I'm a fifteen year old organist, new to this forum, and I just got appointed organist at my parish!
  • I've been playing the organ for three months, and since I began staff has been asking me if I was going to play for mass, so I finally took the initiative and asked if I could. The pastor said he was fine with it, but I'll have to talk to the music director to talk about when/what I'm going to play. I start the job in two weeks.

    This has been a beautiful journey, learning the organ, building connections, and joining the church. I also got to play at a major cathedral and am invited to return weekly!

    I'm very excited because playing the organ has been a goal of mine for a long time. However, I'm in a predicament. Should I ask for pay or not? On one hand, I consider playing during mass to be a donation to the church in return for them letting me play the organ, but on the other hand this is a skilled service and I want to get what I'm working for. What do you think? Should I just play part-time for free at this church and play for pay at another church I have connections to?

    Another reason why I don't think it's a good idea to ask for pay is that I'm only fifteen (obviously without a degree in organ performance) and there are plenty people more qualified than me.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    I've been playing the organ for three months


    You should not be paid to play the organ.

    If they want to pay you - if they offer you anything at all - accept it graciously. (And don't forget to tithe!) But don't ask for anything right now.

    Consider it an internship.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,407
    I would like to know, do you take piano lessons? Are you now taking organ lessons? What about theory?

    If you are already taking piano lessons and have to pay for organ lessons, I would consider asking for help with these. They are expensive.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,465
    If you are taking lessons, and I presume you are, perhaps the parish priest might talk to your teacher and perhaps give you a "scholarship" to help subsidize your lessons; If you are not taking lessons, you could try to find a teacher near-by and, again, see if the parish would like to subsidize your lessons.

    Organ Scholarships should be more common, say I.
  • Depends on the understanding you enter with the music director, and on your keyboard skills/musicianship overall. It's hard to believe that my last parish growing up before I "went professional" with organ playing didn't even have an organ, so I *had* to get a paid (really low paid) organ gig on Sunday mornings within a few months of my beginning organ lessons, on the basis of my keyboard skills/musicianship from years of piano and my sight-reading ability, in order to play the organ for services regularly at all. I was a freshman in high school at that time.

    By sophomore year in high school (a year into lessons) I was generating $100-125/wk in income from service playing, and by the end of my senior year in high school I was a parish music director making very good money.

    Then I partly paid my way through college as paid organist in the college chapel, and on graduation became a parish music director, which is presently about half my income; this summer, I'm moving out of state to take on my first full-time church music job.

    So I guess what I'm saying is, it's never too early to be paid, if you've got the chops. For me, the ability to demonstrate paid professional responsibilities in church music for about a decade by the time I finished undergraduate was and continues to be hugely helpful in successfully applying for jobs.

    I probably wouldn't have applied for pay at my own parish, but all circumstances are different. If you would feel comfortable at your present skill level applying somewhere else for a paid, entrance-level opening, I would say that you should at least try to negotiate a title for yourself beyond "Volunteer" for use on your resume in the future. I would probably not personally want pay from my own parish, but maybe they would allow a certain stipend for lessons (it sounds like you already have practice privileges), which would be I think very appropriate. Possibly the MD (you didn't mention having private lessons) would repay in kind by taking you on as a student?

    Play for pay ASAP if you can; I would apply out-of-house for that. Also, landing a job on your own ability rather than connections is good for you.
    Thanked by 1OrganistJack
  • MatthewRoth
    Posts: 1,224
    Might I add that this fellow deserves something of applause for asking and having decent sensibilities in the matter.
  • My son was just 14 when he started playing the organ for Mass at our parish. He was a pianist at the time but quickly adapted to the organ. He went on to take organ lessons and continued with piano as well. He was paid from the beginning which was only just in this situation. When he left for college last year, his younger brother, at age 16, took over for him as organist and does get paid as well.

    So much depends on the specific situation. If the parish has been paying an organist before you, they should continue by paying you. If you volunteer to replace a paid organist, you will end up feeling the parish is taking advantage of you and it can get unhappy very quickly. If you are the first organist, I still think you should be paid something, maybe not a lot, but as long as you are playing through the Mass and do what's expected, this position deserves compensation. If you just volunteer, it tends to diminish its value in the eyes of the parish.

    Can you have an honest talk about this with your pastor or whomever is your supervisor?
  • If they don't pay you now, they never will. You will have established yourself as a volunteer, which is just peachy for them. Having got you for free, it would never enter their minds ever to pay you. You may come to think 'I'm getting sort of good, surely it will occur to them that I should be paid'... but it won't and never will. Thus is the voice of experience and observation. If you are good enough to play for mass here or anywhere, you are good enough to be paid - just like the secretary, the plumber, the architect, the book keeper, the house keeper, the vestment maker, and everyone else.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,610

    If they don't pay you now, they never will. You will have established yourself as a volunteer, which is just peachy for them. Having got you for free, it would never enter their minds ever to pay you. You may come to think 'I'm getting sort of good, surely it will occur to them that I should be paid'... but it won't and never will. Thus is the voice of experience and observation. If you are good enough to play for mass here or anywhere, you are good enough to be paid - just like the secretary, the plumber, the architect, the book keeper, the house keeper, the vestment maker, and everyone else.


    This isn't necessarily true. When I first started organ lessons, my organ teacher was playing three Masses per weekend at the church I attended and sang in the choir at. At some point she decided to just do one Mass. The Saturday night Mass went to a vagabond Folk Group and she pitched the idea of the priest of me being the "intern" "interim" whatever organist at the early Mass. Maybe 3 months into my run at the early Mass I received a letter in the mail with a check and a note from the priest saying they would begin paying for my services and that I shouldn't discuss this matter with the other musicians (AKA "don't tell your organ teacher we're paying you").
  • IMHO, if you're expected to be there with adequate preparation / practise done, every single week or to find your own replacement, then you should get paid - because this expectation is going to significantly impact your lifestyle. On the other hand, if the expectation is just that you play when you can, and don't when you can't (eg are away for camp/holiday/work-experience/study/whatever) - then that's ok for a volunteer commitment.
  • Here's another option: if you will be playing each week, you could give one or two weeks free and get paid for the other one or two weeks. For example,
    though I am a trained musician, I lead a chant choir 2 Saturdays a month. The first time per month I give to the church free, as a contribution since it is my parish and I'm not involved in anything else. The second time per month I am paid.
    Thanked by 1OrganistJack
  • BJJ1978
    Posts: 22
    What you're gaining at this point is experience. For the present, consider that your compensation. I second the suggestion offered by others that perhaps the church might consider a scholarship or otherwise pay for some of your lessons and training.
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,574
    give one or two weeks free and get paid for the other one or two

    It is a bad idea for a job
    to have some work hours reported to be paid
    and to have some work hours not reported
    because employee decided those work hours would be volunteer.

    The parish must budget and pay out the real amount.
    Any other arrangement forever hides the true cost,
    and creates precedent that neither you,
    nor your successors,
    can easily overcome.

    Write the donation cheques.
    It makes a difference in the mind of others
    whom you might not think to be part of the situation.

    EDIT: Plus there is ACA (obamacare) hours reporting etc.
    Thanked by 1Elmar