Doing it all and how to do it well
  • I know most Catholic music directors also play organ, the whole job is on them. In Protestant gigs like mine, the job is split most of the time. I am interviewing for a position on Tuesday that is open to just having one person. I would like to be a music director but I don't want that at the expense of never performing, so I'm considering this job because I'll do both.

    What are the pros and cons?
    How do you keep the choir on track while playing? What happens if they get lost?
    Do you prefer just doing one or the other, or do you like doing both? Why?

    Thanks in advance. I'm hoping this works out for me. We had ten people in attendance last Sunday at my current job, an ominous sign of what will come if I don't get out of there.
  • How is the choir area set up? It's very possible to conduct from the bench by sacrificing some of the left hand notes, or, if you need to play those notes, you can conduct with your face and head. Sometimes it's distracting, but it's certainly better than trying to work with both a music director and a priest, this way you'll have more control.
  • I've done both. Currently I'm just the choir director and not organist. We are capable of so much more subtlety and musicality in our music due to having a director to cue dynamics and more. I work with a fantastically talented organist.
    I prefer having two people for the job. However, depending on size and ability of the hour, sometimes one person really is totally sufficient and good for the job. I got very good at head bobs for cues!
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,894
    One thing I've learned is if you have to sing and play at the same time, don't use the pedals! I also conduct with my head if I have to play and lead the choir at the same time.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,890
    I do both and it seems to work out, but I think divine intervention often saves us. I avoid many problems by rehearsing heavily. The choir knows what comes next and there are never any surprises thrown at them. A DM at a neighboring parish once asked how it is possible to both play and direct. I said it works best when you just do it and don't think too much about it.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 239
    1) It is perfectly possible to conduct many pieces from the organ with one or the other hand up almost all the time. Many church pieces with organ acc. are written with this in mind, and can be mostly played with one hand and the feet. It takes practice to develop the hand/arm independence to do this well, but it is well worth it! Organists who are lucky enough to attend a 'choir school' type program learn these skills.

    2) Sing plenty of un-or barely accompanied music. Good opportunity to get the choir to develop some independence!

    Many many Episcopal parish (or even larger) churches go with the combined MD/Organist/Choirmaster model, and if there is room in the budget for a second professional, it is often an assistant director/organist person, who might occasionally share in organ responsibilities (and possibly direct the kid's choir).

    I love doing it all and would not want part of a split position except in some special circumstance. There are many advantages to the church, one of which is that by combining salaries the church can attract a more qualified person.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,132
    I never spare my hands from any notes to conduct. Humans are very intuitive and can be very sensitive if they pay attention to your direction with your head and even facial expressions.

    In my humble opinion having a music director and a separate organist is mostly overkill. Conductors are highly overrated.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 239
    I never spare my hands from the important notes! And the the head and face (eyebrows etc...) are important conducting tools, and we are never not engaged with the choir, no matter the organ part in front of us!

    Entirely agreed with francis that in most literature a separate 'conductor' is just entirely unnecessary.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,029
    Joining with Mark and Francis -- I rarely take my hands from the keyboard to conduct the choir. If you rehearse well, the choir should be able to follow your head, eyes, facial expressions, mouth.

    To be sure, there is some repertoire where I have wished I could conduct while someone else plays, but I have usually just wound up rewriting the accompaniment in those situations so I can give the choir what they need to be successful. So far, it just about always works!

    You can do this.
  • Thanks SO much! Being a violinist helps a lot as well, when it comes to the head nodding stuff, I do plenty of that with my period orchestra since we don't play with a conductor most of the time, and also all the quartet and small chamber stuff.

    Ah yes I had forgotten about the singing while playing bit. That has never been a strong area for me but I know I can do it if I have to.

    Info on the gig: United Methodist church with moderate to large music ministry program.

    Oh yeah, anyone know much about handbells? Geez what am I getting into...
    The pay is double my current salary, possibly even higher if they want me to do both things.

  • the OP asked, >> How do you keep the choir on track while playing? What happens if they get lost?

    A lot of responses say things like, I bob my head, eyebrows are an important conducting tool - but what does happen if they get lost?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,890
    but what does happen if they get lost?


    That hasn't happened so far. What they usually do is start to drag, so I put my left hand up and beat time for them.

    Oh yeah, anyone know much about handbells?


    I played handbells in college - the Indians were riding around the building yelling, so it was hard to concentrate. LOL. Best advice if handbells are new to you, find a church or school group that uses them and drop in on one of their rehearsals. Ask about instruction materials and books so you can order your own. There is a technique to those things, so more than one rehearsal visit might be useful.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 239
    what does happen if they get lost?


    Why would they get lost? My choir does not get lost. Is this question based on the idea that if a choir is being led from the keyboard, it does not have a 'conductor'? If so, I would only say that there is a long tradition of choirmasters conducting from the keyboard— it is a skill that is taught in many places and can be learned, and can be effective in most literature (yes, there are some things that will always benefit from a separate 'conductor' but in much literature it would be redundant—I can do everything from the keyboard that they could do).

    Plus, a choir that knows it's music properly would not get lost in any circumstance!
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,679
    eyebrows are an important conducting tool - but what does happen if they get lost?

    Maybe an esthetician could help you recover if that happens.
  • @Casavant Organist: I will find out how the organ and choir area is situated tomorrow, let you know from there lol.

    I'm half worried I'll forget about all of these details tomorrow anyway. I have to put one of my cats to sleep this week, and I have an estimate scheduled for a serious plumbing problem that may require completely demolishing our bathroom to fix, something we really can't afford right now but water damage isn't something to screw around with. Keep calm and play organ...
  • Kevin814
    Posts: 36
    For what it's worth: When I got my first full-time job (a Presbyterian church) I didn't have any handbell ringing or directing experience either. The smartest thing I did was invite a couple of the most experienced ringers to meet with me before the year started. They demonstrated the ringing technique, showed me the church's bell repertoire, explained the strategy of assigning bells to ringers, etc. It took about a year before I was really comfortable directing them and answering their questions, but it's just one of those things you have to dive right into! If you're a person with good musical instincts overall, handbells shouldn't pose that much of a problem for you.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,489
    eyebrows are an important conducting tool - but what does happen if they get lost?

    Maybe an esthetician could help you recover if that happens.


    Paging Adam Wood - Frida Kahlo joke potential!!!
  • Oof. Okay, here's what's up:

    Interview went well. They want me for the job. Second interview with their elders or trustees or whatever they call them in the Methodist church is in a few weeks.

    The facilities: new church built in 2003, excellent choir rehearsal room and music library, no organ right now but they want one.

    Pay: double my current salary, plus 3% raise every year (unheard of in church jobs in my area)

    People: Average Sunday attendance around 150, 25 choir members, men's and women's choirs, children, handbells. Pastor is new, younger guy who wants to move their worship towards more traditional and less contemporary. They have a praise band but he doesn't care for it and encouraged me to reduce their involvement.

    In other news, I left messages with other churches that I applied to, and who called and said they would set something up but have yet to do anything, and also left a message with the worship director of my local diocese inquiring about open positions.

    If I do not get a response within the next two weeks, I will take the Methodist job. I would be a fool not to. And yeah, it's all about money. Sucks but that's how it is.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,890
    The Methodist job could very well be God simply providing for your needs. If Catholic churches don't value their musicians and pay them fairly, perhaps God can open another door for them in another church, even if it is Protestant. The dark side of me has always wondered what those cheap priests would do if we all left for greener pastures.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • I already work at a Protestant church and I don't have an issue with doing that. I asked for a small raise to cover my organ lessons since they wanted me to play organ, they said no. I continued on with it anyway even though I had to stop lessons. They owe me money for this year's Holy Thursday service, which is extra outside of my contract. I'm not even going to ask for it. I spent countless hours and many late nights after working full shifts practicing and being away from home while I was learning a new instrument and I've come to love organ, so being away from it will really hurt. Maybe I could ask for a severance. The Rodgers comes with me haha. Joking. Sort of.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,586
    They owe me money for this year's Holy Thursday service, which is extra outside of my contract. I'm not even going to ask for it.


    Have you asked for it? If not, send an invoice - they might not have realized it or the bookkeeper might not have gotten the memo.
  • I told someone who said they would "look into it". I just don't even care at this point. I really don't. I'm leaving.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,679
    Oh; then, as a favor could you invoice them, and have them send the check to me? :-)
  • Oh don't worry, it all works out. I will have them give me that day as an extra paid vacation day, which I will use for the second round of interviews at the other place. They're paying me to leave, basically lol.