". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Life Lesson

Last week one of the high school vocal groups I accompany had a master class with a guest clinician. Last night at rehearsal as the students were discussing the experience with their regular teacher, he expressed appreciation to the music boosters' group for paying the clinician's fee. One of the girls in the choir reacted with surprise: "She got paid for that?"

"Of course," answered my colleague. "She's a professional. Music is how she makes her living. Do you think she spent four hours driving here, working with us, and driving back home simply out of the kindness of her heart?"

"I don't know . . . I just thought you knew her and that you asked her and she came . . . I didn't realize she got paid . . . ."

Giving me a sideways glance as he smiled at his student, my friend and coworker patiently set the young lady straight: "Mary [not her real name], professional musicians never do ANYTHING for free."

No wonder I like working with this guy.


Susan said...

You know what? That's something I have a very hard time understanding. I know so many people who do things for others for free. They do things to help. They volunteer. That's how it is with our homeschool groups. That's how it is in our congregations. That's how it is with a whole lot of stuff within the church body too. That's how it is in every community-service organization we've been involved with.

So it's very hard for me to understand why some people get paid to do what the rest of us do for free.

Today Gary and I went to pollworker training. (They're called 'election judges' in IL.) The town clerk mentioned near the beginning of the meeting, "Oh, by the way, I should mention that you'll all be paid for the meeting this afternoon." I was stunned. I thought we were volunteering. I guess it makes sense that people would get paid for spending 16 hours at the polling place on election day, but I didn't realize they did.

When I heard that people were paying $200-500 per schoolyear for their kids to be involved in the band or the choir or whatever, I was floored. I still don't see why it costs that much.

Cheryl said...

Hey Susan,

Well first let me say that my little story was intended to be humorous. Just to be clear, I have shared my music ability many times over the years without getting paid, and so has my friend, the choir director in the story. I don't expect to get paid for Vacation Bible School. He doesn't expect to get paid when he sings a solo at church. So please don't think that musicians are a bunch of cold-hearted money-grubbing jerks. In fact, in general I think they are some of the most generous, loving, warm-hearted people I have ever met and they love music so much they can't help wanting to share it with others.

But to your question. Why do some get paid while others don't? I'm assuming you're asking that in a general sense and not just with regard to music. And I think there are a couple of reasons.

One has to do with level of training. There are certain things that can't be done by just anyone. To stuff envelopes or distribute pamphlets or man a phone bank for a political campaign doesn't take a lot of special skills. If you can walk and talk you can do the job. Maybe you'll need someone to give you a little orientation or training, but then you're set. To be a campaign manager, on the other hand, requires a special set of skills that not everyone has. So the campaign manager gets paid, but the volunteer workers don't. Professional musicians have spent years and years of time and money developing a skill that the average person does not have. For many of them that skill is how they put food on the table. It's their day job, not something extra they do if they have the time.

That brings me to the next point: responsibility. As much as volunteers are needed, they're not essential. Maybe they are in a global sense, but things are not going to come crashing down if one volunteer doesn't show up for duty. The show will go on without him. If a few choir members miss practice, practice goes on. If my husband the cantor doesn't show up for practice, we're in trouble. If I as the accompanist don't show up, we're not as in much trouble, but the rehearsal suffers. My husband needs to be there every week, and so do I. The volunteer has the option of pulling out or not showing up. The person in charge doesn't have that option.

And that takes us to what I think is the main factor in some getting paid and others not: the market. If you can fill the job with a volunteer, great. But again, you may not be able to find a volunteer who has the skills you need and is willing to commit to to the ongoing requirements of the job. It's one thing for me as a musician to help out with VBS for a week at my church; it's another thing for me to commit to a year-long rehearsal and performance schedule that will repeatedly take me away from other things I could be doing. I am willing to do the first for free but not the second. And if no one else is willing either, the choice is to pay for someone to do the job or accept that it doesn't get done. That's free enterprise at work. Additionally, there may be someone that is willing to do the work on a volunteer basis, but perhaps the skills are not the greatest. Again there is a choice to be made between the volunteer with lesser skills and the paid worker with more developed ones.

Does this help answer your question at all?

PMagness said...


Cheryl is a wonderful painter. There is, as always, much to see and appreciate in her illustration.

But allow me to accent this by pointing to something: you were "floored" that folks were paying $200-500 to be in band or choir. I presume you are floored at the actual payment, rather than the menas (in most places, people pay that through tuition or taxes, but the result is the same.)

My response is simple: "Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be."

Thanks be to God there are still people left in this culture who appreciate the art of music.

If all music was avocational, our lives would be much poorer.

Cheryl said...

"Cheryl is a wonderful painter."

Okay, honey, are you saying I'm long-winded? My guess is that if you measured our verbal output on a given day you would beat me by a mile. :-)

I'm also a pretty good proofreader. Phillip meant to write "means" in his comment rather than "menas." :-)

I forgot to comment on the pollworker thing. I think that is again a reflection of the necessity of someone to do that job. Volunteers can volunteer to do something, and then they can turn around and unvolunteer themselves. Someone who is getting paid is not as likely to back out. And having judges to run elections is essential. Paying them also reflects the higher level of responsibility they have. Volunteers can't be held accountable to the extent someone who is paid can. Also, just like with jury duty, someone who is working an election may be losing other compensation in order to do so.

Re: the cost of music--$200-500 for a year of music instruction sounds pretty reasonable to me. A student in my piano studio ends up paying me more than that for a year of lessons. With band and choir there may not be private instruction, but there are other costs, such as instrument rental and maintenance and such. If the band or choir is going to go to contest, there are fees associated with that. There is the need for conductors and accompanists. It bugs me that school districts these days are charging extra fees for things like music and art and books and athletics when they are taking in so much money already and they are top heavy with bureaucracy. But in isolation, I think it's reasonable to expect to pay for music instruction.