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Peter Clark

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I've just been told that I am not needed for a wedding on Saturday. Having had decorators in my flat, and the subsequent mess, I assumed I had lost the paperwork referring to the wedding so I phoned the bride. She said that they had their own organist and didn't the priest tell me? Nhe did not, I said. Two points here: why was I not told and, perhaps more importatly, why did the guest organist not contact me as a matterof courtesy? I have always thought in an unwritten rule in the church organ world that if you are playing for a service an another church you approach the resident - at least that is what I've always done. Am I being pedantic here?

 

Peter

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I've just been told that I am not needed for a wedding on Saturday. Having had decorators in my flat, and the subsequent mess, I assumed I had lost the paperwork referring to the wedding so I phoned the bride. She said that they had their own organist and didn't the priest tell me? Nhe did not, I said. Two points here: why was I not told and, perhaps more importatly, why did the guest organist not contact me as a matterof courtesy? I have always thought in an unwritten rule in the church organ world that if you are playing for a service an another church you approach the resident - at least that is what I've always done. Am I being pedantic here?

 

Peter

Well someone should have told you, certainly, if only because you will have set aside time (and possibly deferred other things) in the expectancy that you would be needed. According to Barry Williams and Robert Leach's excellent "Everything Else an Organist Should Know", you are still entitled to your normal wedding fee, even if you are stood down in favour of a visiting organist.

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse

I would welcome the views of board members: should the home organist get a fee if the couple bring their own organist? The church charges a fee for the use of the building and its contents: electricity, service books, hymn books, altar candles, kneelers, pews and so on. Does this include the organ? If it does, why should the home organist expect a fee when someone else plays? I ask this because it affects ‘my’ churches, and there is no established working practice, the issue not really having arisen before. It arises twice this year, however, and I wonder if it’s likely to be a growing trend. Constructive comments will be welcome. I’ve sympathy with Mr Clark: it’s a bit off to have been told so late in the day. Maybe it was a genuine oversight on the part of the priest. But look on the bright side: an unexpectedly free Saturday, perhaps.

 

I see Vox's comments. But churches I'm talking about are outer suburban/rural, not wealthy, no professional musicians. Essentially village churches in the outer suburbs.

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Guest Hector5
I would welcome the views of board members: should the home organist get a fee if the couple bring their own organist? The church charges a fee for the use of the building and its contents: electricity, service books, hymn books, altar candles, kneelers, pews and so on. Does this include the organ? If it does, why should the home organist expect a fee when someone else plays? I ask this because it affects ‘my’ churches, and there is no established working practice, the issue not really having arisen before. It arises twice this year, however, and I wonder if it’s likely to be a growing trend. Constructive comments will be welcome. I’ve sympathy with Mr Clark: it’s a bit off to have been told so late in the day. Maybe it was a genuine oversight on the part of the priest. But look on the bright side: an unexpectedly free Saturday, perhaps.

 

I see Vox's comments. But churches I'm talking about are outer suburban/rural, not wealthy, no professional musicians. Essentially village churches in the outer suburbs.

 

A wedding is a wedding! I have an agreement in place at church, that if a couple decide to bring their own organist, that I get paid the full fee regardless - even to the point of the video fee as well. I am merciless in terms of weddings - after all, we are very much part of the big day and undersold in the cases of the clergy (not mine, I hasten to add!). We play a major part in the wedding, regardless if it's in a country church or wherever.

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It depends entirely on the agreement you negotiate with the church upon appointment. The basic argument runs something like this:

 

If a church can't afford to pay, for Sunday services and/or choir practices alone, sufficient to attract the person they want as DoM/organist, then they can offer it "with fees", which may double (or more) the reward for the job. In this case it is the church's (not the wedding couple's) responsibility to pay the organist irrespective of whether s/he is needed because it is the church that offered that particular carrot as an incentive.

 

IMO, in this situation, the church ought simply to increase the regular salary, and have it cover X Sunday services, Y choir practices and up to Z other offices per year, and charge couples appropriately.

 

It all comes down, as Messrs Leach and Jordan state so frequently, to having a written agreement that spells out what is and isn't expected and for what payment.

 

Personally, as I earn my living elsewhere, my Saturdays are too precious to spend at somebody else's weddings and I farm the occasional offices out unless they're stalwart members (or ex-members in the case of funerals) of the congregation.

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse

Your point about the need to have things set down in print is well taken, and will be attended to. But if the organist is 'merciless' about fees, then the couple must be 'merciless' about insisting on certain standards of performance commensurate with the fee. That is more delicate, at least in some cases.

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Thanks for the replies so far but I'd still like to know whether it is considered polite for a guest organist to approach the resident in such circumstances. As I said, I alwasy have - besides which if I am going to play for, say ,a wedding in an unfamiliar chuch there may be some idiosycracies about the organ which only the resident organist could warn me about....

 

P

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse

When I was an organist, I always made contact with the resident in such circs, to thank him/her and to ask if there were any traps I needed to be warned about. So yes, it would be nice. But I wouldn't get my knickers in a twist about it.

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Thanks for the replies so far but I'd still like to know whether it is considered polite for a guest organist to approach the resident in such circumstances. As I said, I alwasy have - besides which if I am going to play for, say ,a wedding in an unfamiliar chuch there may be some idiosycracies about the organ which only the resident organist could warn me about....

 

P

 

I have rarely had this happen at my church. In fact, we have now banned visiting organists playing for weddings, unless they are known personally to my boss or myself - or they are in a recognised position, such as an assistant at a cathedral, for example. This decision was taken as a result of having two visitors in close succession two summers ago. In one case, the organist was unable to manage the organ satisfactorily; in the other, the player was unable to manage either the organ or the notes.

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As has already been stated, most standard contracts between (Anglican) churches and organists/directos of msuic (call them what you will) include clauses that the resident organist shall be entitled play for all weddings (and funerals) in that church and receive the fee for the same. If the parties involved want to have someone else play, the resident organist is entitled to the full fee and satisfy himself that the visiting organist is suitable/capable for the task. I agree totally that it is so important to have a proper argeement in place. Currently there is one form of draft avaialble from the ISM and another from Messrs. Leech and Williams.

 

In reality I think most organists are reasonable about this and the possibility of being paid for doing nothing is not one to be sneezed at. Of course it is polite for the visiting organist to speak in advance to the resident one and I think we should all expect that to happen. I have a rule that I always do weddings and funerals free for past and present choristers; everyone else has to pay. That way everyone knows where they are.

 

Many years ago when I was organist of a twon centre "down town" church where the few residents in the parish were mainly Greek Orthodox the Vicar (himself a former organist) recognised the lack of wedding fees and increased the organist's salary accordingly.

 

Malcolm

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I have a rule that I always do weddings and funerals free for past and present choristers; everyone else has to pay. That way everyone knows where they are.

Malcolm

 

The last time I played for a chorister's funeral I waived the fee; she was also a good friend and we woild regularly watch Mastermind or University Challenge together over a gin and tonic. I also used to look after her dog when she went away and over the years became a friend of the family. I wrote in her memory a short gospel acclamatiion which was used at the funeral. Anyway, a few weeks after the funeral I was given an envelope containing more than twice what I would normally receive, from her children - all that & a large boitle of Gordon's too!

 

Peter

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This sort of thing can and will happen, and not just at weddings: last Sunday, I was approached (the second I'd finished playing a final voluntary!) by an elderly fellow who introduced himself as a former organ pupil of one of my predecessors and now working at a Parish Church in a nearby village. He announced that he would be playing for a funeral later in the week - for which I'd already been booked by the Vicar - and asked whether it would be possible for him to practice during the week.

 

To deal with him as politely as possible (for as you may imagine I was very taken aback) I responded to his inquiry by telling him to book in with the Church Administrator, as it is she who has immediate access to the Diary from her desk. Then I had a word with the Vicar, who explained that the Funeral Directors had been in touch with him the previous day with a request from the family that this chap (a long-standing friend) be allowed to play. Being the supportive fellow he is, the Vicar responded that the regular organist (me) would still need to be paid, as it's "not on" for someone to waltz in and say "we want so-and-so to play instead of the appointed organist." (A point made by Messrs Williams and Leach in their excellent and oft-quoted book, I might add!) I think he'd been going to tell me about this, but unfortunately was beaten to it by my over-enthusiastic "stand-in..."

 

As Williams and Leach point out in their tome, it's good practice for Vicars and Organists to grant requests of this sort BUT that the customary fee should still be paid to the Organist, whose right it is to play for all such services - unless perhaps there's something in his/her contract that says otherwise.

 

Should a couple / funeral party ever object to being charged for the Organist - as they might do whether or not their own organist is charging a separate fee - it is worth reminding them gently but clearly that the Church employs its own Organist and that it is bad form, even slightly offensive, to tell them their services are not required. Sometimes, of course, it's likely that the couple are using their own organist because they can get his or her services for free, hence it makes them squirm when they realise they're not going to get out of that expense quite so easily! I believe quite a number of churches (great and small) now charge a fee - either full or partial - to bring in a visiting organist, which can act as a deterrent for such "behaviour."

 

The point could be reinforced with an analogy - for instance, would you take an independent financial adviser into your bank branch to do something for you that the bank's employees are supposed to do? I doubt it very much.....

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I can understand why at times one might feel irked that a fee is charged by the regular organist. My mother was a member of a church with a fine choral tradition but asked that her funeral be at the church where she grew up. The organist of her regular church - a very celebrated recitalist and professor of organ studies - played for the funeral yet refused any fee, whilst the organist of the church of the funeral happily took the fee despite not knowing what those funny note-looking things on the floor of the console were for...

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Should a couple / funeral party ever object to being charged for the Organist - as they might do whether or not their own organist is charging a separate fee - it is worth reminding them gently but clearly that the Church employs its own Organist and that it is bad form, even slightly offensive, to tell them their services are not required. Sometimes, of course, it's likely that the couple are using their own organist because they can get his or her services for free, hence it makes them squirm when they realise they're not going to get out of that expense quite so easily!

It is also worth bearing in mind that the church fees will be only a fraction of what is being spent on the wedding. In 2002 the average wedding is said to have cost £11,000 and it is interesting to ponder how this is itemised: http://www.howtobooks.co.uk/family/weddings/costs.asp When I see such lavishness I find it hard to be too sympathetic about the issue of organists' fees - and even more so if I feel the couple is only using the church for the sake of spectacle. I have always been glad to forego any fee when it is a regular church member getting married.

 

I believe quite a number of churches (great and small) now charge a fee - either full or partial - to bring in a visiting organist, which can act as a deterrent for such "behaviour."

Here I think Stanley's point is relevant. If one is going to use a financial charge to keep visiting organists at bay, then I think one has a moral obligation to ensure that the service provided is up to standard. Obviously in msw's church this won't be an issue, but in a large number of churches it would be.

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It is also worth bearing in mind that the church fees will be only a fraction of what is being spent on the wedding. In 2002 the average wedding is said to have cost £11,000 and it is interesting to ponder how this is itemised: http://www.howtobooks.co.uk/family/weddings/costs.asp When I see such lavishness I find it hard to be too sympathetic about the issue of organists' fees - and even more so if I feel the couple is only using the church for the sake of spectacle. I have always been glad to forego any fee when it is a regular church member getting married.

 

 

Here I think Stanley's point is relevant. If one is going to use a financial charge to keep visiting organists at bay, then I think one has a moral obligation to ensure that the service provided is up to standard. Obviously in msw's church this won't be an issue, but in a large number of churches it would be.

 

Yes. This happenned to me at a very small village in Worcestershire where my wife and I were guests and very good friends of the bride. They "had" to have the village organist for the reasons outlined above and not me, but this made no allowance for the standard of the playing. The hymns were an unbelievable dirge, and the Wagner in and Widor out were almost unrecognisable. I have always been happy to stand aside for competent 'friends/relatives' where arrangements have been made in advance and I haven't been made to feel unwanted, and in most cases, I've forgone the fee. I did also step aside to conduct the choir and not play at a high profile wedding of one of our organbuilding community, partly because I can't play the Bourgois Serenade, and secondly, because our second child was due within days!

 

Another friend of mine felt uneasy about me having to provide a reference for her wedding in the University Chapel of her home city. The organist was concerned that I wouldn't be up to the job and she tried to explain that I'd done it before on many occasions. I reassured her that were I in the same position, I would have asked for the same. As it happened, the Scottish organ world is very small and in fact my teacher knew the organist concerned and he was happy to step aside for the day.

 

With a funeral of a member of the choir's husband, she insisted on paying, so we donated both that and the choir fee to music funds, seemed a good compromise.

 

I think the moral on the brides behalf is to talk about these things as well in advance as you do all else connected with the day, and not to assume anything!

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This is a very interesting topic, a few weeks ago I had a Wedding that only wanted cds played, they were informed by the Rector that they had to pay my fees in full and the video fee as it was deemed to be loss of income on my behalf. When they realised the cost they came back to the organ!!!! My contract is very clear over this matter.

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As a non-organist (pause whilst cries of "Yes, yes, we know," diminish) something strikes me as vaguely rum about all this; that is, the distinction between 'organist' and 'visiting organist' as though the two refer to separate species.

 

I assume that were Vox, Guilmant or Basdav invited to play at friends' weddings in each others' churches, they would a ) explain to their friends that, whether they wanted paying or not, the resident organist would have to be paid, and b ) check with the resident organist to make sure they were happy with the arrangements. This is what 'organists' would expect of other 'organists'.

 

That the 'visiting organists' complained of here seem to have no appreciation of the way 'organists' behave, suggests they may be 'visiting', but not be 'organists' at all in which case, perhaps they could be required to audition, just to be on the safe side.

 

Justason accompanied a mixed choir including a visiting Polish choir at Blenheim Palace recently. (Incidentally, I think the pistons may be in better repair than previously mentioned.) When the 'visiting Polish organist' saw what an amusing instrument it is to control, he chose not to play his prepared solo.

 

I don't really suppose Peter or anyone else has time to audition "visiting organists," let alone the desire to say "I'm sorry, but you're not good enough," but it does seem to be the case that those who don't know the score are not proper organists (and from whom your instruments may well need defending).

 

Best wishes

 

J

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This is a very interesting topic

 

An interesting topic indeed!

One has to remember that you don't have to go back many generations to reach a time when the post of O&C at a large town church provided a living for the musician employed. Such people were not school teachers first and church organists second, but made a living from their church post, supplemented by conducting choral societies, teaching a limited number of private pupils, and of course weddings and funerals.

This was certainly the case here in the North West, as I recall the names of several revered musicians (mostly long-gone before my time) who were held in high esteem as their 'town's musician'. In many such towns it was not just the parish church which could provide a reasonable living for its O&C.

I would guess that the number of musicians today whose primary source if income is their church (not cathedral) post will be very small in comparison.

DT

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I don't really suppose Peter or anyone else has time to audition "visiting organists," let alone the desire to say "I'm sorry, but you're not good enough," but it does seem to be the case that those who don't know the score are not proper organists (and from whom your instruments may well need defending).

 

Best wishes

 

J

 

Indeed; i wonder how many of us have met someone who plays the organ but "doesn't use the pedals"? I once reminded a non-pedalling organist to leave the swell box open and he asked me where it was.

 

P

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I would welcome the views of board members: should the home organist get a fee if the couple bring their own organist?

 

Hi

 

I've only come across this once - but then most of the (mainy village) churches either didn't have an organist, or the resident acknowledged their limitations and were more than happy for someone else to play for weddings (& funerals) - and a nice little earner it was in a pretty wealthy area of North Essex.

 

In the days when I was DoM at a Baptist Church - and previously organist elsewhere, I never even considered asking for a bench fee if someone else played - but then, I've never had a paid organists job, there's little tradition of paying musicians inthe free churches. Certainly, I've normally been told if someone else was playing.

 

The one time the resident organist did want a bench fee, I had to explain why to the bride's father (who was footing the bill) - IIRC, the resident asked for 1/2 his normal fee - and did turn up at the church to show me the organ - so that was probably fair enough.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I’ve only had this experience once: at the end of our evening service a lady came over the console and asked if she could take down the specification. I was happy for her to do this, and followed up by asking her if she played. She replied that her brother wanted the details as he was playing for her wedding the following Saturday!

 

No one had asked or even told me about the wedding. Needless to say I was not best pleased!

 

On the occasions that I have played for friends weddings I always ask that they clear it with the other organist and clergy. As far as I know this has always been carried out

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My analogy is that of a bride choosing a restaurant or function room in which to hold the reception, and expecting that she could bring in her own catering staff. Restaurants live and die on their reputation, and the chef would guard this jealously.

 

The church and college where I am employed put a not inconsiderable portion of their resources into the music; they don't want the reputation of their music programmes to be placed in someone's care that has no responsibility to them.

 

Yes, wedding services are easier to prepare for, and more financially rewarding than playing for Masses. I still remember, when starting work at a church with circa 150 weddings per year, that one of the previous incumbents 'offered' to play for all the weddings for me, and when I politely declined the offer, tried to insist on playing for all the weddings that had already been booked. The cheek!

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My analogy is that of a bride choosing a restaurant or function room in which to hold the reception, and expecting that she could bring in her own catering staff. Restaurants live and die on their reputation, and the chef would guard this jealously.

 

The church and college where I am employed put a not inconsiderable portion of their resources into the music; they don't want the reputation of their music programmes to be placed in someone's care that has no responsibility to them.

Very good analogy, Fiffaro. We had our wedding reception in a National Trust property and, luckily for us, they had just de-appointed their official caterer and not yet appointed a new one so we could choose our own. We would of course have had to bite the bullet had this been otherwise.

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