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Thread: Catholic organist compensation

  1. #1
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    Unhappy Catholic organist compensation

    Hello,

    I started a thread regarding this several years ago but feel it is time to once again get some input.

    I was wondering what organists in the Catholic parishes are being compensated. I began playing in my home parish for $30 per service. 11 years later the rate is only at $50. When I substituted in a few Protestant churches back as far as 30 years ago - I was already getting $60-75 per service. I believe that the $50 rate is still really low. A survey I did a few years ago pretty well substantiates this belief, but I thought that perhaps I could get some newer insight as to what parish musicians are being paid. My church has probably about 650 families at this point. I play full-time every Sunday (but do not direct - there is a separate choir director) and my yearly pay averages to not much more than $2,000. (This is in a church where the WEEKLY collection is over double what I receive for an entire year). Somehow something just seems wrong.

    Thanks for any replies.

  2. #2
    Admiral Honkenwheezenpooferspieler Corno Dolce's Avatar
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    Hello kas,

    I have a faint recollection about your situation - Yes, it irks me to no end that musicians in Churches are not properly paid. I shall be respectful and tactful now - Maybe the parish where you serve would like the organist and choir director to be the same person. If you have a degree in music, like a B.A. or M.A. it will greatly improve your bargaining power. Have you had an opportunity to have a real talk with the priest or does he ignore the compensation issue for staff? He may be pushing the envelope by either verbally or non-verbally stating that when you serve in the Church it is to be as a service unto the Lord. Yes, it shall be a service unto the Lord but the Lord asks us to be as wise as serpents, yet meek as doves. If you have a skill you must be paid! I have no idea what the situation is now in America in regards to compensation i.e. what is the rate.

    Faithfully yours,

    CD
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  3. #3
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Hi kas,

    Here in the US, the RC church have historically paid their organists way below average - I know this from first hand experience. Back in 1989 I left my protestant position [Lutheran] for one in a very large RC parish - I took a severe cut in salary ... half of what I had been earning. The "standard" was $30 per "unit" ... a "unit" being either a Mass or a choir rehearsal, so I was roughly making $60 per week in the RC parish.

    It was a wonderful experience and I have no regrets whatsoever about having served as a senior organist in that Catholic parish for a bit over 3 years ... I had a wonderful III/94 (Allen) at my disposal and performed two concerts every year while there.

    I don't have an answer as to "why" the RC organist pay standard is so low ... they certainly have the funds to pay what many of the Protestant churches are offering these days. I suspect some of the "pay" is considered a gift to the church in their way of thinking ... most RC musicians here are not paid, or rather given a stipend to spend on music in some cases.

    The American Guild of Organists is forever trying to convince all churches to properly compensate their organists and choral directors ... I've had the good fortune of having been properly compensated in the Lutheran churches I have served in the past 50+ years, usually getting a 3% or 4% raise in salary each year.

    Since you asked about compensation, my salary is about $365 per Sunday - two services and one choir rehearsal. I spend about 25 hours per week related to church music (selecting my prelude/postlude music for each service, practicing at church, and my duties as the curator for all church owned musical instruments.

  4. #4
    Seaman, Mezzoforte
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    Hmmmm......
    actually I don't understad about organist compensation.because in my place (I serve RC parish also),there is no compensation to the organist.we just serve the church as a service to the God and congregation.so the church organist is not an occupation but jus a service to the Lord.
    But one thing that I know, if you have a problem with compensation, it is good to talk with priest/person who in charge of this situation to solve this problem.as Corno said 'it will greatly improve your bargaining power'.I think it makes sense since we taught to make the it in right way & properly.
    cheers,
    chris.

  5. #5
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Yes, well, some of you may recall my particular situation from about a year ago (which still smarts), so basically I shouldn't really comment, because it'll only ever be a case of "Catholics? DON'T GET ME STARTED ON THOSE STINKING ARROGANT B*ST*RDS!

    Compensation? Yeah, I'm still owed it by the shipload!

    (My apologies to any decent Catholics present - it's simply that I'm so hard-pressed to find any down here whose behaviour even qualifies as "christian", let alone any denomination thereof)
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

  6. #6
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    compensation

    Thanks to everyone for the replies.

    Soubasse - I can fully understand your anger. There are days when I really feel taken advantage of.

    Chrishandoko - I can understand this sentiment also. There are times when I feel like I need to do this to give back for all I have received spiritually. But unfortunately that does not quite satiate me enough to feel satisfied. Let's say it this way - were they to come to me and say that there will no longer be compensation...will I still play? I'd need a good long time to think that one over. I'd probably be inclined to look for a different position. After all, we are talking about a skilled position here. I know that there are many who devote much time in a parish and are not paid. But yet, any parishioner can probably learn to make perogies in the kitchen after working at it for a bit; however, it takes years to become a skilled organist. Plus it demands constant and unending practice. This is the thing that I feel is the unappreciated element - the amount of time that goes into it. People sitting out there have no idea how much time might go into a 3-minute prelude piece depending on the level of complexity.

    Krummhorn - Thanks for your well thought-out and very balanced reply. Once again, I am hearing about it being a service to the Lord and that perhaps it only deserves a small stipend. I disagree with this line of thinking, but as you correctly point out - that is how it is viewed.

    Corno Dolce - You raise an interesting point about a separate director versus one person who would both play and direct (much more common). In my church there has always been a separate overall music director (who gets compensated much more than me for doing relatively little). I do have both a B.S. and M.M. in music. I have spoken to my priest - a bit of a tense and uncomfortable conversation (at least for me) although I rattled on joyfully so as to not show too much inner turmoil over the pay issue. I simply told him that I would hope that the small increments ($5 increase every couple of years or so) would continue. What really bothered me - and I did tell him this - is that the last increase was only $2.50 per service - from $45 to $47.50 - which I thought was really like a slap in the face. But then I was told that there were no Diocesan raises across the board. I don't know how to take that. As you said, it is a skill that demands constant practice, not to mention that searching out of music to play on a steady basis (although my director told me one time when this issue came up that I might consider simply eliminating the prelude and postlude music - I almost fell off my chair at that comment. Talk about really "not getting it".) That alone, more than anything else I could say, might give you an idea of what I'm facing.

    I will let things sit as they are and see if an additional $5 increment is forthcoming. If none is by the end of the summer (beginning of the church's fiscal year), then I will probably say something again. Recently I have agreed to be full-time organist - an increase from approximately 3/4 time (play 3 Sundays, with 1 off). And so I think that alone is worth an increase. One of our other organists retired and the church has made no effort to try and replace him.

    OK..enough rant on this topic. But thanks again to everybody. I really appreciate the input. We'll see how things go. I'll probably be back here again in a year or so...

    All the best,
    kas
    Last edited by kas; Dec-06-2011 at 04:22.

  7. #7
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    I would be inclined to present the priest with a breakdown of the time spent in preparation for each service in such a way that you equate it to an hourly rate. If possible include typical pay for a musician of similar competence in other musical environments like orchestral; stress that you do not expect "orchestral rates" in a church environment due to the "service" aspect, however you feel that you deserve considerably more than the current rate.
    Cheers MIKE.

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  8. #8
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    compensation

    Dorsetmike -

    Thanks for your suggestion. I've never actually thought of presenting to him how the time actually breaks down, although just recently I've thought of documenting all my hours - choosing music, practicing, etc. to see what it actually comes to. This is the part that most non-musicians are totally unaware of. And the organ demands even MORE time than preparation on some other instruments (since you mention the orchestra side of things). If I want to learn a piece on my clarinet, I put it together, put on a playable reed (all of 1 minute to accomplish this), and I'm ready to go. On the organ, we are working out fingering and pedaling in addition to learning not one but three staves of music most of the time.

    I think that if I push too much I'll probably hear things like - those who teach the religious education classes are not compensated, choir members are not compensated, those who give hours of their time helping to do clean up, or build things, or work in the kitchen, etc. are not compensated. How to get many in the parish to see that somehow the organist work should not be lumped in with all of those things is the heart of the problem. I just feel that if my priest saw it as perfectly ok to give me a raise of $2.50 - when it was always in increments of $5 for years - that to me is a sign that there is a lack of true understanding of how much time really goes into the job. And yet I do receive, for Christmas and Easter, some extra 'cash' outside of the regular compensation for number of services played. So there is definitely a measure of appreciation being shown, but I'm not sure what would constitute the upper limit of 'reasonable' compensation in his book.

  9. #9
    Seaman, Mezzoforte
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    I'd like to contribute some facts about the organists' situation here in Germany.

    If you play services/masses as a temporary organist in the catholic church, you are paid EURO 18 per mass. This amount is valid now since more than 10 years. I assume that the German Catholic Church is one of the wealthy churches worldwide. It seems that organ music does not have a very high appreciation here.

    The protestant church however pays EUR 32 to 33 per service. Organ music plays a more important role within a service, it is part of it. They expect that an organist plays an adequate piece of music at the beginning and at the end of the service. Nobody would leave the church before the complete organ work is played. This behaviour is extremely seldom in the catholic churches. Here, people rush out as soon as the priest has left, and the priest leaves as soon as the last chord of the choral has been sung.

    You may come to the result that it is not worth playing the organ in catholic churches.
    @ Chrishandoko:
    I also play some masses without being payed, but if you play 5 or 10 masses a week, I feel it being fully adequate to be compensated. Sometimes, I have 5 or more masses during a weekend. This not just a service to the congregation, but real work. All people are payed for their work, why shouldn't organists?

  10. #10
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    Lupo,

    Thanks for sharing that information. It's interesting to hear what the organist compensation issue is like in other countries. You raise some interesting points. Not only do my parishioners get up and leave immediately after the recessional hymn, but there are always several - and my priest has addressed this issue from the pulpit many times - that will leave immediately after they have received communion!

    I really think that, except for those parishioners who definitely show an interest in what I do and appreciate the music I play, for the postlude I could probably do improvised variations on "Three Blind Mice" and I doubt if most people would really notice. It doesn't matter if I play the simplest, most boring piece of music or play a Bach piece that I've spent hours preparing, it is generally the case that hardly anyone - including the clergy - ever really comes up after Mass and says anything about what I've played.

    It is even to the point where they start the Mass 5 minutes early. And so I plan to end prelude music at that time. Before that, I never knew when they would start - making it really hard to time pieces. I recall a few times when I ran late with the prelude - once or twice the lector came over and actually started introducing the mass while I was still playing! Unbelievable! Another time I was told by my Deacon that "the Mass should never wait on the prelude".

    Like you said...a different focus in the Catholic church. I can recall early morning Masses where everything was done acapella - no organist at all.

    I guess what rankles about all of this is that I was born and raised Protestant, and thus grew up playing in the Protestant church, then converted to the RC church much later. The organ pieces are not even listed in the weekly bulletin, nor is my name listed along with the clergy, office secretary and music director. I guess I can understand this being that there have frequently been more than one organist who helps out with the various Masses.

    Regards,
    kas
    Last edited by kas; Dec-07-2011 at 16:20.

  11. #11
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    @ Lupo: actually I understand and agree with your oppinion if an organist is an occupation it must be honoured/ compensated.because it is a professional matter.
    but in my place, organist is not (yet?) an occupation.may be this situation that makes there are no compensation for an organist.
    an RC organist here came up from the choir member.so that, every mass has a different organist which has a different background of music.
    May be it become a concerns in RC chruch, that organist has no adequate knowledge of organ music or liturgical music.
    if I compare with several countries, to become an organist must have a good knowledge to church music or may be have a music degree.
    so in my place church music especially organ music not yet tilled seriously.
    @ Kas: I hope you find an enlightment from this sharing
    cheers,
    Chris

  12. #12
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kas View Post
    . . . I think that if I push too much I'll probably hear things like - those who teach the religious education classes are not compensated, choir members are not compensated, those who give hours of their time helping to do clean up, or build things, or work in the kitchen, etc.
    While the above is true, the church needs to realize that the organist is also a "leader" of worship (Mass), much the same as a Pastor/Priest. We have spent an almost equal amount, if not more sometimes, of time in the selection and preparation of our music as the pastor/priest has spent composing their sermon/homily. We are, in effect, a very integral part of the worship service - if the lector skips a verse, no big deal ... if the organist skips a line of music, everyone notices and will say something about it.

    I've encountered this "gift of services to God" issue in former organist positions ... what doesn't appear as "gifts" to us are the music scores we must purchase usually at premium prices (except of course those now in PD on IMSLP), and organ lessons. Ever heard of a Lector taking 'lector lessons'?

    We have "expenses" unlike the lector - the lector does not have to go to the church to practice their scripture reading - the organist does, as usually we don't have an instrument at home. I have a piano at home, but need to go to the church for my organ practice sessions, a 32 mi/51.4 km round trip. With Fuel/Petrol prices the way they are, it has gotten expensive for us as well.

    If we are going to accept the clergy statement of "gifts to God" then that priest/pastor should also donate his time and efforts as he/she is a called and ordained messenger of whatever diety they serve ... (?) ... fair is fair, right? But, "they" don't see it the same was as they are "preaching" to us.

    I'm glad to learn that some organists receive some extra compensation for certain times of the year - at least the efforts aren't going totally unnoticed, but it just can't stop there. It needs to be properly rewarded all year long.

    How this gets accomplished is anyone's guess ... but we do have some helpful tools to use, thanks to the American Guild of Organists in the US, and the Royal College of Organists in the UK. Become a member in the local chapter where you live - get involved and eventually we will make headway in our plight to be adequately compensated.

    The "key" is educating others about or chosen trade ... I take my VW to the dealer for all its service as they do it right all the time, every time. They are professionals dealing in a service ... we organists are also "professionals" dealing in a "service", and need to be properly compensated. Most of us are "part-time" employees ... whereas we do not receive benefits or medical insurance as part of our wages - no, we must get those on our own, at our expense.

    To end with a little humor, I'm reminded of the late E. Power Biggs saying that the organs of today lack two very important controls:

    1. Rector Ejector (for the Anglican Church)
    2. Pulpit Cancel (for all the other religions)
    Kh ~~.
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  13. #13
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso John Watt's Avatar
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    I had a thought, seeing this thread title, also thinking it might be too harsh. But I'm seeing spiritual distress here.

    If I wanted to understand the Catholic Church, for the betterment of any negotiations with any aspect of Catholic business,
    I'd make sure to read "Tales of the Decameron", by Giovanni Boccaccio, a biblical equivalent of self-entitlement.
    They also might be the first "consumer survivors", even if they survived their own consumation.

    In the United States and Canada, the Catholic Church is losing lots of money, being continuously sued for sexual crimes.
    It's the evangelical fervour of Central and South Americans, the Spanish influence, that keeps the cash coming in.

  14. #14
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    compensation

    Hi,

    Thanks again to all who replied. I agree with the many good points that have been raised.

    I think that part of the problem in my church is that the former 'full-time' organist / director played for over 40 years and did not get paid a single cent! I had heard from some people, though, that he didn't want anything. Still others said that he would have liked something but there was simply no compensation offered. I suppose the truth is somewhere in the middle. I suspect that most of our parishioners would have no clue that I am being compensated.

    I will continue to 'plug away' at attempting to have the priest increase what is being offered. I think I have a bit of leverage in that if I were to say I will not play anymore - for whatever reason - they would have a pretty tough time finding someone for what is being offered. And yet there is a parish nearby mine - even larger - that only pays $25 per Mass.

    Thanks again,
    kas

  15. #15
    Captain of Water Music
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    Have been interested in this subject, and it would be interesting to know which part of the world you live (play!) in Kas.

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