The following was prepared by the Professional Concerns Committee.Sacred Music: Why, Where and How?CompensationDetermination of SalaryContractsWeddings & 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:
- 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
- In preparing to sing an anthem, the choir members repeat excerpts
from scripture many times, often memorizing them in the process.
- 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
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:
earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell
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
- Development and administration of the music budget.
KEYBOARD WORK (Organ, piano, harpsichord)
- 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
- Conducting rehearsal: teaching music, religious education, vocal
- Sending choir reminders, consulting with choir members:
encouragement, personal ministry.
- Reviewing, selecting and purchasing appropriate music for
- 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
- 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,
Return to top
- 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
- 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
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:
- Ability, preparation, and experience required for the position.
- Demands of the job.
- Impact of the position on the overall work of the institution.
In determining compensation, points to be specifically excluded
- Any other employment that the musician may have.
- 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
- 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.
- Salaries of musicians in other religious institutions in the area.
The total compensation package should include benefits in addition to salary:
Return to top
- Major medical insurance.
- Professional expenses.
- Continuing education allowance (workshops, conventions).
- Paid vacation of at least for weeks per year - restful breaks in
routine are necessary, and should not be an 'earned' benefit.
- Paid sick leave.
- Life insurance / Disability insurance.
- Pension plan.
- Social security.
- Workers' compensation.
- Sabbatical (leave of absence).
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.Return to top
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:
- Duties and responsibilities of the musician (job description).
- Responsibilities of the religious institution (salary, benefits).
- Termination / review procedure.
- Code of Ethics (that of the AGO should be incorporated by reference).
An excellent sample contract is available from the National AGO website.Return to top
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
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.Return to topReturn to Member Resources