Friday, January 22, 2016

for organists -- Changing the culture at your church (part one)

In visiting "the cave of the organists" recently, which is my pet name for an internet forum where organists gather to discuss organ music and church playing--and to complain about their current employment situations--it stuck me that we ought to discuss in this space some of the things that cause friction between organists and their congregations, with the possible end of being able to do something positive about them. Keep in mind that while the present series will be written from the point of view of an organist relating to his or her congregation that some of the changes to be made might be in the behavior or skills of the organist themselves; this might in the long run be easier than trying to convince others of the need for a change, though that will certainly form a large part of our programme as well.

If you are not an organist, and you have no idea why some of us are unhappy, as we go along I'll provide you with some (discreet) examples from the organ playing community. I hope you don't mind having yours eyes opened.

In a relationship in which one of the partners has a complaint, the first stage is entirely one-sided. That is, the party who is the complainee is completely unaware that the complainer is unhappy. The second stage, once the unease has been brought to the attention of the first party, consists of denial and justification: namely, the person or persons causing the unhappiness telling the other person that they shouldn't feel that way at all and that it is all their fault anyhow, etc. Large social movements also follow this pattern. If an organist brings some of their complaints to your attention, it would be of great help if you might show yourself superior to a majority of your fellow human beings and skip step two, considering whether these claims might be legitimate, or at least that the feelings behind them are real--in other words, take them seriously. That is what this blog is for.

Church organists usually have some or all of these various complaints:

---nobody listens to the prelude or postlude
---they are in musical disagreement with their pastor or congregation regarding their selections
---they are paid badly
---they are not informed about items that affect their jobs or the worship service with enough time to plan accordingly
---they are often complained about by the congregation and/or the pastor

Basically, these items all reduce to being treated poorly or ignored. This shouldn't sound like anything bizarre. Everyone wants to feel valued and, extrovert or not, at least feel like people are noticing their efforts. At the same time, of course, the church may feel that the organist is not performing up to expectations, which will complicate things somewhat, since we may have a two-way grievance. I'm going to mainly address the ones that the organist has about their situation until we get to the last one; however, organists will note that many of the others might involve changes of behavior on their parts also.

I want also to state that there is no magic formula here. I will be writing from my own experiences, some of which have been successful, either because of my own behavior or my own dumb luck. But I am aware that situations can differ greatly, so that what follows will be mainly several observations about the most common sticking points and some suggestions for what might be done in the several situations.

The woods are filled with unfortunate situations between organists and congregations. Actually, there are probably many amicable situations that we simply don't here about, and perhaps shouldn't exaggerate the unhappiness out there; as in most areas in life one tends to here about the conflicts. But in the United States, the American Guild of Organists is often called to arbitrate disputes between organists and their employers, or, as I've mentioned, the disgruntled organists go online with their fellows to commiserate about a situation they feel only their colleagues would be able to understand.

Let those who are not organists give such sympathy a try as well.

(next week: what's it like being an organist, anyhow?)

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