...are church organists treated so appallingly, far too often???
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Posted 14 October 2020 - 22:31
...are church organists treated so appallingly, far too often???
Posted 15 October 2020 - 08:20
Our organist finds that most people don't seem to realise he exists. "The organ was beautiful this morning", "I loved that bit the organ played after the sermon".
And the idea that "the organ" might like to run through a piece before a funeral and doesn't like everything changed at the last minute, is news to most folk too.
Posted 18 October 2020 - 16:00
"Are church organists treated so appallingly, far too often???"
Yes, but now that almost all appointed church organists are deemed to be employees, they have access to rights under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Not all churches fulfill their obligations as an employer and a number have found that the consequences are quite costly if the matter goes to an Employment Tribunal - as several cases have in recent years.
Posted 18 October 2020 - 20:24
... I think many churches are not only ignorant of the law (I certainly am) but suffer from a big ambiguity in their heads. They haven't made a clear decision about whether their organist is an employee or a volunteer. Instead they get stuck in a half-and-half state where they have employed an organist from outside the congregation because they wanted musical skills beyond those immediately available, but they somehow expect their organist to consider it a duty and joy, something that they should be happy to do to support the church and their Creator - forgetting that the organist might need it as part of his/her cash-flow and considers the job a job. And no matter how much we love our jobs, Tesco still insist on us paying for bananas.
Churches perhaps don't ask themselves the questions they should. If they find themselves thinking up reasons why the organist isn't a "proper employee" in order to justify treating him worse then you'd treat an employee, they ought to be wondering whether they are any better than an exploitative employer? The reasons for treating employees properly go beyond the law: it's a matter of morals and ethics. The great Quaker industrialists didn't make life good for their employees because the law told them to. They did it because it was Right.
And the other way, if someone works for you because they believe it to be their duty, that they should be happy to do it without thought of recompense, without thought for themselves, then they are putting themselves in a position where they are very vulnerable to exploitation. Churches should be doubly cautious, taking great pains not to exploit their volunteers. So they ought to be taking care of their organist, whether they consider him an employee or a volunteer - not treating him casually because he's somewhere between the two (in their mind).
Of course the other problem is that few will recognise how skilled is their organist and choirmaster. Really good musicians make music look easy. This applies as much to enthusing others about music as it does to performance; great music teachers and organisers also make it look as though it happens automatically, by osmosis. And if the church can't see how many years' experience, how much effort it takes to get that good, they perhaps won't realise just how valuable an asset a good organist and choirmaster is.
But that's still no excuse for treating them badly.
Posted 19 October 2020 - 07:44
The Church of England's Legal Advisory Commission gave this advice a couple of years ago:
(If that hyperlink fails type 'General Synod Legal Advisory Commission Parish Music'. It deals clearly and decisively with the question of volunteers and the all-important employment status of most organists.)
A number of churches have had their metaphorical fingers financially burned by assuming that the absence of PAYE and NIC deductions equals self-employment. The case law indicates that it does not and in recent years almost all the cases that have gone to the Employment Tribunal have been decided on the basis that the organist is an employee. I cannot recall a single case in the past twenty years where the organist has lost the case - there may be one or two, but I cannot think of one. This is because the churches have often failed as an employer - providing pension schemes, holiday pay, etc. Thus even when the behaviour of the organist has been unsatisfactory, the organist tends to win because the Employment Tribunal expects employers to act properly as employers.
There are, however, many churches who do treat their organist well and pay them properly with invariably happy results.
Posted 27 October 2020 - 18:31
Churches generally do seem to have the wrong attitude. I have a theory (for which I have no evidence whatsoever, so do shoot me down if necessary) that priests are encouraged to believe that they are leaders, that it is their vocation and duty to lead, that in their mission they will encounter lots of different people who will try to impose their own agendas, and that these must be resisted at all costs. Some believe in co-operation, but others will have no truck with democracy. The organist is only one of many potential thorns in the side, but probably the biggest one because a competent, trained musician will likely have opinions.
There is the added problem that in some quarters, especially in the free churches, there is also a well-established established tradition that the organist is unpaid. The organist is expected to regard his/her position as a Christian mission. In such places the organist's position is really no higher than that of the flower arrangers or church cleaner - and this generally seems to be happily accepted by all and sundry. It is little wonder if such a low level of respect has spilled out into other areas of Christendom.
Maybe the problem is not so much a lack of appreciation as a lack of respect and understanding. Except in churches where music is taken seriously, all people really want is a human karaoke machine. There is little interest in, or demand for, anything deeper.
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that it is not really fair to blame the church for its philistine attitude to music. The fundamental problem is the scant regard paid by successive governments to classical music education. It has been consistently sidelined, either as too elitist, or as economically irrelevant. As with some other subjects the syllabus was been watered down to exclude any elements that those with lower IQs will find hard to engage with.* There was a time - long gone now - when the church shaped society. Nowadays it's the other way around. In these days of dwindling congregations, the church can hardly be blamed for trying to give people what they want. If the people were clamouring for high quality, classical church music, the church would be falling over itself to provide it. That probably hasn't been the case since the Middle Ages, but in its currently, terminally weakened state the church is no longer in any position to resist.
* I was deeply disappointed a couple of days ago to read a claim that the ability to write four-part harmony is no longer required for A-level. I hope this is untrue.