Last night our Hawaii chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) had its Pau Hana Posaune, an informal pupu and cocktail party at a local restaurant. Now, a few definitions for you in case I’m using unfamiliar terms to you non-Hawaiians, non-organists.
The term pau hana is a familiar one in Hawaii and means “the time after work.” It is considered a time for relaxation, informal socializing with friends and family, and enjoyment. We organists have added posaune to this Hawaiian term. Posaune refers to an organ stop usually found in the pedal division, and is classified as a reed stop, which is imitative of an orchestral instrument. It is alternatively marked “trombone,” which gives you an idea of what it sounds like. The term pupu refers to bite-size appetizers!
Okay! now that we have gotten that out of the way, the Pau Hana Posaune this year was a time of “what did you do this past summer,” trading war stories of church politics, sharing of aches and pains (well, what did you expect — we’re all getting older!) and gossip about other AGO members who happened to be absent (horrors!) Like we all think John Renke, musician at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, is absolutely insane to be training for the Honolulu Marathon! (That’s why I’m playing Wednesday Evensongs while he is in training!)
But one member’s story is one that all of us found hard to believe and utterly outrageous! Seems that she was asked to fill out a time sheet in order to get paid for playing the services. So she put down the time of the masses, 8:00, 10:00, etc. but the office manager wanted more.
“No, put down 8:00-9:00, and 10:00-11:00, because we know that the services last exactly one hour.”
But the office manager didn’t stop there. “We know that you’re not playing the whole service!” Well, um, yes — organists don’t play during the scripture lessons, or prayers, or during the sermons! And so, the AGO member was made to feel guilty for charging a whole hour for her professional services! instead of just the time she was actually playing the instrument.
Yet another misconception about the work that organists do — people in the pews may only see us one hour in the week, but a lot of hidden preparation time goes into that one hour. Typically an organist in a liturgical service may end up playing fourteen or fifteen pieces of music, which includes the liturgical parts which don’t change every week (Kyrie, Gloria, etc.), four or five congregational hymns, accompaniment to choir anthems, and voluntaries (Prelude, Offertory, Communion, Postlude). The vast majority of organists purchase their own organ music for these voluntaries — I recently paid $65 for a thin volume of music by 17th century German composers! And don’t forget the time it takes just to choose the appropriate music each week — music which may have a reference to the theme of the day, or the lessons read (the lectionary).
And how do you know how long it might take to learn all this music? In my last post, I cited Heidi Bender working on a single three-page fugue for two years! Other pieces of music may take 20-50 hours or more, depending on the complexity of the piece. In addition to individual practice time, organists also spend time attending choir rehearsals, maintenance of the organ, going to staff meetings, and furthering their education by attending organist conventions, concerts and workshops.
So the rest of the people sitting around the table last night were sufficiently outraged by the notion that an organist only works less than an hour per week! In many cases, I think we are paid less than minimum wage!
Someone recently posted on Facebook that a pastor’s preparation for the weekly sermon is akin to an iceberg — only one tenth of the time is visible. The same can be applied for an organist — there’s a lot of more time and work which goes on outside of the actual service.