Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wait. You should get paid to do that?!

Like so many churches across the U.S., ours is having budget issues.  Things are looking up as people have stepped up to the plate and increased their pledges.  A definite good thing.  One thing that has come out of it is a hard look at what our church spends its money on including the music program.  I think this sort of evaluation is a good thing -- are we sticking to the mission of the church?  Are we using our money wisely? Of course the music program is being evaluated -- we're one of the biggest budgets for the programs and committees of the church.  It's a significant amount of money -- not the largest budget compared to a few churches (mainly in the Boston area), but large by some standards.  For what he has to work with, my boss has put together one of the top music programs here in the state.

During this process, though, some interesting viewpoints have come to light.  The one that sticks in my craw is the idea that we as musicians should be doing this for free.  This includes my boss, the Minister of Music.  The rationale is usually along the lines that either music is just the "fluff" of the worship service or that we should give our services to the church because it's a church.

I can totally see how some people arrive to that first rationale.  If you aren't into music, you aren't into.  We try to run a varied program.  I joke that our music program is much like the New England weather - if you don't like it, just wait for a few minutes.  I think my boss does a phenomenal job of trying to appeal to as many as he can by keeping the selections varied -- everything from the "golden moldies" to modern.  As a musician, I appreciate the variety as it keeps me on my toes from week-to-week.  Unfortunately, you can't please everyone, though.

The second rationale makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.  We don't expect our other ministers to work for free "for the good of the church" -- why should the professional musicians?  My boss has his masters and has gone through the program that the American Guild of Organists offers that upon completion is pretty much on the level of getting your Ph.D.  It's intense.  Personally, I spent years (and tons of money) on my training to get me to where I am today.  I do what I can to further my own education as time and money allows.

I think this whole idea of musicians doing stuff for free for the good of some cause or for the experience is common well outside of our church.  Some think they're doing us musicians a favor just giving us that experience, so why should they pay us?  Some think "it's just music" -- their kid can play a couple of tunes of the piano so how hard can it be?  Yet, these same people would never expect their accountant to do their taxes for them for free or expect their doctor to give them a free exam or their minister to work at their church for nothing.

I am grateful that I know so many people who do understand that music -- like any other profession -- is..well.. a profession.   I wish everyone did.  Unlike some professions, music can be treated as a hobby and I do admit that music is fun for me.  I like what I do and it sometimes feel like I'm being paid to do my most favorite hobby in the whole world.   But I have bills to pay and education to further.  If the church can no longer sustain a budget that pays me to show up and use my expertise, so be it.  But please don't expect me to come and do it anyways for free because it's for the good of the church.  I may decide to stick around because I love the work and I have the best boss in the world.  If I do stick around, the arrangement will be different, though.  Because at that point, singing at the church will be fully in the hobby category.  Expecting otherwise is unreasonable.

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