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Compensation in the Church

Click to download Compensation Guidelines (PDF)

Work and Compensation

In recent years, much has been reported about the shortage of trained organists and choral directors available for employment in churches and synagogues. Hence, congregations have reported long delays in finding qualified persons to fill their vacant positions.

At the root of this shortage is the promise of unreasonably low salaries and minimal or inequitable benefits packages so frequently offered to church musicians, in relation to the degree of education and skills required to perform the duties of their profession. Consequently, and at a great loss to our churches, many talented musicians have been forced to forsake their aspirations to a career in church music, and seek training and more gainful employment in other fields. As a result, church music positions are sometimes filled by untrained persons with minimal organ playing or choral conducting skills. Therefore, it is only through the willingness of our churches to offer fair and adequate compensation, not only to clergy, but to lay professionals alike, that the next generation of talented, young musicians will be drawn to this most honorable profession.

The American Guild of Organists is ready to assist churches in securing qualified, professional church musicians, both through our local and national placement services.

The role of music in worship is of primary importance in most denominations. Music, along with religious education and preaching, makes an important first impression on visitors and has been influential in their decision to join a congregation. The church that wants to grow will not cut back the music program. Good church musicians make a vital contribution to the worship and spiritual growth of the congregation. The church organist leads congregational singing and provides preludes, postludes, and other service music. The choir director teaches choral music and leads the choir in anthems and other sacred music. Good church musicians make a vital contribution to the worship and spiritual growth of the congregation.

Musicians serve churches for a variety of reasons. Many regard their service as a personal ministry – a means to worship through their music. For others, church work and the teaching of music is their livelihood. Some organists and choir directors are primarily employed in non-music professions. These persons may be equally dedicated to church music and often are as well trained, but they serve churches in part-time positions.

Regardless of the number of hours the church position requires, most musicians are looking for the following qualities in their work life:

  • A fair and adequate salary and music budget
  • A well-maintained instrument
  • A supportive clergy and worship committee
  • A responsive congregation

The trend today is for collaboration in worship and liturgy planning between lay people and clergy. Church musicians are an integral part of the worship planning team.

Organist/choir directors spend the majority of their time planning, organizing, and directing the choir program. Most adult choirs rehearse weekly for one to two hours. Children and youth choirs generally rehearse about one hour. Most choirs briefly warm up prior to the worship service. Much of an organist’s time is spend in keyboard practice of organ and choral literature. However, some organists select hymns and liturgical music and, in general, play a larger role in the overall administration of the church music program than do others.

Many churches in the Seattle area are small and have one service with music on Sunday morning. Most choirs rehearse on a weeknight and have a brief warm-up before the Sunday service. Larger churches usually have multiple services with music. Each church position must be considered individually, as there is no typical situation.

Churches must address the need for a musician to have an adequate standard of living within the context of current economic conditions and the cost of living in the metropolitan Seattle area. Two major factors should be taken into consideration when churches and musicians negotiate fair compensation for organists and choir directors: (1) time, and (2) skill level.

It is important to remember that more of the musician’s time is required for planning, administrative work, and keyboard and choral practice than for service playing or other public performance. Congregations often fail to recognize the number of hours actually spent by the musician in the course of his or her duties. This “behind the scenes” time must be calculated and included when hours and salary are negotiated for the position.

Skill development is based on talent, training, and experience in various areas of sacred music. These include organ and piano technique, service playing, choral conducting, and knowledge of liturgy and theology. Other important factors for assessing personal skills include decision making and leadership ability, reliability, and communication skills necessary to motivate people and teach sacred music to choirs and congregations. Keep in mind that qualified, competent church musicians have invested thousands of dollars and years of hard work to develop their skills. They should receive appropriate compensation.

Compensation for church musicians should be comparable with professional teachers and musicians employed in the secular world, as well as persons in other professions with similar levels of training and experience. Salary determination should in no way hinge on other compensation of the musician or his/her spouse. Factors such as gender, marital status, or number of dependents are not to be taken into consideration when determining compensation. Such practice is discriminatory and not tolerated in other professions.

The American Guild of Organists Seattle Chapter has adopted compensation guidelines for its members and the churches and synagogues that they serve. The guidelines were developed using the methodology recommended by Headquarters, American Guild of Organists, which uses national standards that are adjusted by local cost of living statistics published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The local guidelines also include compensation recommendations for substitute musicians, and for musicians offering services for Weddings and Memorial Services.

The Seattle guidelines for 2012 can be viewed and/or downloaded via the following link:

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