupp. This fall, I'll finish my M.M. in Organ Performance at MC and then pursue a doctorate in choral conducting. Until my grad recital on October 23, you can almost always find me practicing the "Wedge" and the rest of my rep.
Since 2015, I've served as the organist and assistant choir director at Fondren Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS. After accompanying choirs at MC throughout my time as an undergrad and grad student, I will also accompany at Hinds Community College this year. As the AGO's district convener for Mississippi and co-editor of the Jackson Chapter’s online publication, The Continuo, I seek to encourage interest in the organ throughout the state.
You can reach me at email@example.com and feel free to add me on Facebook. I always enjoy connecting with other organists.
Two AGOYO-Southeast members offer their advice and insight into the professional world after college. To protect anonymity, their comments are written under pseudonyms:
Minerva McGonagall (M.M.) and P.L. Travers (P.L.).
1. There is no Weekend. There is no Time-Off.
M.M.: So you work Sundays. Well, that means you can take off Friday and Saturday. Theoretically that sounds like a great plan, except that we’re musicians. What musician takes two days off from practicing before a performance? Certainly not me! Also, things like funerals and weddings tend to occur on weekends, and while you might get paid extra, you’re still “at work.” Sometimes it can be helpful to work shorter hours on the days you don’t have rehearsal, say 10am-4pm, in order to actually have a little more free time and a little less time at work.
P.L.: In college, especially grad school, your study becomes your life. This does not end after graduation, it just changes. Instead of spending hours in the library or a practice room, you will spend hours behind a desk, choreographing a weekly arm-flailing routine in front of elderly folk (conducting), and your favorite study corner will become a hot humid sanctuary that you retreat to when people try to interact with you. You will be up every Sunday by 6:00am, and you will spend your Saturday nights sleeping. And chances are if you get a day off each week, that will always be the day something terrible happens, forcing you to come in to work. If you make plans outside of work, make sure your boss/Pastor knows you will be unreachable.
2. You will definitely play for "free"
P.L.: Musicians put in a lot of time and effort to be the best artists we can be. When playing a gig, no matter how small, the contractor should be expected to compensate you. However in the church world, people often expect you to offer your talents “to the Glory of God” and play for any ole event without extra compensation. Whether it’s background music at Youth Bounce Twenty-Sixteen or organizing a touring choir to sing at Gertie’s Lunchtime Fiesta at the homes, you will be roped into playing and working extra for no added salary.
M.M.: Funerals don’t always pay. Many churches believe that a funeral is a service of the church, it is not optional, and therefore it is not fair to ask for payment. Often you are at the mercy of the family as to if you get paid. Funerals take preparation. Oftentimes people have planned funerals in advance with a previous organist/music director and you may get what you believe is an absurd list of music on very short notice
P.L.: I was once asked to pull together an entire clarinet concerto with one weeks notice for a 45-minute service. Learn to say “no” to some requests. The world will keep turning.
3. You don't always get Advance Notice
M.M.: When you’re organist, assistant organist, pretty much any position in church work, there is always someone above you. This means that sometimes things get dropped on you that you weren’t expecting. One Sunday it was unclear who was playing the anthem at our 11 a.m. service. Two of us thought we were conducting and no one thought they were playing. We discovered this at 10:15 a.m. for an 11 a.m. service. My first week on my job I learned about say… 10 minutes before service that I would have to conduct the extroit for both choirs. You don’t always get advanced notice.
P.L.: Even the most planning-heavy churches will ride the wave of the Holy Spirit from time to time. On Saturday night a Pastor may rework an entire sermon, calling for different hymns on Sunday morning. A planned choir anthem may need to be cut to make room for a stewardship speech. You may be asked to “vamp” lightly during said speech. The director of the choir you accompany may be tied up in something and you are forced to start rehearsal without knowing anything about the piece in front of you. Just go with the flow and see these inconveniences as opportunities to lead and step outside your comfort zone. “Flexible organist” does not have to be an oxymoron.
4. Everything you learned in Conducting Class is a Hoax
M.M.: A children’s choir is different from a youth choir, from an adult choir, from a handbell choir etc. Most of what I learned in choral conducting was how to have a beautiful accurate pattern with a baton and have beautiful releases. Very little of that matters. What matters is what works, and most of that type of learning is trial by fire. Choral conducting class with a lab choir of like minded peers can’t possibly teach you what it’s like to teach Latin to a 75 year old woman who can’t see, can barely hear, and has a Southern accent thicker than red Georgia clay.
P.L.: Like M.M. said, the instrumental conductor who taught you to use a baton, the choral conductor who told you to stop mouthing the words… it means nothing until you’re in front of a choir. Each group is different and requires different things from the conductor. Some require grandiose gestures to get from piano to forte, some need every cue and cutoff perfectly placed. Try doing all this while playing from the console hidden in a pit below the choir. My advice: do whatever you have to do, no matter how silly you look doing it.
5. The Copier is your Best Friend
P.L.: I used to pray for a secure job, a healthy relationship, financial stability… now I pray for a decent copier. Whether you’re copying to avoid ridiculous page turns or to give each choir member a copy of an anthem while your scores are in the mail, this machine will determine whether you’re having a good day or a bad day. Anticipate that half of your paper allotment will be wasted on bad copies. And always check if what you’re printing will come out one-sided or two-sided!
M.M.: P.L. is right. You best make friends with the Xerox, or, bless your heart, you’re going to be pretty miserable. You know all that music that just magically showed up in church? All the hymn sheets that just magically appeared? Well, someone made those, and that someone is now you (Congratulations!). Often you will also be in charge of the music library, so be prepared to have paper cuts galore. (On the upside you get to read the hysterical things people have written in their music over the years!)
6. Meetings. For. Days.
P.L.: Some denominations are built on the backs of committees. Each of these committees has to meet regularly to discuss their very specific piece of the 3,000+ piece puzzle that forms the church structure. These committees give power to regular churchgoers who often don’t have power anywhere else in their lives. Every person on every committee in every meeting will have a strong opinion that completely contrasts every other opinion in the room. This causes even the most simple of meetings to drag on for days. In staff meetings people will discuss ad-nauseum things that don’t relate to your job. Some meetings will be spent discussing the last meeting’s jokes and decisions while making absolutely no new jokes or decisions. You’ll be asked to sit in on meetings with people you don’t know about things that don’t concern you. My advice: Put on a happy face and sing a song in your head.
M.M.: You may be required to sit in on meetings that seem pointless to your exact ministry. How does a discussion of who serves communion and who lights advent candles really impact my choir or my organ playing? Wonderful question. But you still have to sit there.
7. Your personal life is now "Public Domain"
M.M.: Thought you were just going to make a quick trip to the grocery store in your running shorts and sweaty tank top? Nope. Welcome to seeing 15 church members who all want to have long personal conversations as you freeze in the frozen pizza aisle. Also, you will never be safe on a date or in a liquor store ever again.
P.L.: Working at a church is a bit like teaching at a school. As a teacher you want respect from your students and their parents. You can often run into students outside of the classroom: in the grocery store, at a movie while on a date, at the car shop while your oil is being changed. The people you serve are all around you, and you’re always “on-stage.” Make a conscious effort to represent your church at all times. If there is a chance of bumping into a churchgoer, consider how you will present yourself outside of the “office.” Consider what you share publicly on Facebook and the bumper stickers you put on your car. Be careful about who you talk politics with. I work at a big church in a small town. I know wherever I go in town I will likely see a church member. For that reason I often dine out or date people in other towns. Avoid the church gossip machine at all costs. Once it grabs a hold of you, there’s no escape. I’m not paranoid, just aware of the reality of church work. If your clergy wouldn’t do it, you probably shouldn’t either.
8. Adult Choirs are just choirs for Giant Children
... except they can't be bribed with candy.
P.L.: Everything you expect to happen in a childrens choir rehearsal will actually happen in your adult choir rehearsal. They will “lose” five copies of each anthem (they’re just upside down in the back), they will bring a beverage and spill it everywhere, they will complain about the notes, the rhythms, the text, the size of the print, your conducting gestures, and the person sitting next to them. They will make inappropriate jokes, they won’t remember the dates and times of performances, but somehow they’ll remember how they sang the anthem five years ago and will always say it was better the old way. The rehearsal room will always be too hot for Andy Anyone but too cold for Sally Someone. There’s not much you can do about these problems but to laugh inside your head, and attend to the most pertinent of them. Keep in mind, you are a minister, and these are your “followers.” Be kind to them.
M.M.: I’ve had more adults lose their music than children. I’ve even had adults take music that was numbered out of someone else’s folder, cross out that number, and write in their own. Be prepared for everything. You will send them a million emails, and then they will still show up late. That’s the beauty of “volunteer” singers
9. Volunteers are few and far between
M.M.: So you have 20 anthems to number and sort and stuff in folders? Good luck. You’re probably on your own. Volunteers are hard to come by and sometimes are harder to train than actually just doing it yourself. Often you will have a few “Super” volunteers that do absolutely everything, but when it comes to the smaller more menial tasks that get less glory, its difficult to find people to do those. Make sure you set clear expectations and rules with your volunteers. You want your volunteers to feel empowered but not entitled. Just because Grandma Sue has “always used a typewriter to make labels for the music library” doesn’t mean you can’t move to something like Excel with the right preparation.
P.L.: “If I can dream it, they can do it!” said every opinionated churchgoer, ever. A lot is asked of church musicians and if we’re good at what we do, people will think we can do anything. They will request a violinist to play Bach’s famous Violin Chaconne at a funeral at 9:00am on a Tuesday. They will ask you to provide each child in your choir with spare copies of music to bring home to practice. If you can rely on volunteers to help, use them as much as possible. For most of us, though, volunteers are hard to come by, and they sometimes don’t do a very good job. Get used to saying “no” to requests in a polite yet firm way.
10. Prepare for Tinder Disappointment
P.L.: No one truly understands what organists do except organists themselves. People can appreciate what we do and recognize the effort we put in, but there is so much that goes into our job that it’s impossible to summarize and explain our role to others. You will, however, be asked weekly what exactly it is that you do. Most of these inquiries will come in the form of rude questions: “What do you do all day?” is the most common. My favorite response, after explaining that I’m an organist, is “Oh that’s nice, but what’s your real job?” Sometimes it’s worth explaining, sometimes it’s not. Choose your battles.
M.M.: Working in a church isn’t super popular in our generation. I’ve often said that the quickest way to get someone to stop hitting on me in a bar is to tell them that I work for the church. You’ll get asked brilliant questions if you have photos of you at the organ like, “Do you actually play that?!?!” No… of course not… I just thought it made me look more attractive to pose at the organ in a choir robe? Also, everyone will ask you: ‘What do you actually do all day?” “Can you get a degree in that? I thought people just volunteered to do that stuff for churches.” You will constantly be explaining what you do, and that no we don’t just come in on Wednesdays and Sundays and sit around and eat coconut bon bons and watch soap operas for the rest of the week.
Hey everyone! My name is Ashlyn Batten, and I am super excited to be a member of the AGOYO Southeast Board this year! I am looking forward to seeing what new things we accomplish and am excited to connect with other young organists in our region! I am currently finishing up my Master’s Degree in Sacred Music/Organ Performance at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, studying under Mr. Andrew Scanlon. I am the pianist at a small Methodist church near ECU. (I double-majored in piano and organ in undergrad because I love both instruments so much, so, I’ve enjoyed getting some piano time in amidst all of my organ studies!) When I'm not practicing or writing papers, I enjoy teaching therapeutic horseback riding to special needs children and riding my horse! If you’re ever in Eastern NC, please contact me and I’d love to show you around the wonderful Fisk Op. 126!
Have you ever had a question about the best edition of Bach to use for the Leipzig Chorales? How about what tempo is most appropriate for a new hymn tune that you’ve never heard before? How do you handle a conflict with a choir member? How on earth am I supposed to improvise a fugue for improvisation class? These are questions that we all have. Being an organist is a unique experience and means being part of a small well-connected community. However, sometimes being an organist, especially as a young student or professional, can feel very isolating. Our goal is to help allay some of that isolation, and provide young organists with a virtual mentor that they can field all of these questions to.
The Southeastern region of the AGO is quite large, encompassing nine states from Florida to Mississippi to North Carolina. This means that our young organist population is quite spread out. While there are many major music schools with reputable organ programs in the Southeast, there’s not one in every single city/region. We at AGOYO Southeast want to make the feel of a university community and the resources of the larger network of organists in the Southeast available to our promising young students and professionals.
The way the mentor program works is that young organists/professionals can fill out the form requesting a mentor (which can be found here). Then the board of AGOYO Southeast will pair them with a mentor. The mentor may not be in their local area, or even in their state. However, the mentor will be ready to interface with them via social media, email and Skype for at least an hour each month. The mentor will serve as a sounding board for the student’s questions and concerns about everything in the organ world from ciphers to choral conducting. On the form, we ask for the student to specify a particular area in which they have interest, or have questions. This is so that we can best pair each student with a mentor who has strengths and knowledge in that area. For example, if a student was concerned because they are starting a new job in a Catholic Church and are unfamiliar with the Mass order and Mass parts, we would do our best to pair them with a mentor who has a vast knowledge of that particular liturgy and has experience in the Catholic Church.
We’re very excited to be presenting this program this fall and we hope to be able to reach students and young professional who need a community in the AGO. We’ve all spent a Thursday morning before a bulletin is due desperately googling ( okay, we’re really using Wikipedia) the origins of a hymn, or what an appropriate prelude might be since we’ve been on vacation all week and had no time to practice. These are the sorts of questions and concerns that we make having a mentor and friend in the same field invaluable.
If you have any interest in being a mentor or any questions about the program, please contact Caitlin Dowling or Scott Ziegler at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to getting the mentors program off the ground this Fall and we can’t wait to work with all the mentors and mentees personally!