Future (Sacred music as a career?)
  • Hello all,
    I am 17 and a Senior in high school, and I'm just looking for some advice. So to explain a bit, I have been very uncertain of what my career would be for quite a while, I've never /really/ had a solid idea. Lately though, I have been considering Sacred Music, as I've always had a deep love for it, and my interest in it has only grown. My hurdle though, is the practicality of it, some have told me that I wouldn't be able to support a family on sacred music, but another friend mentioned that, if this is my calling, money doesn't matter (it doesn't really matter either way). This is the decision I have to make, and I should make it soon. So I come here for your advice, as I know most of you are in sacred music.
    Can I make a living off of making music for the glory of God? Or should I go in a different direction? I'm pretty open right now, so just say your thoughts please.

    Pax Christi,
    John Paul
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 332
    The organist at St. Mary's in Akron, started playing for the children's choir in 1929 at age 13. He served for 67 years. When i came to know him and sing in the choir in the late 70s, he had a job at a woodshop because the music directors job at church didn't pay enough to raise a family. Unless you find yourself in a parish capable of paying a full time salary and benefits you better figure on having a day job. Hope that helps.

    Thanked by 1johnpb
  • Drake
    Posts: 102
    Hi John Paul,

    I'm not going to try to direct you one way or the other. Ultimately, it is about finding God's will for you. But I'd be happy to share my own experience, as it might have a gem or two that is useful to consider.

    Like you, I grew up with a love of sacred music. When not serving as an altar boy, I sang with the choir at an FSSP chapel (which ultimately became a parish) from about the time I was 13. (For context, I am now 36 and my wife is expecting our 7th child). I had taken piano lessons from a young age and became interested in music composition. I also had a strong interest in computer programming, which I pursued even in high school, and had a natural aptitude for most of my studies (thanks be to God). My father was in computer systems for a defense contractor, so I had that to look towards as an example.

    I chose to go to a nearby, in-state college to obtain my degree in computer science, as I saw a future there which was likely to be able to support a family, if that was God's will. In fairness, I did not consider myself a good enough musician to find regular employment in that field. However, I did take a number of music courses in college because I was still quite interested in music. While taking music classes, I ran into an older student in the music program who already had a degree (in computer science or information systems, if I remember right). I asked him why he had returned to obtain a degree in music. His response was, "I decided to do something I loved." There was additionally a professor and organist teaching in the music department there who also had a computer science degree, so I was in interesting company. (Neither of them had a career specifically in sacred music however.)

    I went on to obtain my computer science degree, and I have now worked for two small software companies (and have written a few apps on the side, mostly related to music). As with any job, there are things I like and things I do not like. That is the nature of work in this world. The money itself is undoubtedly better than I could have obtained in the field of music; however, even in the technology industry, a good salary and a stable position (or even a stable employer) is not guaranteed.

    Between working for the first company and the second, I applied to the FSSP seminary in Lincoln to discern whether I was called to be a priest (I had not yet met my wife). The priests stressed the importance of determining not merely what you are supposed to do but what you are supposed to be. It turns out I was not supposed to be a priest, but I can tell you without reserve that the time I spent in seminary (about 4 or 5 months) was not wasted time. My choice in obtaining a computer science degree had made it possible additionally for me to support myself through seminary if God had wanted me to continue there. In the end, it made it possible for me to support a family instead. Nevertheless, it took me over a year to find employment with the second company after leaving seminary (2009 was not a good year for employment) even with the degree and experience I had.

    My interest in sacred music has not waned. Until it became unfeasible due to the size of the family, my wife and I both sang in several choirs at our parish. Having gotten an immersion in Gregorian Chant while at seminary, I led the men's schola at our parish for a time, unpaid. I have also used my spare time to develop my skills as an amateur composer of polyphony, which I am still trying to foster. I expect to be able to participate in various ways as a volunteer in the sacred music program at our parish going forward. Nevertheless, in my case at least, having lots of small children has limited the degree to which I can volunteer, at least at present. So it is an interesting balance among vocation, employment/family support, interests, and the worship of Almighty God. From experience, I can tell you to expect God's will to rearrange the amount of time you can devote to each of these as/if he gives you children.

    This is merely my own path in sacred music and in a different career. There are many others here who have successfully combined sacred music as a career with supporting a family, and I leave that discussion to their experience.

    My word of advice is to pray to know God's will. That might mean finding out more of what you are supposed to be rather than what what you are supposed to do.
  • Hi John Paul,

    The likelihood of making a living in sacred music depends on many factors.

    I have a Master's degree in music (not in organ or sacred music, but collaborative piano) and now work full time at an urban parish in a major midwest metro area. I'm lucky to make a very fair and comfortable living for a single person such as myself (over 40k per year, in the interest of transparency). Is this enough to raise a family on though? Again, depends on your situation, and I'm not really qualified to make that judgement. Keep in mind this is similar to the starting salary range for other "skilled" fields such as education or even some entry-level desk jobs.

    You won't get rich doing church music, but if you play the cards right, you may be able to end up in a job at a larger parish or cathedral where the salary may extend into the 60 or 70k range.

    My advice to you at such a young age would be to GO FOR IT! Call me an optimist, but this is the time in your life where you should be exploring the riches of sacred music if it's an interest of yours, and not worrying about supporting an eventual family. I suspect others on this forum would feel differently though.

    Focus on becoming a well-rounded musician: become equally proficient at organ and piano. Sing in choirs and conduct them. Gain experience composing, arranging, and engraving music. Explore the repertoires beyond sacred music- opera, chamber music, art song, orchestral music...etc. If you allow your passion to guide you here, you may find the professional career just might fall into place.

    As far as college goes, my biggest piece of advice would be to pay as little as possible. A conservatory or private school education is not always worth the cost- I learned all I needed to at a state school with a decent music department. If you decide to go to graduate school, find one that will subsidize all of you tuition. As a musician, you simply cannot afford to rack up debt like a lawyer or doctor might.

    Feel free to reach out to me directly if you'd like any more guidance- I hope what I said here was helpful to you.

    Thanked by 1johnpb
  • How good a musician are you? Most music degree programs, that I am aware of, require you audition to be accepted. Also, you will spend 8-10 hrs. a day (min.) in studios, classes, practicing, etc. Do you have the self-discipline for this? That said, most music majors of my acquaintance, that stay in music, wind up teaching. Is that something you would like to do? There are more musicians out there than there are jobs in music. Not trying to dissuade you, just giving you some things to think about.
    Thanked by 1johnpb
  • IMO, investing in private lessons, sticking to a solid, well-researched reading plan, and staying frosty in ensembles will impart to you much of what a university education in music will do for a fraction of the price. Maybe not everything but certainly a lot. I would recommend getting training in a career that will be sure to support you and can free you up to invest in what you love. For example, there are medical technician careers which require just 2 years of training, pay better money than church, and are 2 days on 3 days off. If you are still drawn to music, there is always time. Don't, just don't rack up debt. Not a penny if you can help it.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 332
    Not to be discouraging, but I want to reinforce the advice some have given about realizing that working for the Church will probably not enable you to earn a decent salary that would pay for the expenses of having a family and saving for retirement. Compound low salary with having to pay student loans on top of regular living expenses, and working for the Church will set you up for being financially miserable for much of your life.

    Things are bad enough now. Given the trends in society, things are likely to get much worse financially for many parishes. Mass attendance and offertory contributions are in decline in many places, and the Millennials (Generation Y) and Generation Z are characterized by high rates of fickle non-religiosity. Over half of Catholics who are baptized as children and (poorly) catechized, who receive the sacrament of Confirmation as children, stop practicing the faith and stop going to Mass. When the Baby Boomers and Generation X die, there will be hardly anyone left in the pews, hardly anyone contributing to the offertory, and parishes will have hardly any financial means to pay for staff. Parish closures and consolidations are probably going to occur over the next 20-30 years in many dioceses.

    If you want to be married and have children and support them at a decent standard of living, you will most likely not be able to do that on a Church salary, even a full-time Church salary. You will have to have a second job or your wife will have to work.

    If you want financial security, which is a legitimate concern not to be pooh-poohed as worldly or materialist, you should think seriously about preparing for a purely secular career and consider sacred music something you would do on the side as a gift to the Church rather than for remuneration.

    If you do decide to pursue Church work, become fluent in Spanish. You will be more marketable with that language proficiency in most major metropolitan areas that would be more likely to pay higher salaries.
    Thanked by 1johnpb
  • If, as it seems, you are a congenital music lover, why not prepare yourself to be an organ professor, a music or choral professor, a musicology professor, a music or voice teacher, etc.? This way if the church position of your desires does not present itself to you, you can still make a living doing something that you love.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,494
    I wanted to study organ, an instrument I have loved since childhood. Since I intended to go to college anyway, I was advised to study something else along with it. The reasoning was that it is good to have more than one skill and the potential for more than one source of income. It wasn't that much harder to add education, music and computer science to my MS in Library and Information science. I think for the education degree I only had to add 5 courses and student teaching to the music degree. Many of the courses were common to a number of degrees. Get a good faculty adviser and see what course of study the school will put together for you. Don't forget scholarships. They go unused in some schools because no one applies for them.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,641
    I’ve made a very good living for over a decade now since moving to these United States - I wouldn’t do anything differently if given the option. If you want it, go for it.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,138
    I made a fairly good living from sacred music during my decade of pursuing it as my career full-time. I always had medical insurance, and my salary grew from around $40k at the beginning to a high point of nearly $90k a few years ago. This was achieved by piecing together 2 or more jobs and working my tail off, often seven-days-a-week.

    The year I made $90k, I was able to put a lot of money in savings, which felt great, but I knew it likely wouldn't last. I was able to earn $75k more consistently, again by piecing together 2+ jobs and working hard, but I didn't believe I would be able to do that for the remainder of my career. We didn't live like princes and we didn't own our home. We were comfortable, but not rolling in dough, like some might suggest. Some of this might have to do with the fact we lived in a pretty large metropolitan area, though it is one of the more affordable ones.

    This is sort of echoing @MarkB's comment above, in that I am very pessimistic about the remuneration of sacred musicians in the medium term (30-40 years). I think there are going to be many fewer jobs once the Baby Boomers die and stop giving to the offertory every week. Since I have a wife and children, I couldn't bet our family's future on that, even though I had a good job. I've left full-time sacred music and I'm pursuing another degree (I have a BA and MM in music) in a healthcare profession. My advice is to make sure you have something else you're qualified to do if you're planning to go into sacred music as a career. I wasn't qualified to do anything else, had a baby on the way, got a new (less trad-inclined) pastor, and my whole perspective changed.
  • MarkB
    Posts: 332
    Fr. Matt Fish tweeted this on October 17, 2019:

    Just a reminder: if you work for the Catholic Church in the U.S., your employer is Blockbuster Video, it's June of 2008, and you're still arguing about how to better display the DVDs on the shelves.

    474 x 379 - 27K
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,084
    As the bumpersticker says, real musicians have day jobs.
    Thanked by 1Don9of11
  • jcr
    Posts: 77
    As everyone has pointed out, it is tough to earn a living in sacred music. To earn one's way in music is difficult. I attended a large University with a large music school where a good many very able music students prepared to do music. Most of my classmates didn't stay in music full time. Many did music part time. Almost everyone who stayed in music and didn't go into the public sector did several things at once. This is not to say that it is something that one shouldn't do. Only that one should think carefully, and seriously about it. It is an all consuming passion for those who pursue it and one needs the full consent and commitment of family as well. If the Lord has called you, He will provide a way for you to do it. If you can't think of any other way to go, go for it!
    Thanked by 2Carol johnpb
  • God provides, provided you don't fight God.

    Take it to prayer, but don't just listen to the inner voice. Providence has already been leading you. What opportunities / experiences / skill sets has Our Lord already provided you with? Be realistic and honest about your abilities (and as you read that statement, you know exactly the thing I'm talking about!). Can you effectively direct a choir / accompany a liturgy now, or do you hope to gain all knowledge and wisdom in 4 years of music school?

    Are you working professionally in sacred music part time now? Are those stresses, amplified to full time, manageable for you? Can you deal with a job that you are invested in so personally, without being consumed by it?

    Do you have concrete opportunities, or just dream of them?

    You won't plan 40 years into the future, but you can move in one or the other direction here and now.

    I may have to change career paths someday. I may die tomorrow. The long-term is a big "meh" --- bigger barns and all that. But every day I get to do this work is a privilege, and I will do it as long as I am permitted to by the clergy and can support my growing family.

    P.S. - That said, I hedged my bets a little education wise. Not a bad idea, if you've got multiple competencies.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,241
    Can you effectively direct a choir / accompany a liturgy now, or do you hope to gain all knowledge and wisdom in 4 years of music school?

    I think it's fair to say that most college music programs don't provide any option for training in the liturgy. Shop carefully, and look for ways to get that sort of learning elsewhere.
  • I'm not sure what Chonak's perspective is just above here, and I hate to seem disagreeable with him.... but - - -

    It is a rare university or college that doesn't teach musicology, which is founded upon liturgy and music's heritage and debt to church music.. Any first or second tier organ department will train its students in liturgy and how to play for it. Ditto church choral music and direction. There is no shortage of quality training in church organ-choral-liturgical studies.

    As someone mentioned a few days ago on another thread, stellar work in church music-organ is being done at the University of Houston by Robert Simpson and Daryl Robinson. (Together they are choirmaster and organist at Christ Church Cathedral). Also at Rice by Robert Simpson and Ken Cowan. There are similar programs at Notre Dame, the University of Kansas, and elsewhere.

    I would choose such a university of your choice, and follow a course similar to what I outlined up above.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,206
    We need young people like you in the church desperate, I wish you all the best.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,637
    @chonak I looked at Notre Dame’s certificate in liturgy, available online, after it was mentioned in another thread. While it would be a redundant piece of paper for those who already have experience in the sacred music world, it would be a useful supplement to studying music at a secular college with an good music program but little or no liturgical training. Seems it can be had for about $700-800, with each online course running $99 a pop.

    Of course the colleges mentioned by MJO would be a fine course to take as well, but its an option to consider if you are not able to attend one of those programs.

    @johnpb I have enjoyed working as a church musician both full and part time and would not recommend against it. Despite negative experiences with some clergy, I have also had my best memories in the church and made lifelong friendships with clergy and parishioners - and the value of participating in the sung worship of God in any capacity cannot be overstated.

    Do consider having something to fall back on though. You will need to eat.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck johnpb
  • in the church desperate

    Inquiring minds want to know if the church desperate is anything like the Church Militant? [/purple]

    (I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment intended)

    I think it's fair to say that most college music programs don't provide any option for training in the liturgy. Shop carefully, and look for ways to get that sort of learning elsewhere.

    My point in a nutshell.

    A kind of parallel case -- a friend of mine with a music minor (voice) found herself regularly in a parish choir for the first time. She was quite shocked as to how unlike a collegiate choir it truly is. "On the ground" experience of where, at very least, one is likely to *start* one's work is never a bad thing.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,107
    I have been making a living for 39 years as a RC musician. I live comfortably, own my own home and too many cars. The point is: you can do it. And we need full-time musicians. I tell my seminary friends (we have a seminary in our backyard) that you should hire a full time musician when you become a Pastor,even before a DRE. If you want the liturgy to be realized well.

    I am currently training my assistant, who is a marvelous pianist and on her way to being a fine organist. I said to her when she asked if should go back to school," I will teach you everything you need to know and then I will send you to a chant school every other summer." Find a place and/or mentor.
  • Kevin,

    Is it going too far to say that, behind the pastor, the Choirmaster is the assistant director of religious education?
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,138
    In conversations with seminarians and young priests, we have unanimously agreed with you, Kevin: the second-most important position in a parish (after the pastor, of course) is the Director of Sacred Music, and it should be treated as such in terms of salary, etc. In the diocese where I spent my full-time career in sacred music, most parishes are in a precipitous decline in terms of children involved in religious education. The full-time DRE positions will be a thing of the past shortly.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck CharlesW
  • TCJ
    Posts: 694
    In the diocese where I spent my full-time career in sacred music, most parishes are in a precipitous decline in terms of children involved in religious education. The full-time DRE positions will be a thing of the past shortly.

    I'd say that's an accurate statement for around here, too. In five years (or so) attendance at RE has dropped by 33%.
  • another friend mentioned that, if this is my calling, money doesn't matter (it doesn't really matter either way).

    Money matters. You need money to live. Sure, you don’t need to live high off the hog and live lavishly, but rent, insurance, food, transportation, utilities, maintenance, etc. It all costs money. Even more if you later get married and have a family. There’s a fine line between prudential discernment of God’s will and the idea that “God will provide”.
    Thanked by 3MarkB CHGiffen johnpb
  • MarkB
    Posts: 332
    Another thing to keep in mind is that parish musicians, by the nature of their work, work every weekend and every religious holiday. Full-time parish musicians commonly work Saturday evenings and all Sunday morning, perhaps Sunday evening also. Several Masses on Christmas Eve and Day. A full day of Easter Masses, which follows the grueling Holy Week schedule. Thanksgiving morning. New Year's Eve and Day. It's not a work schedule that lends itself easily to having a social or family life, unlike most other Monday-Friday jobs. Pretty much when other people have off, you're working. And there's work during the week too, especially rehearsals weekday evenings. Everything people are saying here is important to realize for a young person contemplating a career in parish music.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,494
    True. My last Sunday off was in 2007. Things were in such a mess when I returned I wished I had not taken the time off.

    But have you noticed where musicians are not paid very well, there is money for a new hot tub for father, tickets for trips around the world, and ample vacation time. Some priests these days really don't work all that hard.
  • Just out of curiosity, what’s your background in music?
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,494
    Is that question for me? MA in education with a major in organ and school music - conducting studies, teaching, choirs and the general run of music courses everyone takes. It was a church affiliated university with significant emphasis on church music. Another Master's in a separate field. Organist for 55 years with part of that time spent in various Protestant churches. Twenty of it in a Catholic church where I still work planning, directing and playing organ.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen cesarfranck
  • TCJ
    Posts: 694
    Another thing to keep in mind is that parish musicians, by the nature of their work, work every weekend and every religious holiday...[SNIP]... It's not a work schedule that lends itself easily to having a social or family life, unlike most other Monday-Friday jobs. Pretty much when other people have off, you're working. And there's work during the week too, especially rehearsals weekday evenings. Everything people are saying here is important to realize for a young person contemplating a career in parish music.

    While that can be a downside, it really depends on the person. Weekends and evenings do not interfere that much with my own family, but they do prevent me from taking part in a lot of social activities (which I generally dislike anyway). It also means that if I have to run errands, go to the bank, or want to take my family on an outing somewhere I can avoid crowds by going on a weekday. The schedule is ideal for me. Also, my pastor does not require me to work on Thanksgiving (not a holy day), so that's another plus.
  • Another thing to contemplate, which might be of an influence in your decision-making, is that the current atmosphere in the Church in general is changing. Whilst happy-clappy and pop, broadway and Haugen & Company masses are not by any measure going to disappear any time soon, the number of parishes and cathedrals who do want real church music and organs is increasing - the overall climate is changing for the better as the rabid 'spirit of Vatican II' (as opposed to the real Vatican II) people begin to die off or become aged dinosaurs.They will be infecting the Church with their cant and screed until their dying breath - but that breath is becoming ever nearer. Many of us here spent the greater part of our careers during a time in which the liturgical situation in the Church Catholic seemed all but hopeless. Slowly but surely, it is becoming no longer hopeless - hope looms - which means that the generation of people like you can possibly make a large difference. You are needed. You should pray fervently about your possible vocation in church music.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,107
    In the nearly 40 years I have been doing this, I would wholeheartedly agree that the landscape is changing. I suspect that as Jackson has proposed, the future is very bright. I also believe that as a whole, there will be fewer churches due to merges,etc. So,yes, hope does abound.
  • @johnpb:

    The Musica Sacra forum tends toward doom and gloom (in case you haven't figured that out yet). But in my opinion this is more out of long habit than based on facts. My impression is that things are improving in American church music (maybe slowly, maybe only in some places, for sure). There is a generational shift of younger, better formed priests and bishops - consider for example the quality of music instruction in our seminaries, which is certainly improving. You'd think the Musica Sacra crowd would be happy that so many of its members are now in charge of seminary music programs. Look at the work Adam Bartlett is doing with FOCUS, as another example. Even the programs themselves are improving, based on my experience earning the MSM at Notre Dame and then watching that program develop for the past decade.

    All that said, the GENERAL level of parish music is still very low in this country. But there are ever-increasing opportunities to set things right.

    Now, to your original question, none of those signs of hope mean that working as a church musician is a "smart" financial choice. I earn a living and support a family, but money is and always will be tight. It would be very difficult to starve to death in 21st century America, so it's not really a question of survival. It's a question of quality of life, and how little you are willing to live on as the bread-winner of a family. I'm a cathedral musician, and I have VERY FEW cathedral colleagues around the country with children (and of those, most have one or two kids and usually a working spouse). Sometimes colleagues at regular parishes have an easier time finding a decent salary vs. the job requirements (although, often the suburban parishes are even busier in terms of heavy mass schedules and the expectation to run multiple ensembles). Any way you cut it, it's a demanding job that doesn't pay a lot and never will. To put actual numbers on it, I would say that once you have at least a Masters, you can hope to find a good job in the 55k-75k dollar range. You should know that going in. The absolutely ridiculous expansion in health insurance premiums now eats up more and more of that limited salary. Don't expect raises, even to keep up with inflation.

    Now, a lot of musicians would look at 55-75k and say "wow, that's great!". And they aren't wrong, compared to other job opportunities for musicians (e.g. patching together gigs or teaching music in the school system). I tend to look at it from a more pessimistic perspective. When compared to myriad other career tracks that require demanding academic work and at least 2-3 years of graduate work (5-6 if you do doctorate), it's not a competitive path in life at all.

    In the end, it's a question of vocation and fulfilling your calling. But I can tell you, 55-75k looks and feels a lot different when you are a young single guy, compared to a breadwinner for a family. I mention this point because many young people looking at a career in church music tend to be conservative, and hope to have a stay-at-home spouse homeschooling the kids, etc. Of course, if your life plan is to have two incomes, the picture is very different financially. And as others point out above, church music can be a really good part-time gig if you find the right situation (e.g. a focused job where you provide quality music for a limited number of liturgies/ensembles).

    TLDR - YES, it can work and you can make a living and support a family. But it's not easy.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,494
    One thing I think I should mention. Are you willing to relocate and pursue jobs in other places? I never was, so I never expected the salaries larger areas tend to pay. It's a choice, but I am happy where I am.
  • johnpbjohnpb
    Posts: 5
    Thank for sharing your experience, it’s helpful.
    That’s very true, I need to focus not on my plan but rather on God’s plan for me. God Bless you and your Family
    well, my formal education in Music is not broad, nor extensive. Consisting of about 6 years in Piano lessons, and a few in fiddle. But outside of that, I grew up in a family band doing 80+shows a year. I’ve been singing since I was young. I’ve been singing Polyphony and Chant for about 5 years, and I’m becoming fairly versed in both, as far as able without receiving formal teaching on them and the history of them.
    Auditions seems an obstacle at the moment, as I live in rural Ontario, Canada. I think self-discipline is aided in doing something one enjoys… As of now, I have very little teaching experience, but the little I have, I have enjoyed as long as the students have a will to learn.
    Thank you
    @M. Jackson Osborn
    I have considered that as an option, and even as you said a back up plan.
    I am trying to do as much as I can, and to me it seems that I’m involved with all the Sacred Music choirs within 2 hours, which is not very much at all (as I said above, living in rural Ontario isn’t the ideal for pursuing Sacred Music locally). in regard to the opportunities as well, the same applies. And besides my SAT score which is unlikely to help a career in music, I unfortunately don’t necessarily have formal teaching in my favour.
    I have begun to get a glimpse of the tensions that can arise between the musicians, the clergy and the parishioners. Which is unfortunate, due to the common goal, here and in eternity.
    Yes, I feel as though my plan b. would need to be just as necessary as Sacred Music
    God willing Sacred Music will make a return to the liturgy, and regain pride of place.
    (as I said above, finding a mentor would be difficult, due to location.)
    Though it is busy, to me, the object of the work would make it bearable. Which is easy for me to say, but I understand that can change after I have spent time actually doing it. Thank you
    I’ve been surrounded by music much of my childhood, and have taken about 6 years of piano, and continue learning on my own. Besides that, I have sung in quite a few choirs, from a community choir to a mens choir, directed by a very capable and learned director and organist. Now I sing in a Polyphony and Chant Choir, and will hopefully be assisting in the directing of a Childrens choir starting in the near future.
    @M. Jackson Osborn
    Yes, in my observation, it seems as though my generation is either pushing for tradition and piety, or leaving altogether. And though I mourn the loss of those who leave out of indifference. I pray those who /do/ have a great love for God and the Church will rebuild it, as right now, it is in a grave state of disrepair.
    Thank you, and yes I will for sure.
    I don’t know whether it’s fortunate or unfortunate, but as of now I live in Canada, so I’m sure job availability and salary would probably be different, but I understand what you’re saying. Thank you
    as of right now, I feel I am, but that too could change, depending on future engagements and such.
    Thanked by 1NihilNominis
  • Jeffrey Quick
    Posts: 1,621
    I have been very uncertain of what my career would be for quite a while

    If you can be anything other than a musician, be that. We're got a 13-yo organ student in my church who is being mentored (not by me) as a Catholic church musician. Those are the people you are competing against, the people who will be getting the jobs you can make a living in. The other jobs have traditionally been filled by religious, by widows or housewives, by other part-timers.

    My hurdle though, is the practicality of it, some have told me that I wouldn't be able to support a family on sacred music, but another friend mentioned that, if this is my calling, money doesn't matter (it doesn't really matter either way).

    This is pernicious advice. Take it from one whose belief system included it.
    If you are not preparing/prepared to support a family, you are going to get into trouble. Starting that family will be delayed, which if you're the 17 yo I was, will lead you into sin. You may contracept, your wife may abandon you (or not get involved to begin with) over lack of prospects, you may even fall into fornication.

    If you HAVE to be a professional musician, God help you! Work like a dog, pray like a saint, and it will work out. But if you HAD to be a professional musician, you wouldn't be asking the question. But you ARE a musician, and music is too important to leave to professionals. Learn all you can about it, do as much as you can in it. Just don't put all your eggs in that basket. (You might consider music librarianship; we had an associate director here who was a fine organist. And it's been good to me.)

    Sorry if I'm coming on strong here; I'm telling you what I wish somebody would have told me 45 years ago.
    Thanked by 2sergeantedward Wade
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,494
    Starting that family will be delayed, which if you're the 17 yo I was, will lead you into sin. You may contracept, your wife may abandon you (or not get involved to begin with) over lack of prospects, you may even fall into fornication.

    When I was 17 some of the things you mention would have sounded like job perks.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 816
    @Charles ROTFL
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • I'm finishing my organ degree (2 more years if I get accepted by a M.M. degree program), but let me offer you some of my insights about both student life and my peeks into the career.

    College Musicianship: going to school for any music degree requires hard work, discipline, and time management. You have to juggle mountains of homework in music theory/harmony with 3 hours of private practice daily (I take a break from practice on Sundays); additionally, you will very likely have a core curriculum of liberal arts and sciences to manage. Mind, too, there will be late evenings twice a week with a professional choral ensemble and a late evening for your studio performance class (though I hear some have it during the day). This is not to discourage you: I absolutely loved this academic intensity, as tiring as it has been.

    School advice in general: make as many friends outside the music department as possible and do not neglect to study other topics of your interest. (I, for example, have taken upper level military history classes.) If you only hang out with music students, that will absolutely not be good for you. I've seen the effects in fellow peers. Having friends in other areas will help your general knowledge about other subjects grow and make you a much more well-rounded person. (You'll can also spout random music facts to spark interesting discussions!)

    Social life: I have learned how to balance a healthy social life with work as a church musician. Juggling the odd hours/weekends is perfectly within reach if you know how to manage your time properly. True, you may have to limit late Saturday nights out in town, but you need not cut them out entirely. Healthy vacations in the summer are not out of the question either; in fact, they are needed in order to relax and recharge.

    Health: This stems from what I've said about social needs. Just as you need time with friends and vacation for your psychological health, you also need to be wise about managing your physical health. I learned this the hard way, unfortunately. Make sure you do regular physical exercise each week. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and proteins. Limit your consumption of cured meats (bacon, sausage, salami, etc.) because they have unpleasant long-term effects, and substitute them with turkey and chicken. To that end, avoid having deep-fried and high-fat food as a regular dietary staple.

    I do not mean to go off topic, but this advice will serve you well if/when you pursue a music degree and if/when you go into the active field of sacred music.

    This field is very rewarding. I cannot describe the deep satisfaction I have from having worked in church music. To my good fortune, I do not have any undergraduate loan debts to pay back. I am researching certificates in business and technology fields, and in pursuing that, I would have something to fall back on just in case.

    My final advice: go for it. Don't let your rural roots stop you. You have nothing to lose by immersing yourself in the greatest of arts, even if only briefly.
  • CharlesSA
    Posts: 109
    I don't have any mind-blowing advice for you...the other responses have given you plenty to think about. I myself am probably one of the worst examples anyway. I have a B.A. in music from a Catholic university. I certainly had above-average talent (though I definitely would not have been considered one of the very best), and with the education I received there, I could have continued on the path of sacred music, if things had turned out differently personally/interiorly. I am currently not using my degree at all, though I am singing in my parish choir (FSSP), though rather reluctantly, and due to various circumstances have probably lost the ability to be a choir director (certainly I have lost most interest in doing so as well).

    But enough about me - all I wanted to say was, especially if you have above-average talent and aptitude, please consider doing some studies in music (especially with an emphasis in sacred music), even if you don't get a degree, and please become involved in a parish setting at a college that will allow you to gain some experience. As some others have said, the Church desperately needs competent music directors that will strive to uphold the traditions of the Church in music, particularly in Gregorian chant. May God bless you in your future endeavors.
  • Blaise
    Posts: 439
    John Paul,

    Viva Cristo Rey!

    Take this from a PIP, not formally college trained in music or theology, but a simple choral singer who believes in the power of the arts, namely but not exclusively sacred music, to inspire one to ponder realms above:

    I echo the sentiments above, that there is a growing interest in real sacred liturgy. Attendance at the Traditional Latin Mass is growing. Also, interest in the Anglican patrimony in the Catholic Church, as enshrined by Pope Benedict XVI's Anglicanorum Coetibus and it's predecessor, the Pastoral Provision of the now St. John Paul II is growing, much of it fueled by cradle Catholics such as myself who have never attended an Anglican or Methodist church for the sake of divine worship (concerts and recitals excepted).

    As an individual member of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (not speaking for the chancery or any official church body), I invite you to consider keeping your eyes peeled for organist or choral director positions in our churches (granted, I don't know what country you are in). Pre-ordinariate communities are being established almost every year, if not each year. These, in turn, often are canonically erected by our bishop, the Most Rev. Steven J. Lopes, as parishes, albeit sometimes in residence at diocesan churches. This presents opportunities for skilled musicians, assuming that one is not shared with the diocesan parish. But even if there are no openings now, the ordinariate will grow, and opportunities will surely be present in the future.


    (in case anyone is wondering about my screen name, Blaise, that is the name of a bishop and martyr which I venerate)
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • Hi John Paul,

    You are young. Money is important. Do you want to have a family? You may love sacred music now, but when you have a wife and a few kids, you are going to love them more. $50K is fine for a single guy but really tight for a family. If your wife worked, it would ease some of the financial burden, but maybe that wouldn't be the ideal situation for her and your kids.

    My advice is to simulate paying for EVERYTHING for everyone in your family from your own pocket for 6 months and see how it feels. Just write it down. Everything. On you.

    BTW, are you musically trained, in singing or on an instrument? Sometimes this gets overlooked. If you have any pitch problems or can't hold a tune, I recommend you choose a different career. If you are at least musically capable, continue reading.

    I assume you are considering directing music at a parish. In 3 weeks I will have been directing music for 10 years, the last 7 at a cathedral. I want you to think of the more unpleasant aspects of sacred music that a parish music director might have to deal with. Think about complaining choir members, unreliable singers, self-important instrumentalists, haughty organists, pushy nuns, rude deacons, completely tone deaf priests, malfunctioning organs, mic feedback, broken amps and speakers, no funds but what you raise, texts and phone calls at late hours, the demands of the parish school, conflicting parish ministries, the cleaning staff can't go up the stairs to the choir loft to clean out your trashcan, Bridezilla, Bridezilla's wedding coordinator, Bridezilla's cameraman in your space, you are always responsible for "that", you are a pawn in the chess game of parish politics, you will get blamed for many things, what raise?, and isn't the privilege of working for the parish 7 days a week enough compensation? What do you think about opening presents on Christmas Day with your kids at 6 in the morning and leaving to play the Mass at 7? How about playing the 8am Mass on January 1st? Spring Break? Not for you! That's usually Holy Week. Think about living very modestly and possibly getting a second job. You won't be paying for your kid's college tuition. Your retirement savings will be small and you may have to retire in your mid-70s. Lastly, you may find yourself old and suddenly working for a new pastor who quickly wants you and everything you have done OUT of his parish. The most cringe-worthy part is that if you remember to plan beautiful music for your funeral, it may be too hard for the "musicians" that day to pull off and they may just sing the 4 hymn sandwich, including say, On Eagle's Wings, as the responsorial psalm. Nooooooooooo!!!

    This a bleak picture. I believe all of us directors have gone through some of this. But, as difficult as it can get, I know I am where I'm supposed to be, and I'm happy to be doing what I do. Now ask yourself, how deep is your love? Are you familiar with AMDG? Do you love God to whom sacred music is directed? Do you love sacred music as a performance art? If that's all it is to you, a chance to make the most beautiful music ever for God, then just do it as a hobby, be a volunteer.

    Do you love sacred music in its liturgical function? Are you filled with dread at the thought of poor music being performed in place of what should be the best music for God in the context of the liturgy? Are you bothered watching what bad music does to a liturgy and to those worshiping? Are you inclined to answer the call to work to correct liturgical abuses and to teach good music at your parish of employment? Do you sense the Holy Spirit in the circumstances moving you in the direction of sacred music? There certainly is a problem and a need. It's hard, but if you are thinking about making music to glorify God AND to edify and sanctify the faithful, and you want to make a difference, then yes, pursue sacred music. The rewards are few and mostly intrinsic, but you can experience very satisfying, concrete successes, and these will help you move forward. Be patient, pray that God will direct you to where he wants you.
  • Gustavo's post omits one bit of information.

    The entire time know that you can jump ship to a Presbyterian church with 4 times the pay and one service on Sunday morning where you will not have the dreadful feeling that you could be fired at any moment for no reason of consequence due to the machinations of choir members, cantors and anyone in the congregation.

    People will sit quietly and listen when you play an offertory piece. They will gladly greet you and your family to the coffee hour. The choir members will reward you greatly at Christmas time.

    The organ you will be playing will, in most cases, be greatly superior to the Catholic church organ you have left behind.

    And, if you wish to feel miserable again, you can once again return to the bench in a Catholic church.

  • I will embroider on SacredMusicLibrary's comment just above here -

    Indeed, it is sometimes as equally rewarding (though in a pronounced and ontologically different way) playing for a Protestant or Anglican church as for a Catholic church - depending, of course, on the particular church being referenced. The services or liturgies of the Protestant or Anglican church will most likely be conducted with more reverence and liturgical sensitivity than those of the Catholic church. The choir is likely actually to be a real choir with a particularly ecclesiatical esprit de corps singing real church music. There will likely not be a grand piano in view or ear shot. There are not likely to be screaming children (because they are taught reverence from a very young age). The people will most likely shower you with expressions of gratitude for your having been there and for your beautiful music. There is a good chance that there will be a cadre of music/organ lovers who gather 'round the organ with enraptured ears to hear the postlude. It is a rare, very rare, Catholic church at which the people will be so thankful and welcoming to its musicians. Still, for all that, one does not, and never will, have the sense of fulfillment, of consummation, that one has in playing and/or conducting the music at mass.

    Large numbers of Catholic priests celebrate mass as if it were nothing in particular to get excited about, nor any reason for it to be done with any of that particular liturgical grace for which Anglicans (and some few Catholics [especially Benedictines and Ordinariates]) have a genius..
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • PolskaPiano
    Posts: 165
    Single mom here working full time music director in a parish. I have a degree in liturgical music and 12 years experience, and I still have to teach on the side to make ends meet.

    I will also say that being a church musician is hard on family life. Weekends no longer belong just to the family. Holiday plans are worked around the liturgy schedule. It is not a bad thing, but it is hard. This is definitely anecdotal, but I recall the surprise when I met yet another divorced church musician, making the majority of musicians in our diocese that I had met either gay or divorced- no judgement on either- and not saying it causes divorce, but I think a lot of people leave music when their family life gets squeezed. I did- until I had to go back and support my family.

    And funny about computer science- a good buddy of mine left the music school his junior year when he found the girl he wanted to marry and realized his tuba wouldn't provide well enough. He went into computer science. ;)

    Another anecdotal piece: I know a few musicians that dedicated themselves to the field about 12-15 years and then finally left for a good paying job elsewhere. One works in IT at a law firm and another went to pharmacy school and manages a pharmacy.

    I don't have a good answer for you. I think music is a subject definitely worth studying, but I also think the (paraphrased) words of the composer Lily Boulangier are to be chewed on thoughtfully: that one should not go into music unless one cannot breathe without it. Sometimes I really wish I would have studied something different, but it is not practical for me to switch things right now.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,494
    I don't know that I could have afforded to be a full-time musician, at least in my area. Yes, some of the bigger cities do pay well but that doesn't always carry over to smaller cities. I didn't want to relocate, either.

    I have been able to work as a church musician because until retirement, I worked in a federal agency as a librarian and records manager. I still do that for them part-time. I taught school for ten years after retiring from the government and briefly worked at one of the national labs for five years.

    Because of all this, I never needed the money from the church job. If you do need the money, pick your location carefully and go for churches in one of the higher paying areas.
  • How many here would follow another path than church music if they could do it over? Which is a way of saying how many are glad that they chose church music, and how many wish they had listened for a different vocation or followed a different star? Specify whether you are full time, or part time; whether you are 'master of the music' or answer to someone who is.

    I, for one, count my disappointments and pains as nothing compared to the vocational satisfaction and spiritual journey of church music. Most of my time (in Catholic, Episcopalian, & Lutheran churches) has been as full time choirmaster-organist, but, in my semi-retirement years, has also been as sub-organist, staff organist, composer, recitalist, lecturer, organ teacher, vocal coach, instituted lector, etc. My relationship with my pastors has, with but one disappointing and unfortunate exception, been beautiful and of mutual spiritual benefit and growth approaching true brotherhood.

    I have no regrets with my musical and spiritual journey. And, at the risk of sounding unfaithful and apostate, I am glad that there have been churches other than Catholic ones in which to serve - and in which to offer Catholic music(!) in services that were decently and reverently offered - particularly when and where all that was available to one in the Catholic world was Ed Sullivan Show pop masses and 'good morning, folks' priests.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Kathy
  • TCJ
    Posts: 694
    No regrets. I actually get paid under what many people here say is too little to live on. Yet, we lack nothing, have plenty of savings, and keep investing a lot into fixing our house. I sometimes wonder what people spend their money on.

    Oh, and wife doesn't have an outside job.

  • jcr
    Posts: 77
    I have no regrets for having chosen music for my career, and the best experiences of it have been in my church music work. I have worked in numerous protestant churches and only worked in Catholic churches since my conversion (1999). Although it is true that there are disappointments and problems to work through, I know of no kind of work where this is not so to a greater or lesser degree. My jobs in church music have been supplemental to a 30 year teaching career (22 in a Catholic University-I tell folks that I converted in spite of that) until 1997 when my wife, who also was teaching applied music at the college level, and I decided that what the Lord really wanted for us was to work for the church full time. We left for a $23,000/yr. job and never looked back. For 15 years we worked fairly steadily (15 mos. or so between two jobs) and during that time have owned our home, etc. We had to take out several years to care for an aged relative, and now are wondering what the Lord has in store for us. We have moved to a new location where we know virtually no one and await further indications of what is next. It has been quite an adventure and although it has not always been fun, it has been interesting and often rewarding. Always remember, the Lord will not let you down and the music won't either. Place your trust in the right things.
  • PolskaPiano
    Posts: 165
    Mr. Osborne makes a good point.
    I actually consider the fact that I would have little to no flexibility and much more stress if I went down the legal path I had anticipated. I am in awe of how well my job fits in with being a single mother due to the pastoral concerns of my pastor. When I have considered moving to a different job or field, I realize that flexibility and time with my family is worth more than a higher income at this point. So, no, I don't regret going in to this field.

    I think- like other callings- it doesn't always make sense on paper. But vocations won't always make sense on the onset of the journey. I think the best discernment is asking like you are doing, looking at the pros and cons of both music ministry as well as other works, and making sure you are doing it for the right reason, you can assume you are making a good, informed decision.

    In the end, this is life giving work to me. I don't regret where I am right now.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,753
    Sacred Music will never be a 'career'... it will always be a calling, gifting, a mantle that you must wear ...forever... and in the end, your crucifixion. If that is what you possess in the depth of your being (a calling) you have no choice. Pick up your cross. If you have a 'choice', do not choose sacred music as a career... careers come and go... whereas, a calling will never leave you. and in this day and age, anyone who aspires to serve the cause of 'authentic sacred music' will most definitely suffer the cross. the church is in the midst of her own crucifixion and like Mary or John, you have no choice but to stand, weep, watch and pray.
    Thanked by 2bhcordova ELapisardi