So I landed my first church musician job! Help, advice, and anything else?
  • It's not flashy or fancy, but it's something and I am happy to have it. I will be working at a local Presbyterian church. Their regular choir is about 12-18 people and they also have a larger community choir of about 55 people, which will be performing with the local symphony (of which I am also a member, this should be interesting!) in the fall. I was surprised by how welcoming and kind they were, and I look forward to working with them. However, I am incredibly nervous and this is the first time I've ever done anything like this!!! It is a good thing it's summer and I have plenty of time to practice their music and "get my feet wet", as they say. The church has a lengthy history and is apparently still in possession of music dating from its founding about 200 years ago (I need another project like a hole in my head...) Anyway, I know that most folks here work primarily in the realm of Catholic music, and I am a Catholic myself, albeit a new one. I converted in 2004 and was raised Methodist, so the music is not at all unfamiliar. I'm mostly just a bundle of nerves right now, can you tell? But any helpful insights or encouragement or anything else is hugely appreciated!!!

  • Karen,

    Pray. Try the "Morning Offering".
    Use your training.
    Don't dissimulate.
    Remember that you're Catholic. Among all that familiar music, corrosion of the faith is possible.


  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,453
    I didn't have any problems when I worked for Protestant churches. They agreed we would have differences on some doctrines and topics, so we agreed to disagree amiably. I must admit they were often better to work with than Catholics. Some days, I wouldn't wish a Catholic congregation on my worst enemy. LOL. Not 100% serious about that, but somewhat serious.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,628
    Be sure to still find your way to Mass each Sunday (find an afternoon or evening Mass).
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473
    Don't pi** people off. That's 90% of being a successful church musician.
  • Allan DAllan D
    Posts: 43
    As a newcomer to a church community, you never know who's related to whom, especially in an old church with families that have been around for generations and have many branches and lots of different last names. Be very careful what you say about people; in fact, try to avoid talking about people at all. Just stick to music.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    Thanked by 1Ben Yanke
  • barreltone
    Posts: 27
    Do you have lists of the music sung at the services there in past years? In my current position (Episcopal parish MD), I have benefitted from having sung in the choir before being MD, so I knew what the choir knew. Though I wanted to introduce tons of new music (to the choir), I was able to balance and not overwhelm them by doing a majority of familiar pieces.
  • I advise the first thing you do to get your head around your responsibilities. And make that your #1 task for the first month or two. Create a spreadsheet of the weekend's music, of rehearsal schedules, of the choral library, of staff and volunteers, of your goals for the first 2 months, etc. Knowing exactly and specifically what your duties are will free your mind and put you at ease.

    I'm in my 6th church music position, and have always found there to be a 6-10 week on-ramp period. Use that time to acquaint yourself with everything required, everybody involved, and *don't try to change too much*. Once you have a handle on 100% of the program, you'll feel calm and at ease about improving it.
    Thanked by 1barreltone
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    My brother's advice to me upon landing my first church music job:
    Don't change anything for at least a year.

    Most of my problems came from not not following this advice.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,453
    A very wise older librarian told me the same before I took my first librarian job many years ago - don't change anything for a year because it will take that long to figure out what is there. Good advice that has also worked well in music.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • PaixGioiaAmorPaixGioiaAmor
    Posts: 1,473

    I think that a good thing to do is to decide what is already there.

    In some cases, I might make immediate change - if that is what the pastor who hired me intends. For instance let's suppose a pastor said, "For 25 years, my understanding is that this parish has not even had a DOM, but three different guitar groups who each plan their own music and do their own thing; there is no consistent rep throughout the parish or from mass to mass. I do not want guitar music at all, I want organ and choral music, and I want a DOM who will be responsible for everything. I know that this will be met with mixed reactions, and there will probably be some loud screaming and some people will leave. But it is what it is."

    In that case, this is a mandate, and I would feel no obligation to continue anything that the previous groups did, and I would treat the parish as though it were starting from scratch, with no rep learned or tradition. Basically, that would be the case in reality.

    That's not how most places are.

    If on the other hand you are inheriting a program from a DOM who had a cohesive plan and model, I would spend that year trying to change little. Maybe I don't LIKE what he/she did, but I'd stick with it and make small changes gradually. If they did Haugen/Haas psalms exclusively, so would I for a while; then, maybe very slowly, I'd OCCASIONALLY use a Guimont or Gelineau psalm, but not often. I'd use the same hymnody, etc. You get the idea.

    I know that some of these aren't issues for a protestant church anyway, but I figured this is a good general thread about advice for someone starting a new job.
  • Presbyterians tend to be the most respectful and supportive congregations for musicians.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,636
    Presbyterians tend to be the most respectful and supportive congregations for musicians.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,621
    I've found of the non-Catholics I've had sub in for whenever we have polyphonic masses at my "parish", the Presbyterians in my group are the most dedicated and appreciative of the music, as well as being the friendliest with which to work. The more experience I have with Calvinists, the more the extent of their artistic savvy continues to surprise me. Delightfully, of course!
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • Thanks everyone! I should elaborate on the situation, though. I am not the director of the program, I will be supporting the choir director and accompanying on piano. The director does not have a formal background in music and took the position when the need arose. She has done extremely well and is highly competent. The previous accompanist retired after a lengthy 40 year tenure. The pastor chooses the hymns and also does spreadsheets for 6-8 weeks in advance, so that part is already done (yay!) I will have a lot of support from the choir director and the pastor, as well as the retired accompanist.
    I see my position as what it is-accompany the music and not much else. The director and I have already discussed the social aspects of the job, and she said there are some "old timers" who balk at some of the contemporary music she does sometimes, but eventually they come to like it. A few times a month they do a "hymn sing" where anyone in the congregation can call out a hymn they like and everyone sings it. Most of my interview was them putting hymns in front of me and sight reading! Music is a big deal at this church and they are indeed supportive and appreciative of it. The director already asked if i would be interested in playing violin for some services, and if past experience is any indication once they hear a fiddle they get hooked. So, lots of possibilities here! I was invited to their choir picnic next week, so I will have a chance to meet people and get an idea of things. I'm pretty reserved and quiet anyway and don't have time for gossip. I mostly show up, do my job, and go home. (To answer Allan D's comment)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    I mostly show up, do my job, and go home.

    You are now the envy of many people who frequent this Forum.
    Thanked by 2BruceL kenstb
  • LOL why is that?? Sure I have tons of ideas but even I was the music director it wouldn't be my place to force anything on anyone. I say give the people what they want, so long as it doesn't violate your own beliefs or offend your personal preferences too much, and leave it at that.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    I say give the people what they want, so long as it doesn't violate your own beliefs

    It is clear you are in your first job as a Church Musician.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • Care to elaborate or do you enjoy being purposely vague just to make a sarcastic point? If someone expects me to play something that is clearly inappropriate for any church setting then no, I'm not going to grant such a request. I don't care how much anyone likes Nine Inch Nails or Britney Spears, they can enjoy it at home. OBVIOUSLY I am using these as extreme examples, but you know what I mean....
  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,013
    I think Adam is just saying responsibility is a mixed blessing. It's nice sometimes to be asked "Why?" and just be able to say, "Oh yeah, talk to HIM...he runs things!"

    Ahhh, I remember those days!
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    I didn't think I was being vague at all, though perhaps needlessly cute.

    Many Church musicians would love to be in a position where they could simply play go home.

    Also, if you progress in your career to the point of being the one who actually selects music on a regular basic, you'll discover that people suggest inappropriate music ALL THE TIME.
  • I'm sure they do! And while I personally may play and go home I am well aware that this doesn't prevent the inevitable trickle of drama. I've been a performing musician for a very long time and have had to endure all kinds of issues regarding people and music, believe me I know how crazy things get. At the same time, I know how to leave work at the door when I get home. There are also wonderful inventions like voicemail and the delete button. :-)
  • Padster
    Posts: 37
    My advice to you is be prepared to be disappointed on a regular basis, especially when you realise that others don't take it all as seriously as yourself, including some priests. You will come to realise this at some point, it is inevitable. Be careful that your standard of playing doesn't end up on the slide because of it. It is human nature to wonder if it is a waste of time to care and work hard when no-one else does.

    Best wishes,
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,694

    That is a very sad state of mind that you present. Prayers.
  • Ah Padster I've been married ten years with three children, I wonder these things every day! But even when I get down about things I keep going because I know it is the right thing to do, and the rare moments when gratitude is shown are worth the hard work. On another level, I've gone from regularly attending our local symphony to being a performing member and watched as the audience slowly trickled away and our season shrunk to half of what it was before. "Where is everyone?" I've asked myself when I walk out onstage to play a Beethoven symphony or the Grieg piano concerto, but that feeling of disappointment is quickly drowned by the excitement of the experience and being blessed to have such an opportunity at all. I've been a performing musician all my life and nothing can take away my love of music--nothing. Not everyone appreciates our craft, and that's okay.
    Thanked by 3donr CHGiffen ryand
  • Also, if you progress in your career to the point of being the one who actually selects music on a regular basic, you'll discover that people suggest inappropriate music ALL THE TIME.

    We had an elderly usher downtown who used to give us existential guilt trips when we wouldn't play his favorite number.
    City of God.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,333
    We had an elderly usher downtown who used to give us existential guilt trips when we wouldn't play his favorite number.
    City of God.

    I have a lady at the Episcopal parish who is a former folk-Mass-going Catholic.
    She asked me on-and-off for 2.5 years to program that song.

    I finally did.

    She was not there that Sunday.

    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • kenstb
    Posts: 358
    My advice to you is to enjoy the experience and be ready to ask lots of questions of the choir director. You can learn a lot from her experience with this congregation. Get to know the people you will serve. Music will open many doors for you, so have fun.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,449
    Get to know the people you will serve. Music will open many doors for you, so have fun.

    And get to know your pastor well (not that he's not one of the people).
    Thanked by 1kenstb
  • Far be it from me to paraphrase His Holiness, but if we want shepherds who smell like the sheep we also want sheep-dogs and pied pipers who do their Master's bidding.

    In your position, you're not there to oil squeaky wheels, but to act for the good of the people to the honor of God to the best of your ability.