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March 2, 2010
Vol. X, No. 3

"The Good, the Bad, and the Obvious"
I received an email recently and, to be honest, I thought it was just another joke making the rounds. But after re-reading it a couple of times and checking it out with Google, it appears to be legit. My skepticism stemmed from the big bold letters of the headline: "AMERICAN GUILD OF ORGANISTS AND JOHANNUS ORGELBOUW LTD ANNOUNCE JOINT PARTNERSHIP TO SUPPORT THE PART-TIME CHURCH MUSICIAN."

I was so excited. I couldn't wait to read further to find out when I'd be getting my check and how big it would be! But then I read the sub-headline, the letters a bit smaller: "AGO National Council Appoints New Task Force to Focus Attention on the Needs of Part-Time Church Musicians with Generous Support Provided by Johannus Orgelbouw Ltd."

Now, that didn't sound nearly so promising. Sounds more like instead of getting a stack of money I might only be getting some "attention." Not that there's anything wrong with attention, mind you, but I can pretty much get attention anytime I want. On my own, thank you. No, I liked the first idea better. So I kept on reading, hoping they changed their mind back. But alas, it wasn’t to be.

I think I can save that Task Force a whole lot of trouble. What's a part-time organist need? I'll tell them right now. Food, clothing, and a place to live. Pretty simple, right? But what that really boils down to is a livable wage. I don't think you need to write a big check to some fancy market research firm only to find out that most organists are poor and could probably make more money greeting at Walmart. Have you ever noticed how the upper end of the AGO salary guidelines keeps going up but the bottom end not so much? Personally I don't believe organists should make less than ministers but I'm probably all alone on that one.

If we really wanted to go crazy with the wish list, what organists need most beyond the basics is respect from their employers, which is often in short supply. Maybe then the money would follow. An excellent use of that "generous funding" might be to educate the clergy on how much effort is required to learn a Bach fugue.

But there are other good ways to spend that money. How about a fund to shore up organists who have been wrongfully terminated. How about using the money to underwrite the cost of AGO dues, so that part-time musicians can actually afford to belong. I've spoken to some who don't read TAO because they can't afford to. But I guess HQ will find all that out once they hear back from the guys who will be spending their money.

If it was up to me, my dream use for that generous funding would be to lobby Congress to establish tax-free status for church organists. Let’s hear it for separation of church and state! Now that's something that could really make a difference in the wallet of church organists. I'm not really sure why we're in a different class than clergy as far as the IRS is concerned but it's nothing that a big wad of cash can't solve.

In the end, it seems to me that the only real winner in all this is Johannus. Nice PR move. And let's not forget all that "good will" heading Johannus' way. That will be some tax break. They'll be selling digital organs like hotcakes. Or iPods. Anyway, just one last thing. Once the money is spent on finding out what part-time organists need, where's the money going to come from to fill those needs? I mean, they are going to send us money, aren't they? Don't be sending me no AGO coffee mug full of nothing but a lot of good wishes. I need to eat!

The latest entry of Susan Burkhalter's "Organists' News" has been posted. Sue's topics this month are (1) SATIRE ON CHRISTMAS NEWSLETTERS, (2) E. POWER BIGGS’ TWO PERFORMANCES OF SAME PIECE, SIMULTANEOUSLY LISTENED TO:

Added is a joke on the Mozart Effect.

Have a great week!

Dan Long

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