Many musicians who graduate college and need a well-paying music job right away go into the profession of church music. Alternatively, those who love liturgical musical styles and/or are very spiritual themselves may find a career in church music to be incredibly rewarding. Generally, employed church musicians will be organists, sometimes pianists, rarely any other instrumentalist, as well as music directors and/or choir directors who can play piano and organ. Although you need proficient organ skills to be a church organ musician, you certainly do not need to be a virtuoso or even have advanced skills. You just need to be able to read basic four-part harmony, with an emphasis on the melody so people can sing along with the hymns.
Also, a good personality is an absolute must. Think about the church organist in your own church, or the church organist in a church you have been to before. He is regularly smiling, has lots of personality, and even cracks a few jokes here and there. You don’t need to be charming, but you should know how to don a generally likable and favorable attitude when working and mingling with the entire congregation.
There are some sacred music graduate degrees, with notable ones including Boston University, Emory University, and Southern Methodist University, as well as Yale’s Institute for Sacred Music, which has a partnership with the Yale School of Music and the Yale Divinity School. These schools are excellent for those who wish to pursue performance as organists or direction as choral conductors, however, a non-sacred-music based degree in either organ performance or choral conducting will be sufficient for most musicians.
The American Guild of Organists’ recommended salaries in 2012 for full-time church musicians with a master’s degree was in the range of $55,000 – $72,000, more if the musician has a doctoral degree. Other sources claim the salary can go as high as $100,000.00 or more per year. Many churches, however, choose not to employ full-time church musicians in order to save money, or because they simply do not perform that many services.
A suggested fee-per-service would probably be in the range of $100 – $300, depending on the size of the congregation as well as the church’s budget.
Best Schools for Choral Conducting, Organ Performance, and Sacred Music Study:
I get requests for these programs almost daily, especially the former two, so I am working on the lists now. I will have these published within the next few months, and will announce it via my email newsletter, which you can subscribe to for free on the top right of this page.