Justifying Organist Pay ...


  • Dear Forum,

    Starting a new discussion of an old topic; however, from the view point of serving in a third-world country.

    I am currently serving at a parish in the Philippines that has a wonderful pipe organ, but operates largely on a volunteer basis as do the majority of parishes in the Philippines. This parish is somewhat new and has a beautiful complex and pipe organ, in a wealthier end of Metro-Manila, and are certainly capable of paying a small salary for an organist.

    I am helping the current music director with justifying paying a salary for the organist position. This is what I have put together, in this case, comparing with another volunteer position—“Sunday School” teachers.

    Organists pay for their own education, thousands of dollars.
    Organists pay for their own organ shoes, organ sheet music, and professional affiliations, workshops and seminars, their own transportation. None of this is typically paid for by the church, here in the Philippines.

    Sunday school teachers typically do not have any degrees, what training they receive is provided by the church, their supplies are provided by the church, and any workshops and seminars are paid for by the church, and any expense of reimbursed.

    Both positions are vital to the life of the church, the organist is likely more visible, higher profile to the entire parish than the Sunday school teacher.

    With deep gratitude, I appreciate any and all input that may help justify a salary. I thank you in advance.

  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    You might also include that the religious education teachers are actually only meant to be a sort of "supplement" to the parents, who are those primarily charged with bringing children up in the Faith.
    Sunday school is important, but organists can be the make or break of the people's EffCap in the activity that is THE SOURCE AND SUMMIT of our Faith.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

    p.s. The beauty organists provide is in and of itself catechetical.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Off-topic spoiler alert:

    LRBob- I think it's so cool you've gone from Malibu to the Phillipines! God bless you!
    I have a longing to take a sabbatical year and go to a mission in the Peruvian/Amazon rainforest run by the finest missionary I've ever met, if I could lose another 60lbs.
    Prolly lotsa folk would like to see me gone as well, with a one way ticket! ;-)
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Not much to add to the original topic - but I have to say I admire you guys and I'm glad there are people willing to go on sabbaticals to the Philippines and Peru. It's not for me though that's for sure. My idea of a sabbatical would be working and studying in France, or Germany, or England.
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    Also, from an economic standpoint, an organist is also a much more skilled class of labor. Most adults could teach Sunday school with a little prep. Most adults could not skillfully play the organ.
  • 'Music is catechetical'. Well said!
    It is also an icon in sound, and, thus, is indeed catechetical!

    You should be paid because you are a professional church musician, an organist, as your dearly-paid-for education and studies attest, not to mention the incidental expenses which you mention. Neither the plumber, the architect, nor the accountant went unpaid, nor were the chalice and paten, the vestments, statues, and other furnishings had gratis. Your services as a thoughtful, conscientious church musician deserve remuneration... most especially if, as you say, your parish is rather well-endowed. Considering this last point, it is rather cheap and grateless, lacking in character, really, for them to expect your valuable services for nothing.

    Who is the builder of the organ you speak so highly of? Its specifications?
    Thanked by 1francis
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,392
    Organists need to eat. They need a place to live, like the rest of us.
    Organists get married and have children. Their families need financial support. If you want someone to be consistent in their attendance and private rehearsal, this time away from their families and away from leisure needs to be compensated.

    Give the organist a salary and let them decide how much to donate to the church.
  • kenstb
    Posts: 358
    lagunaredbob,

    Organists are an investment in the future of the faith community. A good organist never stops his her musical education. Music is able to aid in evangelization regardless of the language of the listener. If the position is a full time one, the organist must be able to eat and shelter himself with whatever he's paid. In many places, organists have to supplement their meager income by teaching and playing other instruments as well. Good organists also are very often the person who arranges or orchestrates music for the vocal forces available. This takes time, skill and dedication. Jesus said, "the laborer is worthy of his wages". Luke 10:7 It is a sin to defraud ones workers.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • Thank you all for the great comments. The organ is a German organ Klais Orgelbau (sp?). About 15 ranks.
  • BJJ1978
    Posts: 22
    While I admire the OP's efforts in advocating for such professional concerns within a church, I must say, I've always been against making such comparisons to other offices/postions in a church (or elsewhere). I read some substantial arguments for the sake of the organist's salary, both from the OP and responders, but these points can be made without the comparisons to a Sunday School teacher. Education is the single most important element to begin improvement or progress, but bringing others into your argument as "exhibit A" is not the way to go about it.
    Thanked by 1PaxMelodious
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    BJJ1978, in my experience the "well, why should we pay you, we don't pay so-and-so" is an argument usually brought up by those in charge, I don't think it's a bad idea to have a counter prepared ahead of time.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
    Thanked by 1bkenney27
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,670
    1 Tim. 5:18.....the laborer deserves his wage....
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,649
    Is there a debate anywhere about justifying priest pay?
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    Is there a debate anywhere about justifying priest pay?
    Actually, there was quite a brouhaha on Praytell, maybe two Christmases ago? when someone found out that the Christmas collection at many parishes, according to long custom, was a gift to the pastor.
    And I know many brides and grooms are shocked to discover they are expected to give the priest a stipend.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,649
    That must be a local custom. In our diocese, the Christmas collection goes to a fund for clergy support (retirement, insurance, etc.) Maybe that's a more sensible version of an older practice?
    Thanked by 1BruceL
  • The obvious response to '...we don't pay so-and so' is '...but we DO pay so-and-so', so-and-so being the gardner, the yard man, the housekeeper, the secretary, the plumber, the roofer, the book keeper, the cook, the sextons and custodians, the vestment makers, & cet., & cet.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    The obvious response to '...we don't pay so-and so' is '...but we DO pay so-and-so', so-and-so being the gardner, the yard man, the housekeeper, the secretary, the plumber, the roofer, the book keeper, the cook, the sextons and custodians, the vestment makers, & cet., & cet.
    Which gets back to the original concern, to explain why the organist was one of the so-and-sos you paid, not one of the so-and-sos you didn't.
    Wasn't there a thread Jeff Tucker began, maybe on the New Liturgical Movement about an internet article by a Catholic church choir director who couldn't believe any choir director expected to be paid for being at Church on Sunday mornings?

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    The best justification to pay an organist is "because they won't work for free."
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,283
    The best justification to pay an organist is "because they won't work for free."


    Quite right.

    Unless they will.

    If an organist is stupid enough to work for free, it does not follow that a parish should then also be stupid enough to pay them.

    Reading these discussions, its like people have no idea how basic economics works.

    But just because that's how the secular economy works doesn't mean that's how the Church should operate!!

    Yes. But economics isn't about prescribing how people should behave, it's about describing how people actually behave.

    And people will ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS want to get something for free if they can.
  • I think in a lot of circumstances people prefer to pay for things. It sets up a reciprocal relationship. It establishes an obligation. And it filters out the quality you can get for free.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,102
    or better said,

    And it filters out the quality you
    WILL NOT
    get for free.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,862
    And besides, the organist might hurt you if he is not paid! ;-)
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,583
    I knew a wonderful retired organist with an MA in organ performance that retired from his secular job with a nice pension and volunteered his services for 3 Masses per weekend (all on Sunday) at a parish with a lovely pipe organ and a very small congregation that was made up of mainly college students.

    To say that you can never get quality for free is wrong.

    It's just very rare.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 990
    I'll give my $0.02, since our assistant organist retired in January. Not having that help really puts a burden on the director, even if he is (as in my case) an organist. I can't do a lot of repertoire (at least not as well) and having some accompanied pieces certainly helps ease the work load on the choir. This, in turns, allows them to learn their a cappella rep much better. Our assistant was just a 1/4 time position, but it was still a huge help.

    I think your sell will be harder in a country other than the USA, at least in the Catholic church. Nonetheless, I think you want to make the same case: proper pay allows that person to do more work without worrying about income from multiple jobs. That is a pressing concern for anyone with a family, one that I feel every year as I have more kids, buy a house, etc.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • I would like to know what happened to your project Lagunaredbob. I will soon marry a pinay and for me the question is wide open: live in Philippines or stay in Europe. SO I would be happy to know if this kind of project like yours had success.
    BTW: I think a bit different about paying organists. Of course one can argue, but makes open the heart of the pastor/priest/congregation is the "pressure" of the congregation. If people got used to good organ / choir music, they will likely wanna pay for preserving quality (and this means long term work). Hope there are good exceptions to this idea of mine.
    Thanks in advance
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,862
    I hate to say it, but I have seen priests who would never pay an organist a decent wage, all the while lavishing luxuries on themselves. I have also seen the opposite, but it isn't as common in my experience.
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