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Music is an excellent way to get a religious message across to the members of a church congregation. However, not all theologians are trained in the art of making music, and even if they are, they don't always have enough time to practice and prepare the music well in addition to preparing sermons. This constraint means that churches usually need to hire church musicians who have specific duties within the religious facility.
Services and Functions
Church musicians perform music for services in the church, including functions such as weddings and funerals. They plan out what music to play and spend considerable time practicing. They may accompany other musicians in addition to leading congregational singing.
Some church musicians lead rehearsals for choirs, worship bands and visiting musicians. For this reason, leadership skills are a must, as is the ability to conduct. For choir directing, it also is useful to have a knowledge of the International Phonetic Alphabet, which guides musicians on how to create consonant and vowel sounds to make words easily understood as they are sung.
Church leaders expect their church musicians to support the beliefs of the faith community. This commitment means that the church musician has to attend church committee meetings and coordinate with other members of the church, especially the pastor, to make sure that her music follows what the church leaders want to convey. This coordination is particularly true in churches that follow a liturgical calendar, and in fact, many church musicians hold the title of Minister of Music, implying their religious responsibilities. However, Paul Westermeyer points out that church music also belongs to the people, to the members of the congregation; to some degree, church musicians also have to be sensitive to what the members of the congregation want to hear.
Church musicians represent their congregations at church-related meetings, symposiums and lectures. In some cases, this presence may help a church to establish or improve its music ministry, either by securing funding, making the church musician aware of issues related to his job, or letting the church musician network with other musicians.
There are no formal standards on the amount of education that a church musician must have. However, churches typically look for a musician who has a certificate or degree in music. Some denominations specifically may look for someone who has a certificate or degree in sacred music.
Pay for church musicians varies widely because there are no standards for education in the field, and because music ministries are different sizes. The American Guild of Organists provides guidelines on what a church musician should expect to earn. Those with an associate's degree or certificate receive the lowest pay ($37,599 to $50,409), while those with a doctorate receive the highest pay ($60,836 to $81,177). These wages don't include benefits.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and editor based in Eagan, Minn. She has been published in both print and Web publications and has written on everything from fly fishing to parenting. She currently works through her business website, Takingdictation.com, which functions globally and welcomes new clients.