Need some help/direction and a way to find musicians in the Washington, DC Area
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    Hello all,

    I have been lurking on your forum for about 4 months since I took a position as Director of Music at my parish in late February. I work for a moderately sized small-town parish in Southern Maryland and I'm in need of help.

    I do not have a degree in music, but I am well educated and very experienced, I promise. I was a cantor for 2 churches when I was asked to take on the role. It's clear from reading your forum that we have some work to do, but luckily I have a newly ordained pastor who wants to take our church in a more traditional direction. Our music program has had no director since July 2011 and no one at all at the helm when our pastoral associate quit in May 2013. Our previous pastor was reassigned in November 2013 and we've had a young and newly ordained priest since then. He was very displeased with how the musicians were organized. Yada, yada, yada, I will spare you all the in-between details, but I was hired for my musical experience, yes, but my leadership and organizational experience more than anything. I am very part-time, mostly working from home.

    Here is where I need help (initially, I'm very certain I will need more direction very soon):
    We have 4 masses a weekend; a vigil on Saturday and 3 on Sunday. The vigil and 8:30am are what the congregation refer to as "traditional" with a digital organ and cantor or choir and the 10:30 and 12:30pm were guitar-led so-called "folk masses". Our new pastor pretty much despises the guitar music. He was fairly patient with the changes I have been able to enact for the past few months until about 3 weeks ago. He got very mad after one Mass where the music was just terrible and told me to get the guitarists out of the 10:30 slot and replace them with an organist and cantor pronto. This is where I've been hanging on by a thread. I've been able to find a few women who can juggle the 3 Masses, but I have exhausted my resources for substitutes. Every organist or competent cantor has another church they work for or has a conflict with being able to play/sing with any sort of regularity. The other church I sing for has no one to play at their 11am service and I have been leading hymns a cappella for a month. My 10:30 cantor just told me she can't really do it anymore because her husband is mad that he lectors at the 8:30 and wants her to attend that one with him (she was a choir member at that Mass, so she would just return to that role). So, basically, I am going to need to quit at my other church to take on that Mass myself. A few people have auditioned for me at my parish and they are just not ready to lead hymns and responses by themselves yet.

    I'm getting rambly, I'm so sorry. Anyway, I don't know how else to find qualified cantors and accompanists. My priest is leading a pilgrimage to Poland right now and told me that letting the guitarists back in at 10:30, even just to fill in for a weekend, is "not an option". My back up called me Monday (a recent high school grad) and said she needs weeks to prepare the music, my regular organist is out of town with her husband and told me today she won't be back in time. I've tried craigslist, asking around, bulletin and pulpit announcements, google searches, and I need a substitute organist for this Sunday or I fear losing my job. Can anyone help me? Is there a resouce I don't know about? Is there anyone here who is in the Washington, DC area and could help us? My priest said he will compensate at whatever cost for someone from out of town. I realize it's Thursday afternoon, so if you're reading this I'm sure you sense my urgency (and hopefully my desperation). Also, if I've categorized this post incorrectly, I am happy to change it if someone knows a better tag. Thank you in advance for reading and for offering any help you can.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,960
    Is there an AGO chapter nearby? They usually have a substitute list of organists willing to substitute. What about any nearby colleges with music departments? Vocal majors are usually not averse to picking up a few extra dollars. None of this is a permanent solution but might get you through the crisis.
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Call the archdiocese. They often have sub lists etc. Who is the archdiocesan music person? Often it is the cathedral music director. If so, call the music director at St. Matthew's Cathedral and ask.
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    Okay, I will check AGO asap. There doesn't seem to be a chapter for Southern Maryland, but perhaps the DC chapter will have someone. I must note this is a digital organ, not a pipe organ. Does that make it totally unappealing for a professional? :-(
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,960
    Not if you pay them.
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    Bless you and thank you!! Sending emails right now.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,495
    Good luck! This is a stressy position to be in right now, but ultimately it can be much better than many. The question: what are y'all paying cantors? If you aren't, I think that needs to change, if for no other reason than that you're buying reliability (physically at least).
  • Let's get realistic here. It's hard to find someone to jump in and play a Mass.


    My back up called me Monday (a recent high school grad) and said she needs weeks to prepare the music,

    Call her back and let her pick the hymns and music she wants to play. Speak the psalm. Speak the Glory to God if need be.

    Father is not going go ballistic if the psalm is spoken and the Glory to God is spoken.
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    Jeffrey - we pay cantors, $55/Mass. I have no idea why it's so hard to find someone willing to do it. This is a county-wide issue. I've filled in at other parishes and the priests or parishioners are always making comments about "stealing me" or sending messages to my own priest not to "hog all the talent". To be completely honest, I think the priests are too picky so they chase off people who are willing to do it, but not great.

    Noel - She did pick the hymns, then backed out when I sent her the music. She said that perhaps her mom, who volunteered her, thought too highly of her ability and that she's really not that confident she'd be able to do much more than the melody. Your suggestion is a good one, however, and I will call her back and propose that.
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,495
    How far from DC Metro? Is there a chance that you're being outbid? Or that anyone with talent is leaving for DC? Small town is always going to be a challenge. But even in a place like Cleveland, finding good cantors is not always as easy as you'd think.
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    We're about 45-50 minutes from DC. I'm new to the role, so I don't think I've exhausted my search for cantors. For so many years, our church just found talent from within the congregation or nearby parishes. We don't have a youth choir or musical option strictly for youth right now, which I know is a large part of the problem, and I'm working on it. There's me, age 27, and every other musician is aged 60 or older. All three of our organists are 70 or older. There's no one younger than me and no one in between. I feel that the young and talented haven't felt welcome to join the choir or put themselves out there for the music ministry in the past few years so there's no talent pool in the choir to draw from when a cantor slot opens up.

    A good friend thinks that this is God telling me that I need to stop splitting my time between the two parishes I serve. Currently I do the Vigil Mass and 11am at the church down the road, and then lead the choir at my own parish at 8:30 and cantor at 12:30. She thinks He gave me a big opening a month ago and because I didn't listen He's making the path narrower and narrower until it hurts. When my 4pm cantors backed out last Monday I began to think she was right.
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    I found someone for Sunday, thank you all so much for your helpful suggestions. Luckily, someone from Baltimore saw this post and emailed me.

    I look forward to learning more from everyone in the coming months!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,107
    Bless you, Ali ... and thanks for opening up to us here. With the current crisis averted, let's hope and pray that things will be a bit smoother for you now, for you have the right mind and heart, and you will do wonders for the music at your church.
    Thanked by 2Ali ContraBombarde
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,593
    Your priest should probably hire a full-time person to come in if he is serious about making big changes in music. If he hires a full time Director of Music / Organist and keeps you as part-time cantor, he will probably see the sorts of results that he wants immediately.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,001
    Actually, since they already have the DM piece, what is possibly needed is a organist hire.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,397
    I have no idea why it's so hard to find someone willing to do it. This is a county-wide issue. I've filled in at other parishes and the priests or parishioners are always making comments about "stealing me" or sending messages to my own priest not to "hog all the talent".

    The only way this can be "fixed" is to invest in youth. I'm talking 6-15 year olds. If the church is willing to help pay for organ lessons for teenagers if they play for Mass or sing in the choir, it can be a start. For the younger group, begin a good choir.

    God bless you as you continue your important work.
    Thanked by 2Kathy Ali
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,001
    Agree with Canadash 100%!
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,730
    Also, please consider that some parishioners might like the badly performed guitar music, so it would be **prudent** not to cut that music out abruptly. You might even need to make some change to improve the performance. Elderly folks at the Saturday 4 pm Mass tend to like it, so you might keep some of it there.

    On the forum we have been told of another case -- in the DC area, even! -- in which a pastor ordered abrupt change, and the musician saluted and said Yes Father! But when the squeaky wheels of the parish complained for months and stopped giving, the pastor reversed course and blamed the musician! If you want to head that off, have a talk about it now. See if you can get an agreement on two points: (1) you should be gentle about changing styles -- because people cannot be blamed for liking what their parish has given them for forty years; and (2) the pastor should include you in any discussion of music, so that people can't criticize you behind your back.
  • Ooops--see you got someone. Here is what I wrote anyway.

    Sorry I didn't see this sooner. Call the National Shrine and ask for Peter Latona, the music director. 202-526-8300 I understand he is very accessible as a person and he will CERTAINLY understand. In the future, call the Rome School of Music at CUA 202-319-5414. The keyboard faculty attracts wonderful students, and many of them are already employed, but they can help.

    I put out an APB with the organists I know in town. I am sending some contacts that one fellow just sent me as amessage, as they shouldn't be public.

  • Here is the Music School's email--for future reference.
  • Ali
    Posts: 31
    Thank you all for your suggestions and for those who sent me private messages - thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I wasn't ignoring my thread the past few days, I have 2 toddlers who contracted coxsackie a few days ago and it's been a fun ride with hands, foot, and mouth sores. Pray for them and their tired mama.

    RE: quick changes: I completely agree. Luckily, the organist and cantor have been well received at 10:30 and the 12:30 has remained "folk". I had been hoping to do a slow transition with that Mass, but no dice. I actually made Father do the announcement of the change with me standing beside him so all were aware it was his ultimate decision. The 12:30 will remain folk and my understanding from the parishioners I've informally polled is that the really die-hard folk fans attend this service.

    RE: Youth - great suggestion on organ lessons! I will think about how we can work this out. We have plans for a youth choir to begin this September. I'm just working on my required background check and fingerprinting and that will be a go. We have a pretty vibrant youth group that draws middle and high school students from 5 surrounding parishes, so a lot of the parents that are involved would love to see a choir arise from this group.

    As I was admonished by someone from the AGO substitute list for our paltry regular stipend (but note that I did offer to pay whatever is going rate for a professional), I think I need to revisit what we pay people with Father and our secretary. Is $55 too little for a cantor? The ladies who play the organ have, for the past 40 years, done it as their donation to the parish. When I came on board I insisted they at least be offered the pay that the guitarists were receiving, which was the same as the cantors (I'm wincing as I type that). We do the beloved 4-hymn sandwhich, no antiphons, no preludes or postludes. I'm not at all diminishing what they do, because I'm ever so grateful for it, but what should we actually be paying them? If we want consistency, I think we have to be willing to pay people what they are worth. Thoughts?

    Kenneth - thank you for your reply as well as the email you sent. I'm writing down these numbers and will have them at the ready.

    Thank you all, again. I have received an incredible education from your website and forum. I do very much love my job, so I think as Father and I both get settled in our roles a bit more we can do much to glorify God through our ministries.
    Thanked by 2canadash CHGiffen
  • I was in very similar shoes 10 years ago.

    In your situation, and especially since you work well with the pastor and parishioners, I might also advise finding out about hiring a PT organist/accompanist. The steadiness of a competent organist would free you as director to develop cantors and choir.

    Canadash gives great advice about training youth choirs and organ students. When I am out of town or need to be gone for any reason, I am able to lean heavily on 5 or so teen cantors that I've trained for several years. It's a huge blessing, and several of them are even considering pursuing degrees in music so they can become choir directors. :)
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,055
    I think that paying cantors $55/Mass is plenty. I'm shocked that you can't find someone who would take (at least) all 3 Sunday Masses for a tidy $165/week or ~$8,000/year. If you're doing a 4-hymn sandwich + regular psalmody (music that "everybody knows"), an excellent, experienced cantor wouldn't need to prep for more than about 15 minutes/week. Sounds like a pretty good gig to me.

    How close are you to Baltimore? I know someone who might be interested in a PT cantor position like that. PM me for details.

    RE: organist should be paying at least $100/Mass for someone who can legitimately play simple preludes and postludes, hymns, psalms, and ordinary with manuals and pedals. If you've engaged an organist who is actually pretty good, you should pay more.
  • I'd rather get paid an additional $8,000 a year to find and train cantors from the people in the parish. The idea of paid cantors is a copout - pastor's avoid paying a decent salary to a musician who is able to play the organ and train cantors so things just stumble along. I know of a parish that had a catholic organist who would only play when her Jewish friend came along to play piano and they both accompanied the hired Seventh Day Adventist cantor, who's was also paid...the amount paid the three of them for 3 Masses a weekend would have made a nice full time salary for a person who could build a program that would grow by itself instead of paying people off the street to do what parishioners should be doing.

    The only drawback to creating a program is that priests are known to watch it develop and then fire the person who put it together since they are no longer his feeble mind.

    Then things go back to the way that they were.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,055
    My comment was in the context of maintaining "the way we do things here" to a certain degree.

    If your pastor's open to overhauling the status quo, I agree with MJM and Noel: hire a full-time director for can play the organ, train cantors, and lead choirs. A full-time DM who can actually build something and teach people is much better than 20 volunteers and a couple of very PT paid musicians reinventing the wheel every week.
  • The idea of paid cantors is just smart.
    Otherwise you often get an oberreaching organist "training" cantors when they often don't have the pedagogical background to truly provide that. Real singers don't want to work with them since they know more about singing than the average organist does. The organist who thinks they can train singers will bump along with volunteer cantors, then get to blame untrained or barely trained "dumb" singers when the parish should have hired real singers or at least college student voice majors in the first place.

    And everyone wonders why people in that situation can't achieve acapella singing. Because they didn't invest in singers, or at least one highly trained singer, to teach other singers, that's why!

    One organist at the helm does not a team of musicians make. Both trained organists and trained singers make a great program.

    Ali, how did it go with the sub?
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Richard Mix
  • Otherwise you often get an oberreaching organist "training" cantors when they often don't have the pedagogical background to truly provide that.

    With you speaking as a singer, I understand your approach. But this is falsely assuming that organists are nothing but pedaling pianists who don't know anything.

    I propose that there are more organists who can coach angers than there are singers who can understand and coach cantors. MACW, you are, unfortunately, a very rare commodity. Since there is little or nothing taught as far as music in the Catholic parochial schools in the US, only a singer with a God-given voice has a chance of coming out of there and being a real singer, such as yourself.
  • Thank you for the kind words, but it was a lot of hard work and nine years of music school that got me two degrees in music. No talent fairy or natural born ability, alas.

    There are many, many, many very fine singers who love sacred music with degrees who are in need of work. To give training of cantors to organists when singers can do a more thorough job is unacceptable. If conservatory and university programs are an indication, there are far more singers than organists with being awarded degrees. Give them the work. Let acapella music be brought back to bloom.

    Regardless, I still maintain that a great music program needs both trained singers and trained organists. They have different instruments, different but complimentary roles to play.

    If we are honest, how many organists actually want to train singers anyway? The ones I know would much rather be developing their organ rep and teaching organ students.
  • Of course, there are the pianists who have frustrations with singers...
    Thanked by 1chonak
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,821
    ...there are more organists who can coach angers
    This explains a lot...
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,960
    Then you have the parishes that refuse to spend money on singers. Then there are the aging divas with the bloom long off their vocal roses. No wonder you end up with Florence Foster Jenkins.
  • You did not reference the infamous FFJ!
    No fair!
    Is there any figure remotely so ridiculous in the realm of organists?!?

    I refuse to be ashamed of her. Let her be anathema to all singers of modest quality.

    CharlesW, you are a rascal!
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • Richard R.
    Posts: 667
    Ali, the best resource for hiring professional church musicians in the greater Washington, D.C. area is Singer Source [], through which you can advertise for cantors and organists, both full and part time. You should also contact other local church musicians, starting at the Cathedral of St. Matthew. Good luck, RRice
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,495
    Wow, Richard, that's a nice site. We should have one of those for almost all over, like Angie's List.