Bench Fee for Weddings
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,888
    Please, everyone, give me your vote!

    Do you require bench fees if other musicians are brought in?

    If so, how much?
  • Bench fees should be required in any parish where the staff organist(s) are given right of first refusal on weddings and/or funerals. If this right is not clearly established, there may be no way to require a fee. The bench fee is equal to the minimum fee standard at that parish. I have collected them on a number of occasions and several times have been the extra musician whose presence entailed payment of a bench fee. Organists who are members of the American Guild of Organists are bound to follow and enforce this practice, which is part of the AGO Code of Ethics to which all members must subscribe.

    I have waived the fee when it seemed to be a particularly polite or otherwise appropriate thing to do. Often one's pastor can make the in-house musicians aware of such circumstances, but should never pressure musicians to waive their rights in such cases.
  • I only became aware of the bench fee policy when reading the AGO "Code of Ethics." I fear the AGO might be one reason that the organ profession has been in decline for so long. But I know I'll later wish I hadn't said that when/if the roof falls in on me on this thread.
    Thanked by 1sergeantedward
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,888
    I WAS a member years ago, but am no longer.
  • Hmm, let's see now.

    I attended as much of the '08 National AGO Convention in the Twin Cities as possible, mostly recitals and concerts. Funny, there wasn't anything spoken, sung or played that I could tell had the intended purpose of requiring me to "align myself with 'non-catholic' theology and practice."

    Please, folks. I've been reminded by others on this board that things posted here could be "googled" later and that we should guard against saying things that could bring down the reputation of the board and the organization. Sure, we take pretty good swipes at NPM and the "big three" publishers for some of the really egregious stuff they say and do. But, I think running down the AGO like this is beneath the dignity and reputation that CMAA has worked so hard to develop.

    As for the bench fee and right of first refusal, it's about time. If you look at the amount of money a bride and her family pump into a wedding, the fees organists charge for their work is petty cash. To incorporate a way of protecting a part of our livelihood and prevent "end-runs" around parish music policy by bringing in a really bad musician through the back door is a necessary protocol that no professional organist and no church music program should be without. (Don't get me started on the many "bridezillas" and "momzillas" I've had to deal with!)
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • you are right that I don't have enough information. So I've deleted my post.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I use it as a deterrent for things I don't want to happen in my absence. I'm playing for a friend's wedding in December, and so far as I know the church is not charging him a bench fee. I wouldn't have a problem if any of you here came to my church to play or sing for a wedding or funeral. But at my past church, people have asked for other musicians to get the music they want. I don't usually feel like fighting about something I don't have to witness or be involved in, so I instituted a bench fee of the full charge for myself for two reasons. #1, that's money that I would get otherwise, and #2 my church had a contract with me that guaranteed a certain income for weddings and funerals and made up the difference. If I didn't get money for a funeral, it didn't count and the church wound up paying me for something I didn't do. Where if I collect the bench fee, that's $100 or whatever that the parish doesn't have to give me. It's only fair, and typically if I were to waive it I would also count it as a wedding on the books so that the church isn't getting unfairly charged for me doing nothing also.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,888
    Point taken, DA. I altered my post. However, there was an ecumenical service of the same last year in Baltimore which was conducted from the altar of the RC Basilica by a woman in vestments.
  • The bench is absolutely essential when the church that is employing you quotes a salary below the norm with the excuse that "all the weddings and funerals you will be playing" make up the difference....
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    As I mentioned, my parish had a set amount I was to earn in weddings and funerals. Any difference would be reimbursed. Does anyone else have a system like that? Good idea, bad idea?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    I have been an AGO member for many years. Each year, they send a copy of that code of ethics and ask for a signature along with the yearly dues. I never sign it because it has a thing or two that I find a bit contrary to my understanding of ethics and morality. I fully believe that church employees are bound to live according to church teachings and not cause scandal. As a Catholic school teacher, that is part of my contract, too. The part about weddings does not apply to me because I refuse to do them for any amount of money. Weddings are given to a couple of good organists in the area who enjoy doing them. What they charge is their business and I don't even care. Also, AGO can be a bit too politically correct at times, and I don't have to endorse that. But each year they take my money, send the magazine, and I am still a member. However, if anyone desires to start an anti-Schnitger, anti-tracker society, I might consider joining. ;-)
  • The AGO reflects the values of the religious institutions employing its members and, to a lesser extent, the ideologies predominant in US higher education. Because Catholic musicians have never joined the Guild in proportion to their numbers actually working in parishes, the AGO culture resembles the polity of its most influential members, namely liberal Protestantism. This does not have to be the case, especially on the local chapter level. This is very much a chicken/egg situation: Catholic musicians tend not to be members, are rightly uncomfortable with much of the religious content of events/programs, and therefore don't join or let their membership lapse. It's an open question as to whether this is a situation worth our attention. The Guild does push very hard for high musical standards and for its members continuously to improve their skills--which not all organizations in our field can be said to do.
  • Daniel, you make some very good points there, but if you think Catholics are uncomfortable with the religious aspect of AGO programs, what do you think they think of the music almost ALL of our churches do?

    Catholic church music programs fall below the level of lounge lizard music in local bars in most places.
  • I've noticed that Catholic churches who are serious, or wish to give the impression that they're serious, about searching for and finding a qualified organist/choir director to build up a solid music program will avoid listing in the Pastoral Music Magazine, opting rather to spend their resources listing with the national and local AGO.

    However, if we (meaning groups like CMAA) want to form a useful alliance with the AGO, one that will make our approach to orthodoxy and orthopraxis in music and the Faith understood and taken seriously, we need to strike soon. The NPM already has an "organist section" within their organization, and they've already developed a joint certification program in cooperation with the AGO.

    Knowing that there are some within CMAA and others of our mindset who have strong reservations and opinions about the appropriateness (or usefulness) of the organ in the EF, and perhaps even the OF, this may not be a viable undertaking.

    I for one would welcome seeing some progress toward bringing to the AGO a heightened awareness of Catholic sensibilities surrounding the music of our tradition that goes beyond the stereotypes and prejudices that have been permitted to exist for far too long.

    (I would mention that in a recent issue of The American Organist, there was an extensive review of Fr. Ruff's new book by Haig Mardirosian, Professor of Music and Dean of Academic Affairs at the American University in Washington, D.C. I'd need to re-read it carefully to get a better impression of where Mardirosian's prejudices or sympathies may lie. Also, it's not clear if he is Catholic, or how active he is in scholarly circles on the subject.)
  • Umm, I have no idea where the notion comes from that the CMAA has organ doubts. Marht, Turkington, Buchholz, Brouwers, Hughes, Lawrence, and a hundred others are organists. What many have written is that the organ is best used as solo instrument, not as an instrument for voice support. I can truly say that there is no basis at all for saying that anyone associated with the CMAA has a low view of the organ. Quite the contrary.
  • By the way, I love the phrase "lounge lizard music."
  • Sorry, Jeffrey, I'm not trying to be provocative.

    It's just a weird read I've made of some of the comments, especially when solo literature is mentioned. You know some of the debates that have waged: if it's not based on chant it shouldn't be played; no Bach (he's Lutheran, and the chorales don't belong in the Mass), and so on.

    It just seems that those kinds of arguments come up repeatedly here and over at NLM, and perhaps some kind of "position statement" could be worked out to clarify how the majority of CMAA folk feel about the use of organ in the liturgy with respect to these issues. (Unless I missed it, there's nothing about it in the FAQ, but hey, I've been really wrong about these things before!)
  • Right, there is nothing in the FAQ, simply because it doesn't really touch on the most frequently asked questions, but I can certainly see a case for adding something.

    You know what I think you might be referring to? Once a long time ago, a young and passionate lad posted a note on this forum that said something negative about Bach. The pile on was grim to watch, and the poor soul wrote to beg me to take down his post. I think he was just young and trying out ideas. The response in total was inadvertently disproportionate to the threat.

    Only one more thing to add: the CMAA doesn't really have nailed down "positions" on issues the way we might have expected from the St. Gregory Society in the old days. The CMAA tries to foster a liberally minded (in the old sense of the term), liturgy-centered community that is faithful to the ideals of the Church and faithful to what the liturgy is asking of musicians. That seems like a big enough job without getting into the bog of having "official positions" on the details. The world we inhabit really resists that kind of micro-management.
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,032
    While there is certainly not a lot of sympathy on the part of the AGO toward Catholic belief, I think it could be considered that by trying to keep musical standards high, they support good Catholic liturgy more than NPM, which occasionally seems to be going for the lowest-common-denominator. Also, if someone isn't Catholic, it is unsurprising that they do not hold Catholic beliefs. However, when I see openly heretical statements in NPM, it makes me upset: this is a magazine claiming to be "for the Church" which publishes works (posing as scholarship, I might add) by some who are openly critical of the Church in its teaching role (liturgically and morally speaking.) Hypocrisy is somewhat more serious to me than open disbelief outside the Church. I just don't go to AGO stuff that is posing as "spiritual", just like I don't read the sections of TPM that purport to be about "election politics".

    Bench fees, I think, are useful in giving people the freedom to have another "approved" organist if they so desire; I always make sure I know who it is (or ask them to play for me) and find out what they are playing/singing/etc (even if someone else is playing, musically it's our house rules.) My bench fee ($125) is the deposit that the couple has to pay when they meet with me anyways; it is a little more than half the total wedding fee. I find this is fair for me and the couple, and gets those "on the fence" to really consider if they're interested in good music, trying to make their wedding music a thank-you to someone, or save a few bucks. I always note to them that the bench fee would include me giving the visiting organist a memory level and some time to explain anything weird about our instrument.
  • "Organists who are members of the American Guild of Organists are bound to follow and enforce this practice, which is part of the AGO Code of Ethics to which all members must subscribe."

    It's been awhile since I've read that code of ethics, but where does it say that one "must" charge a bench fee? The part that I recall is that one must, when playing as a guest organist, secure the permission of the sitting organist.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,203
    The professional organizations don't distinguish between a bench fee for funerals and for weddings. Is there a distinction? Should there be?
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,193
    I suspect that the concept of a "bench fee" or a "bench-vacating fee" may have at its core two purposes:

    First, it ensures a continued just income for the organist being asked to vacate the bench. At one parish I served, the anticipated income earned from funerals (not weddings) was incorporated into my salary, and I received no additional income for playing them. I was simply expected to be available at all times to play for them, and if another organist was called in, that was one less funeral I had to play, but it had no impact on my base salary. If the estimate for the year was 50 and I played only 40, that was a bonus. If there were 60, I still had to play them, with no extra compensation. On the other hand, in my current situation, funerals and weddings are "extra income" that I count on. Any parish policy that protects against the loss of that extra income is certainly welcomed.

    Second, and more important I think, is that it ensures that the musician most familiar with the liturgical and musical norms of the parish is the one that will be providing the services. In my experience when a "visiting organist" is brought in to play for a wedding or a funeral, it is mainly because the staff organist has denied a request for a piece of music that is not considered appropriate, and the requesting party hopes that by bringing in their own musician, they can get their requests in through the back door. This is particularly true if the pastor is antithetic to the cause for appropriate music in the liturgy. With the assessing of a "vacating fee" it at least requires that the party who is seeking to violate parish norms will pay a price for the request. People more often think with their pocketbook rather than their brain.

    And yes, I think there should be "bench vacating" fees in the policy for both weddings and funerals, which can be assessed or waived at the discretion of the Pastor, upon the advice of the organist (in the event that the visiting organist is a colleague and sympathetic to the norms of the parish). Additionally, I think the fees for weddings versus funerals should be distinct. In my experience the amount of music required for a wedding (as well as the meetings with couples, etc.) is more extensive than that of funerals, hence a higher fee for weddings over funerals.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,888
    We do not level a fee for funerals here. It is considered part of the job. Sometimes people offer gifts but that is rare. We don't have many funerals here so it's not an issue with time.
  • We avoid the fee by simply not allowing any outside organists. We have 3 staff organists, and if one of us can't play, we contract a sub that is comfortable with our liturgies--and typically, was at one time also a staff organist here. We have offered, for funerals and weddings, to allow their friend/family member to play something during the prelude, but even that requires an audition. It is very infrequent that we're taken up on that offer.

    Likewise, we require the use of one of our cantors. Their vocalists are welcome, with an audition, to sing during the prelude, and they often do.

    The more variables, the more rehearsal required--and we'd rather not tie up our weeks trying to please every bride.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    I used to find this preposterous. But I can sort of see the point now - and might even make a case for it on the two grounds mentioned above.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,203
    The learning curve that most of us go through in understanding this fee is something impossible to ask someone to undergo in 2 days, which is often the planning period for a funeral. Much less can it be accepted positively by someone in mourning, who needs the Church's care at that moment rather than insistence on fees.

    I like Marc's solution a lot.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    I was at one time director for 2 churches, one had been horribly wreckovated in the 70s ('nuff said) and the other was more or less intact. The second church had tons of weddings but i was not given right of first refusal. As a result that organ loft was open season and the incompitence was amazing. once, i discoved diferent colored stickers on certain notes (presumably to tell the difference between a g and an a). It got to the point that i was beginning to feel violated every sunday morning as i never knew what to expect (not to mention the thousands of dollars in lost income.) Not having that right of first refusal ment that it was impossible for me to impose any standared and in fact i lost many weddings to fly-by-night pianists who would play and sing anything.
    The bigger issue is that many of us are shown the true lack of any meaningful power we have in enforcing any decent musical standared and to give up means being inundated by "butterfly kisses" (dont laugh, that was a bridal procession an several occasions)
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    I also have the policy that i would never accept a wedding job in another church without the express permission of the resident organist regardless of the official policy. Not to do so is a punch in the face to a collegue
  • OlbashOlbash
    Posts: 310
    I am totally in favor of imposing a bench fee, though I have seldom collected one. Normally, I waive the fee as a professional courtesy to a colleague, and find that this fosters a healthy sense of collegial goodwill. What one might lose in one bench fee might be gained many times over in invitations to play as a substitute for a colleague in future situations.

    As one who has planned music for many family liturgies (weddings, funerals, private baptisms, etc.) I am sympathetic to the case where the resident organist and/or cantor might be poorly trained or have poor taste in music. I am dreading the occasion when some militant pastoral associate, armed with a certificate from some liturgy training course and sputtering something about "full, active, conscious, blah blah blah," forbids me from bringing in decent musicians for a family funeral and forces us to listen to what *they* deem to be liturgically appropriate crooned by *their* musicians into an overamplified microphone....

    ... not that I have a strong opinion about this or anything...
  • A local parish church now has a new policy....if you want the new (used) organ at your wedding you must hire the non-Catholic Allen Organ salesperson to play your wedding on the just purchased used Allen (abandoned into storage by a Baptist church years ago) because he wants to "put the church's name on his resume as organist there on his application for Juilliard."

    Otherwise, you may only have another person play their keyboard through the church PA system.

    Obviously his position as organist at the Catholic church by the airport is seen to be not as impressive to the Juilliard staff? Who woulda thunk it?

    A rather distorted, hard to understand, version of the bench fee?
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    Good Grief! Noel, I knew that place was a mess, but I had no idea!!!

  • From the outside, I am working with someone right now who wants real, substantial church music, but her parish prefers the standard fare. I advised her to ask about the bench fee and that it might increase her costs for bringing in a quartet of chanters. Waiting to find out the verdict now. So, it's not always a deterrent to impropriety, but may also be the reverse.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,653
    I feel very strongly in favor of bench fees for musicians who are the principal musician of that Parish. However, the musician shouldn't just be sitting at home lounging while collecting this money. The bench fee should be paid to him/her and he/she should be at the event to make sure everything runs smoothly.

    When guest organists come in to play funerals or weddings, I'm always there and things usually run smoothly. And I always collect my payment.
  • Jeffrey TuckerJeffrey Tucker
    Posts: 3,624
    Michael, that is an excellent point. I recall one time years ago when I was in a schola that the pastor asked to sing at a particular Mass. When we showed up, the organist who usually did that Mass was there on the bench with his smiling singers in the choir loft. It was a showdown. They knew we were supposed to sing but they refused to budge. When we saw what was happening, we left. The pastor later in the week contacted me and asked why we didn't sing. I had to explain the situation. Obviously, the group that took over the bench and loft lost lots of capital in that episode but they ended up winning that Mass time and retaining it.
  • mjballoumjballou
    Posts: 986
    I think bench fees work if they are the norm in your geographical area, if the pastor will enforce it, and if you are willing to play every wedding, funeral, whatever yourself. Since I have worked in areas where none of the above apply, I haven't asked for them. And generally that's been fine because the musicians coming in for the wedding in question were going to play contemporary Catholic music that is outside my repertoire - and since the priest and the bride wanted that style, I was happy to be elsewhere.

    And I share Olbash's concern for the day when I (or someone near and dear to me) wants to bring in musicians for a family funeral.
  • I agree with many of my fellow organists that the bench fee is an absolute must for the resident organist who counts on weddings and funerals as part of their livelihood; I applaud the AGO for including this in the Code of Ethics, and our church abides by it. In our parish, we have strict standards for all aspects of the Mass. The resident professional musicians are the best ones to guide the wedding couple or grieving family in music matters. We know what is required, and more importantly what is appropriate and allowed by the pastor. After all, that is our profession.

    We have had some disasters allowing guest musicians to take part in Masses. While it's not true of every guest musician, many are rank amateurs who seize the opportunity to grab their few minutes of fame, especially and most surprisingly at funerals! One funeral in particular, the pastor was made to wait quite a long time after the altar was prepared, while the guest singer finished presenting her own florid, audience-participation version of a contemporary "sacred" song. Her poor wisp of a husband accompanied her on piano, using photocopied sheets of music spread everywhere on the music rack and on top of the piano.

    This and other events led us to make a rule that guest musicians may only perform during the time allotted for the prelude. Exceptions may be made for known colleagues, but even then, the canting is left to our resident cantor unless she is unavailable.

    I am fairly spoiled at my church because the pastor is also an organist and very knowledgable about all aspects of music. I am not sure what I would do if I were in someone else's [organ] shoes.
  • JahazaJahaza
    Posts: 467
    In our parish, we have strict standards for all aspects of the Mass.

    Not saying it's this way at your parish, but in many parishes the strict standards for the Mass are things like "any hymn in the gather hymnal is OK" or "we never use incense, so keep the offertory short."

    The resident professional musicians are the best ones to guide the wedding couple or grieving family in music matters.

    Yeah, again, you may be that person... but when the situation is discussed generically, there are a lot of resident professional musicians I wouldn't want anywhere near a relative's funeral.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • Some churches only have resident musicians, not professionals, therefore I would question anyone doing my relatives' funerals.

    And then again, one side of my side of my extended family is entirely Protestant (Anglican/Presbyterian). So their weddings are just those "Christian" style services that last less than 10 minutes.

    My parish's strict standards are:
    No introit, must be hymn.
    Some hymns must be contemporary, only some traditional.
    Skip as much as possible, makes the mass shorter and more will come.
    In the summer, skip the Gloria and Credo and just speak the ordinary for the same reason.

    No purple.
    Thanked by 1ClergetKubisz
  • I should also mention that guest musicians are regular for weddings and funerals, usually pop musicians.
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    See, many of my friends are musicians, but I would definitely set them up with the DM; no stepping on toes (did that once!!!) & no lost income for anyone.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,550
    I know what AGO says about bench fees, but I waive them. Since our organ rebuild, the church no longer allows outside organists. Only the ones I have approved can play there. I have three who can do weddings for me with my blessings. They can charge what they like and don't have to give me anything.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,888
    aha... better than a bench fee, Charles... the exclusive clause... however, then YOU have to DO all the weddings yourself! BTDT... If I ever do another wedding (in the NO) it will be at gunpoint.