About this blogger:
Richard J. Clark is the Director of Music of the Archdiocese of Boston and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is also Chapel Organist (Saint Mary’s Chapel) at Boston College. His compositions have been performed worldwide.
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Tournemire could be charming or he could bite your head off. One day I could not replace him at St. Clotilde because I had a wedding to play at another church. Tournemire played on Sunday, period—that was all. He did not play weddings and so forth. (He put all that on my back.) So I went to Tournemire’s house to tell him, “Master, I am sorry but, for once, I cannot replace you. I have another obligation to fulfill.” He said, “Get out of here!” I left for good.
— Testimony of Maurice Duruflé

The Economics of Jobs in Sacred Music
published 24 January 2014 by Richard J. Clark

EFFREY TUCKER IS PASSIONATE about many things. In addition to his signature bowtie, he also wears many hats. Among them, he is a champion of Gregorian Chant, a conductor, economist, author, and publisher. He recently penned an article “How to Apply for a Job.” While not directed towards musicians, this is a must read for every church musician, whether looking for a job or holding on to one.

Tucker distills his point with an economy of words:

“In case you read no more of this article, please read the following sentence. The reason a company hires you is because it expects to obtain more value from you than it pays out to you in the form of wages and salary. If you understand that one point, you are well positioned to apply for a job and capture the right tone in your application.” (emphasis added)

Since those in the sacred music profession are generally underpaid (See this post on CNNMoney: “Stressful Jobs that pay badly”) how can we not contribute more value than we are paid in wages? However true, the economics of sacred music is relative. Supply and demand rules the day. (Never make the mistake that supply and demand doesn’t apply in religious institutions. Never.)

Demand within the Church for beautiful sacred music is low leaving a surplus of highly qualified musicians quite capable of offering such beauty. (How many Catholic musicians do you know work for other denominations because that is where their skills are valued?) See a job advertised with a good pipe organ and a full-time salary? Expect to be competing with seventy-five to one hundred other musicians from around the country. Trying to hold onto a full-time position? Take a look behind you at the line of people more than willing to relieve you of your duties.

O HOW DOES ONE SEPARATE oneself from the pack? Remember, the politics of sacred music go hand in hand with the economics of sacred music. One may even survive political turmoil simply because one brings a lot more to the table relative to compensation. Therefore, whether looking for a job, or trying to keep one, one must do more than one is paid for. Why? This is an investment in your future. Most importantly, it is an investment in your reputation, your most valuable asset.

What is doing more than you are paid for? Musically, that’s usually easy to answer since church musicians tend to be overworked to begin with. Therefore, the answer often lies elsewhere in the form of pastoral and personal interactions—things we didn’t study in music school. One can do “more” by being more than just a musician—by being a leader. This is quite different from being a boss.

All leadership is essentially a personal and emotional process. This kind of leadership combines treating people respectfully and decently while being firm and clearly communicating your expectations. It also means admitting mistakes and taking responsibility for them. Being supremely talented or having authority doesn’t give one license to be a jerk.

Knowing how to conduct or play better than most is easy. Getting a large number of diverse volunteers to respect your leadership is not. Conducting from the organ console or learning Gregorian semiology is easy compared to convincing a pastor, finance council and parishioners to invest money in sacred music. Beauty in liturgy, an intangible commodity, is an investment that pays itself back spiritually and financially. This truth is happily discovered by parishes who make this investment. Beauty brings inestimable value.

INALLY, YOUR PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL REPUTATION is your most valuable asset. Treat people decently, be very good at what you do, and assuredly decent people will want to hire you and keep you even if you don’t agree on every point. Do this and the value you bring to your boss will be seen as very difficult to replace.

If not, then you will earn the respect of those who matter.