Working as a Church Musician

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One will encounter a variety of situations working as a church organist or pianist. Aside from the regular Sunday services the responsibilities of a parish organist can include planning the music for an event, consulting with brides for wedding services, playing funerals, and taking complaints about the music. This post will reveal some of the ins and outs of doing the job right.

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The easiest jobs by far in the church musician’s duties are funerals. The family of the deceased often selects their favorite hymns—or those of the deceased—and all you have to do is show up and play them at the right time. It is rare that anyone complains about the quality of a funeral service. Despite this, it is still important that you do your best. This will likely be the last memory the family will develop of their deceased relative and you have the opportunity to make it a pleasant one. Formal attire is a must. There can be few things as disrespectful as allowing a grieving family to see you ascend the stage in a t-shirt with a suit jacket, rolled up sleeves, or jeans. Gentlemen should wear a black suit and tie and ladies should wear a black dress or pantsuit. Ladies dresses should not be revealing but should reflect the solemnity of the occasion.

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Similar to funerals but a bit more work are weddings. Generally the musicians will meet in advance with a bride and all the music will be selected. Brides may have very specific requests for the music, or they may have no clue and will defer entirely to the accompanist. The latter case is better because an experienced accompanist is able to select a wedding program very tastefully. Brides have only done this once (we hope) and might have impractical requests. In this case the accompanist should gently and tactfully encourage better selections and give good reasons for the choices. In the rare case that the groom is in charge of the music, he will invariably request outrageous selections. For example he may request Beethoven’s entire Ninth Symphony as a postlude. That would be a good time to point out that the Ninth Symphony is well over an hour long and would be ludicrous to perform at a wedding. It is good to be upfront about what you can and cannot do. Don’t be afraid to say, “I can’t do that,” or “I don’t know that one.”

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At any rate, make sure you practice whatever music is agreed upon sufficiently because unlike funerals, people will complain about the quality of wedding music. If they are not satisfied they may attempt to withhold payment or if payment has already been made they may request a refund.

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Finally, church musicians often get complaints and/or suggestions from the congregation. They may inform you that the music was too loud, that they couldn’t hear the singer over the organ, or that their favorite hymn was played too slowly or quickly. In fact I have had two people walk up to me within ten minutes of each other to inform me that the volume was a problem. The first lady told me that the music was too loud and the next told me that it was too soft. In these cases you should smile and explain that you’ll do what you can to fix the problem the next time. Rest assured, most of these people don’t really have a problem. They simply want to feel as though they’re contributing to the overall improvement of the music. It is unnecessary to actually try to accommodate them. They would never notice if you did anyway.

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