What do you look for in a job description?
  • First, a little history. (Stick with this, it’ll be worth it, I promise.)

    In the thread regarding a job posting in Port Clinton OH, I posted the following:

    “The question of whether a job posting should be an open topic for discussion aside, some of the job postings I've seen both here and at the "Jobs" section have made me curious. I have read them, and in some cases visited their websites to get a better impression of the parish. It's my own prejudice perhaps, but I have to wonder out loud why a church would post a position that includes a contemporary ensemble among the responsibilities of the job, on a website that holds as one of its basic philosophies the notion that contemporary music is antithetical to the liturgy.

    I know that because of my past (and even current) experiences and difficulties in parishes with a contemporary music component, any future job search will by definition exclude from consideration any listing where words such as, "vibrant", "dynamic", "diverse" or phrases like "firmly rooted in the reforms of Vatican II" or "candidate will be well-versed in both traditional and contemporary music of the church" appear.”

    Another member of the forum, identified as “Jan”, responded:

    “I do not think each job posting should have it's own thread for open discussion. A blogger's personal opinion should not be confused with the goals of this organization. Case in point: the comments above.”

    I replied:

    “While my comment regarding contemporary ensembles "in the mix" of a job may not be applicable for the position at this particular church, I think the question is worth broader discussion and consideration, for both sides of the equation, i.e., those who post job openings, and those who consider applying for a position.
    And, my comments can hardly be confused with "the goals of this organization," which can be easily found by clicking on the "Join the CMAA" tab on the main page:
    "The Church Music Association of America is an association of Catholic musicians, and those who have a special interest in music and liturgy, active in advancing Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony, and other forms of sacred music, including new composition, for liturgical use.The CMAA’s purpose is the advancement of musica sacra in keeping with the norms established by competent ecclesiastical authority."

    Jan replied:

    “I agree with you. Glad you are able to make my suggestion clearer.

    As you said 'comment(s) regarding (issues) of a job may not be applicable for the position at (that) particular church.' I am sure we all wish to encourage potential employers to post as many jobs as possible on our website.

    There are many members of this organization who are able to work in complicated work environments and effect change in the direction which reflects the goals of this organization (albeit not without difficulty).

    The issues you bring up r/t discouraging job environments is certainly 'worth broader discussion and consideration.'

    Suggestion: We have a new thread where job-related issues may be thoroughly discussed & followed by all.

    Thanks again david andrew for helping me clarify my last comment.”

    So, based on “Jan’s” recommendation, I’ve decided to start this thread.

    Let me respond to “Jan” first: You’ve missed the point, and you’ve changed the subject. My point was not to clarify your comment. The core values of this organization are pretty clear from the statement I quoted. So, I ask again, why would a church with a contemporary ensemble among the responsibilities of the job, post an open position on a website whose membership is, on the face of it, dedicated to the use of Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony and new compositions (in the realm of high art)? A parallel: would a non-denominational mega-church with a praise band at the core of its ministry post a music director’s position with the AGO? Similarly, would a church where the Novus Ordo (in Latin) and orchestral Masses by Haydn and Mozart are a part of its culture post an open position with the NPM? I’d bet dollars to draughts that the answer is “no.” I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

    While I don’t doubt the truth of it, it’s not germane to this conversation that “there are many members of this organization who are able to work in complicated work environments and effect change in the direction which reflects the goals of this organization.” It is certainly important that there are people with the patience and forbearance to do that kind of work. However, I’m not so sure that “we all wish to encourage potential employers to post as many jobs as possible on our website.” The NPM Hotline is cram-full of job descriptions just like the Port Clinton position, from nearly every state in the Union. It seems to me that the people who visit this forum would be more likely to seek employment at a church where a serious “reform of the reform” mentality was in evidence. That, at least, is what I look for here.

    So, the question to the forum membership is: what do you look for in a job description? What is your instinct regarding a position with a contemporary ensemble as part of the responsibilities? Are there buzzwords or catchphrases that tend to make you question whether or not a position is worth applying for?

    Let me be clear. I’m looking for an intellectually honest conversation about this subject. We’re at a watershed in the history of liturgical music and culture in the Church, and I would hope that we can engage in a frank discussion about these issues without personal rancor or invective. I’m not interested in being “flamed” for opening this line of discussion. The conversation needs to be had, and I welcome the wide variety of well-reasoned and insightful opinions on the subject.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    First, I would say that job posts do not belong on this forum, as the primary purpose of this forum (as I understand it) is discussion. Dissemination of information is best left for the main CMAA site. But that's my own opinion, and the moderators obviously feel differently.

    On topic, I had given up on Catholic work altogether until I saw in my current job's description, "experience with Gregorian chant preferred but not necessary." As for contemporary ensembles, I would definitely overlook any job which would include that in my responsibilities. I don't mind a church that has it, mine has a less-than-contemporary ensemble (folk guitar group) for the Saturday Mass, and I have 0 responsibilities connected with that Mass. Works out fine for me. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be at a church where the traditional service is at 7 AM and has no budget with the WOOHOOPRAISE!!!!!!1! service at 11 and getting all the money and attendance.

    I look for a job description that's upfront and specific about what they want. "Organist and choir director wanted for average sized parish to oversee long-standing program of chant and polyphony" may be a lot to look for, but clues like "experience with chant preferred", "choir needs to be built up", "oversee organ fund" can really give you some good impressions of what's in store. Or, for the chapel at E. Mich, there was one "organist needed for 8 AM Mass. No choir." That tells you EVERYTHING about the job and everyone at the parish. As David mentioned, there's always buzzwords "vibrant", "Vatican 2", "youth" which can tell you some things, but you have to be careful of those who use the words in earnest. Those words can all apply to Jeff Tucker's famous "teen Mass" he's starting.

    Also, the word that will guarantee an resume from me is "AGO". Traditionalists are just as bad about abusing their musicians as the Gather crowd, so I only let my guard down if I see they're willing to abide by the AGO's (and NOT NPM's) pay standards.

    When I'm on a job search (which I may be again soon), I basically send out my resume to any job that catches my eye. Then, in the interview, I make no bones about who I am and what I do. In my current job, I came in and told the priest upfront, "If you hire me, I'm going to do Catholic music that the Catholic Church wants." And I even told him in the interview that I refuse to play "On Eagle's Wings". If you're bold with a more traditional pastor, I think he'll look highly on that. Remember, as they say with wild animals, they're just as afraid of us as we are of them. They don't want to get stuck with a bad musician, so letting them know where your sympathies lie would put you ahead if they're going to be a good employer. Of course that has more to do with interviewing than job postings, but I think you see the point about understanding where the bias leans.

    Also, on the topic of appropriateness of job listings, perhaps the CMAA could make their position clearer to potential employers so that we don't wind up with any St. Francis, American Rite churches on here (not that I'm claiming any are) Perhaps a statement to the person sending in the job request, "The CMAA stands for blah blah blah, it is understood that the employer is seeking a musician with similar goals and is willing to pay according to a fair and Christian standard." That would weed out some misunderstandings.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,532
    Well, to be truthful, the job description is what I look at when I am already convinced it's the right place to be. This is kind of tongue-in-cheek, so don't take this too seriously. However, some of this is learned from the hard knocks. Unfortunately 75% (or more?) music positions are automatically out of the question based on my self-imposed guidelines.

    Here is my general list of must be's:

    1. Practice of Sound Catholic Theology and Doctrine (this includes love of the Eucharistic Jesus and the B.V.M., and all of her graces which come through the sacramental life)

    If No, RUN!
    If Yes, Pray and then proceed to number 2.

    2. Good understanding and execution of proper liturgical music BEFORE I consider the position.

    If No, Drop off documents concerning musical norms and check in at a later date! ...sometimes, much later!
    If Yes, Pray and proceed to number 3.

    3. (personal pet peeve) A REAL pipe organ (NOT ON THE ALTAR!)

    If No, Drop off book, "The Benefits of a Pipe Organ" and kiss it goodbye!
    (If pipe organ has replaced the tabernacle, Fall on Knees and ask for God's mercy. Then RUN REAL FAST!
    If Yes, Pray and proceed to number 4.

    4. Proper compensation. Practicing the organ is integral to the job. You should be paid for it! (5-10 hours a week, just for organ practice alone).

    If No, get a real job, and keep searching.
    If Yes, pray like mad! The demons hang out in two places... the rectory kitchen and the choir loft!
  • I would only be interested in a DoM position if the clergy and parish were 100% behind good liturgy and were traditional in what they wanted. I wouldn't know how to conduct or play "contemporary" music even if I wanted to, except for conducting modern choral music, unaccompanied or with organ.
    Nearly twenty ears ago, I was hired to form a choir of 16 boys and six professional adult male singers to sing traditional music at one Sunday Mass each week at a parish in a big Midwestern city by a parish priest who was a musician himself and wanted some of his parish music to be in a different direction from the usual stuff. While I know did a good job (the parents were 100% enthusiastic as were the Rector and several of the priests), it never won over the strongly feminist female organist or the equally feminist female "pastoral associate" and my contract only lasted one year. Indeed there was open hostility at several times during that tumultuous year. If this had been in a place where everyone was on the same hymn-sheet and all were united in the belief that holiness and solemn liturgies were worthwhile, that little choir would have flourished. My hope is that nowadays there are many more priests and parishes that would welcome such a development. I'm not at all sure that traditional music (polyphony and chant) and "contemporary" music fit into one parish. That's not been my experience.
  • Ads I stay away from...

    "Must appreciate all styles of music" (usually meaning all kinds of Gather ditties)
    "Must be proficient in organ and piano" (well, I don't think true Catholic music needs a piano)
    Any ad that lists the contact as a pastoral associate or pastoral assistant (being a lay person)
    Any ad that refers to the church proper as the "worship space"
    Contemporary choir (again, usually meaning all kinds of Gather ditties, and especially if there is no mention of a traditional choir or schola cantorum)

    Need I say more?
  • Really, the good job description is the one that fits what it is you're up to doing, and whether you're able to do it. There are the "fix it" jobs, in parishes who want a legit music office -- that means: "We ain't got nuttin', but we want a choir, and you're gonna have to convince Sister Mary Fickle Heart that her guitar ensemble is wretched." Then there are the "wounded fix it jobs", in which the parish was so messed up by some loony (or loonies) who thought Vactican II was a call to move the parish to South America, eventually to drink a poisoned beverage while droning Taize (This was my job 10 years ago -- not moving it to South America, but fixing the mess). Then, of course, there is the job where everything is in place and the in-coming director will simply have to take on what is there and move it forward. The first kind takes work and a willingness to educate. The second takes work and a willingness to educate and deal with bordline personality disorder (for me at Fatima, this mainly meant dealing almost entirely with crying women, for some reason -- I suppose that was how they had learned to get their way, by breaking down into tears.) The final sort I mentioned is the dream sort. What's good, though, is that usually the dysfunctional ones can be made into the third one. So, again, it really depends on what it is you want to do, and how much you are willing to work as far as "getting things started" goes. When most everything's in place, there's plenty of work still, don't get me wrong. It's just a bit more fun (in my opinion) than carrying around a box of kleenex everywhere, just in case Sally Sue starts to mourn the Glory-N-Praise you pitched last week.

  • What about job descriptions that also include duties related to a Catholic elementary and middle school? Any particular buzzwords you look for?
  • Usually in the school ads, all I usually see is "teach music in school" and similar wording, with no particular curriculum. My dime would be to go to the interview and measure the principal up (assuming he/she shows up at the interview). Get him/her to mention some repertoire and pay attention to how it's mentioned. If you hear her bragging about how the lower grades belted out "His Banner over Me is Love", RUN! If you hear about some of her students in a reputable choral program, or perhaps some studying organ, stick around.
  • Brian is right. The ultimate test is the interview. You usually get a feel for things as soon as you meet the secretary. Things can either get better or worse from there. I've been on interviews that I knew were pointless from the time I first entered the building. That's when you have them take you to lunch and give you all the guest freebees. Ask Brian to tell you about my interview in Belleville, IL at Our Lady of the Snows. I took particular advantage of some over zealous happy clappy liturgististas up there. I was sarcastic as all get out, but they thought I was serious, and loved my ideas. I didn't wait around for the free food in Belleville. I just squealed the tires and kicked up the dust as the 3-story christmaslight BVM at the entrance faded out of sight in the rear view mirror. I was really frightened that they would tell me that Dr. Moreau was also on the staff and that they all had mutant DNA. It was just that bizarre. It was really a Woody Allen sort of scene. Don't get me started on the shrine receptionist with the glass eye, and the creepy out-going organist who was actually there in the interview, whose only comment on my organ playing was "I like how you use your feet."...

  • I've been fortunate that at my last 2 jobs, I was the only one who was interested! Oddly both were situations where I had just moved into town. The director either saw the opportunity to bolt or pushed her luck with the priest and had to quit. So, a brass player with no keyboard skills but a desire to bring solid music to a parish can also work in this field! I should say, that in both cases I was complimented on how much better the choir was after a few months.
  • But look: you can't wait for the perfect job. Probably 90% of Catholic parishes in this country are in a musical mess. What is way more important than what is being sung now is whether there is an environment that will welcome change.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,202

    Yes, I agree, and on reflection your point is really the key question and puts a more positive spin on it: just how does one identify a parish that in the midst of its musical mess has at its heart an environment that will welcome change? It's not enough for the pastor or even the search committee to desire it, there must be something substantive and identifiable. What are the tokens of such an environment?

    I have a little bit of wisdom that I may have invented, but given my love of collecting things like this, I probably heard it somewhere before:
    "The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but it still needs mowing!"
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    David and Jeff touched on the missing part of this discussion, namely how do you identify a parish OPEN to doing things right. Maybe it can't all hinge on the pastor. And I'd add that orthodoxy does nothing for us (my biggest critics are staunch pro-lifers). I think you have to look to the budget. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if they were spending tons on a "blended" program, they'll spend tons for a good choir given time. Of course, for most Catholic parishes, clean carpets are more important than good music.
  • Cantor
    Posts: 84

    Ay-men to the criticism from “orthodox” folks – though I think that, by “orthodox”, you are describing a Steubenville-ish mentality of extreme advocacy of pro-life while also insisting on “feel-good” liturgy. This is its own mess to disentangle because these folks have maybe already been through a “conversion” of sorts that involved Jim Cowan & Co. My friend was reared Lutheran and decided to become Catholic while singing “How Can I Keep From Singing” at Mass .... ironic given that it’s not a Catholic text and also given the poo-pooing of hymns (esp. non-Catholic hymns) that many of us do.
  • Cantor
    Posts: 84
    When/if I look for another parish job, assuming I am already in a comfortable position, I am going to do the following at the interview:

    Bring descriptions of 3 or 4 different plans for music for Mass. (Email them to the pastor and search committee beforehand.) See what people’s reactions are when, for example, the congregation does not sing the entrance song/chant but does sing (with the priest!) the dialogues. See what folks’ reactions are to everyone-sings-everything-but-no-dialogues (the status quo in most places). Use it to gauge how well the pastor and other folks there know liturgical music.

    I start to wonder if giving clergy a familiarity with the chant propers (esp. their texts) would be the course of action to follow. Of course, the problem is that the bishops don’t know that stuff, and they’re the ones who guide the training of seminarians. I was talking with a seminarian from our parish who is training in another diocese. The bishop there (somewhere in PA) basically forbids the use of Latin and is really not a fan of Summorum. Thus, the seminarians receive no training in Latin. Nada. Zilch. At least the guy knows what the Graduale Romanum is, but beyond that, oy veh....
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I don't so much mean the Steubenville type. None of those at my church. I mean the type that is now conservative based on what's been "traditional" for the past 40 years. I've gotten more than a few otherwise decent people screaming at me for doing "new" music like Bach and chant. The fact is that for many parishes, it's the CMAA-type crowd who are "progressive" (I would affirm that we ARE in fact progressives, but that's another topic). In fact when I first played on a Sunday at my church, my boss said, "the early Mass crowd is extremely conservative, so don't introduce any good music there yet." And a conservative priest doesn't necessarily mean he knows squat about music, as your friend in seminary demonstrates - not that he doesn't know anything, but if they aren't receiving real schooling, then even the best priests are left with their home parish music for formation. I mean Francis mentioned love of the Eucharist and BVM. All that means is "O Sacrament Most Holy" and "Gentle Woman". Doesn't mean you can dump those from the playlist in favor of propers.
  • I am now unemployed and rather angry about it because the present pastor of the parish came in and single-handedly undid almost everything that I had worked to accomplish over 8-9 years. among other things he is a complete micro-managing tyrant who only cares about being in control. Add to the things other people mentioned in ads phrases like "under the detailed direction of the pastor." That sends up all kinds of red flags to me, given my recent experience.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,202

    I'm so very sorry to hear of your plight. I will keep you, and indeed all dedicated Catholic musicians, in my prayers.

    The anger over your treatment, and worse, the treatment of the programs you worked so very hard to develop is something I can readily identify with, as it's happened to me, and probably at least 50% of the members and lurkers of this forum board.

    As difficult as dealing with the anger is, I'm reminded of something the great organist and teacher Marilyn Mason once said: Be a gentleman and take the higher moral position . . . it's often the one that's unoccupied.

    (NB - The following is my opinion, and mine only. It does not reflect the opinions of the CMAA or this forum: I've long held that anyone who thinks that sex abuse is the only form of abuse that priests are capable of are deluding themselves. I maintain that priests are also equally capable of, as in the case above, professional and emotional abuse and cruelty as well.)
  • francis
    Posts: 10,532

    We all sympathize with you. Just remember. Like my wife says, the only things that are permanent are laundry and taxes. Jobs will come and go. Politics is a scourge of the heirarchy. The dismantling of the faith since Vatican II has left us all wandering in the dessert of confusion and will drive us to bitterness if the devil will have his way. Stick to your guns, keep the faith, and press on. I saw a bumper sticker the other day:

    Jesus called, and he wants his religion back!