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Paid singers in church?

Many belated thanks to all those who responded to my plea for the group's
collective wisdom on paying singers in church choirs! Our situation has
happily resolved itself (for now) without any change in our present
arrangement. But, the exercise has been helpful - though somewhat painful -
in getting my thoughts more clearly together, and distributing them to some
key people in the at least some of the lay leadership are more
informed about the value of the paid singers we have, and of the possibile
downside of reducing or eliminating them.

Following are some of the responses I received...many of them say similar
things, and all were well thought out, but I wanted to keep the messages the
way I received them!

Thanks again to the members of the are a GREAT resource!

Peter DuBois
Director of Music/Organist
Third Presbyterian Church
Rochester, NY

Besides all of the usual reasons for professionals (education of the choral
members, leading the volunteers, being a professional example, dependability,
continuous reliable output of the choir, and beautiful SOUND), we should pay
professional singers simply because they deserve it. They deserve the same
respect any professional instrumentalist gets. Volunteers are important and
wonderful. AND so are the professionals who command decent pay for their years
of study and hard work.

1) They are always there and therefore you can plan accordingly.

2) The volunteer singers learn their music more quickly and feel more
knowing they can depend on the professionals.

3) You can perform more challenging, more rewarding music.

My husband subscribes to choralist, and I happened to read your message.
Here is my perspective, as a trained and talented amateur. Our own church
choir has 8 leads, and a number of other people who are both experienced and
educated--studio music teachers and school music teachers, as well as some
who trained in music and then walked other paths. A question that is
sometimes raised around our place is, "with all these talented people
willing to sing for free, why do you need paid singers?"

1) The trained amateurs in our choir have demanding professions which
sometimes intrude on Thursdays and Sundays. They can't achieve 100%
attendance--80% is more like it, in a good year. With professional singers,
you are buying Thursday nights and Sunday mornings, thereby guaranteeing

2) The trained amateurs' expectations are high because of their education.
Our church choir has been a satisfying experience for them precisely because
of these eight professional leads who keep the choir's achievements at a
high level. If the choir loses its leads and the overall standard drops
somewhat, some of the trained amateurs may become frustrated and leave as
well. They appreciate the quality that the professional leads contribute.

3) Our society is mobile, and people's families are scattered. Having paid
singers gives you the assurance of quality over Christmas and Easter, when
some of your good unpaid singers may be out of town with their families.

#1 They fill in the holes when the volunteers can't negotiate the various

#2 There are far fewer restrictions to you the person selecting the proper
literature for worship. Can't begin to count the times that I made a second
choice because we didn't have the voices.

#3 The security that paid section members provide to a volunteer choir is
very substantial.

#4 In this day and age the trained singers needed in a volunteer church
situation are going down/up different pathways. They don't want to sing with
bunch of limited in ability singers. Those better voice folks sing with
symphony choruses, strong community choirs, small select ensembles rather
the church choir. The musically strong church choir draws the musically
choir participants. During my forty years of active church music leadership
there were many fine singers that were members of the congregation who decided
to not make a commitment to the ongoing church choir program. They frequently
said " Call me when you have a special need where I can help out. BUT I don't
want to be there week after week "

Here is my rationale for having paid singers:

1. A paid singer provides consistency to the section. Volunteers have
competing obligations of job travel or family commitments which may
legitimately take them away from the choir on occasion. Without the paid
anchor, the balance of sections may be compromised, or even the viability of
the selected anthems.

2. A paid singer is a resource to the choir, providing (one hopes) a model
of good vocal technique, professional attitude, and musical phrasing.

3. The choir learns the music faster with a solid anchor, and can produce a
higher level of music-making to edify the congregation and contribute to the

Having pro section leaders does the following for my choir:

Gives them confidence, helps them to learn their parts more quickly.
Good section leaders help their specific voice part in tonal production and
give tips on technique.
Ensures that if key volunteers are not present, that at least you have a
strong singer in a section
THe church hires other pros--ministers, musicians, sec'ys, etc. If music is
important, then why not pro singers?
If a church choir sounds better because of the pro voices, more people will
want to come on board as volunteers. Nobody wants to sing in a mediocre choir.
In these times, when people are so busy with all their work/family stuff,
it's difficult to get volunteers to commit fully. Pros must commit--they're
Boy choir members were always paid something.
God doesn't mind people getting paid to make great music.
Michelangelo was hired to paint the Sistine Chapel, and he had helpers.
Hope this helps, and good luck. It's an ongoing battle. I'dbe interested in
the replies.
Paid section leaders:

Insure a consistent quality of music in worship regardless of the comings
and goings of volunteer choir members.

Give confidence to the volunteer members with their strength of musicianship
and sightsinging skills, thus attracting more volunteers to the group.

Make it possible to bring more challenging repertoire into worship,
answering the priority for the highest possible quality of musical art to be
placed as an offering before God.

High quality music (on a more mundane level) will without any doubt attract
a larger congregation and therefore support itself financially. Maybe you
should put in for a paid orchestra as well!

Best of blessings and good luck on your quest!
At First Presbyterian in Bakersfield, California a similar question
recently arose regarding our "scholarship" singers. My predecessors and I
have always been careful to limit ourselves to using college and
university music majors in these positions, so our situation may not be
analagous, but for what it is worth here's the jist of our argument in
favor of "employing" students in this way. Just as we have interns in
Christian education and youth work, we have section leader/soloists in
music ministry. Many of those students who cut their teeth as leaders in
our choir have gone on to become music ministers and professional soloists
in local churches. The Pastor, Elders, and volunteer choir members all
understood and supported this rationale.

on November 8, 2002 10:00pm
Absolutely. I made it clear when taking my current position that we would, within a reasonable time,hire paid section leaders. We are now in our second season with the section leaders in place. It is clear to the choir and to the leaders that these positions are educational and support positions. They are not the paid soloists who come sing the anthem and then read a magazine during the services.

Our most talented amateur singers love having the support. Their worship would be significantly impaired if our leaders were not their. The whole choir loves singing better.

The largest fear in our choir was that some of those singers who like to do solos from time to time would be displaced. We have allayed that fear by continuing to use our talented amateurs in leadership and solo roles.
on January 1, 2003 10:00pm
I am music chairperson of my church and a member of the adult choir. I have had several discussions on this topic with our music director/choir director. She and I are of the opinion that while professional singers would enhance the over all sound, the damage done to the morale of the 24 "amateur" choristers would not be worth the price. We feel our people are faithful in attendance at rehearsals. Most take additional time at home to work on the music. Some have, at their own expense, taken vocal lessons. This is not to say that we haven't brought in a professional on several occasions such as a Vesper Service or a Palm Sunday service, but it is the exception rather than the rule. It seems to work fine for us.
on March 3, 2003 10:00pm
This is a very touch subject! But I do not understand why. When I was in college pursuing my BM in voice, I was fortunate to be a paid tenor soloist at a local Episcopal Church. The church has a small, but very ambitious choir that did great music the required skilled singers. Now as a director myself I understand the importance of the paid section leaders.

If the organist, pianist and choir director is paid according to their degrees or experience, why should the person who has a degree in voice be compensated for their professional and academic experiences as well?

I actually had a choir member quit the choir. She supported me getting section leaders, but because I hired a soprano her feathers got a bit ruffled. In my opinion, I think this is very childish.

Paid singers have a place in the church just as well as we pay other musical leadership.
on March 31, 2003 10:00pm
My name is Novuyo a coodinator for Voices of Praise. I was excited to read your atticle. Voices of Praise is agroup of 12 members from Africa We sing church music. May you please help us find a sponser we sing all over. Especial Choral music. Hope to hear from you soon.
on April 10, 2003 10:00pm
I am a paid 'ringer'. I was a volunteer singer as a boy soprano, and, when my voice changed, as a baritone/tenor in high school. When I went to college, I was asked by the Episcopal church in town to be their tenor section leader in their men and boys choir. I got paid $5.00 a service that included a Wednesday evening rehersal. That experience gave me the confidence and taste of professionalism that I needed as a hopeful, future professional singer. I learned how to act as a professional. Promptness, preparedness and enjoying the great music. I absolutely love singing with people who share my love of sacred music. I now sing for a living. I DON'T charge as much as some of my other friends, but I get more than twice as much work between opera gigs. I try to have a steady church job each year. I agree with the person who compared singers with the other paid church professions; the minister, secretary, etc. Florists charge for their flowers, plumbers for their expertise, instrumentalists for their contributions and, yes, singers should get paid for theirs. Again, I LOVE singing with church choirs.
on October 4, 2003 10:00pm
Kings David and Solomon saw the necessity for paying singers and musicians as full-time employees of the temple. These people were most likely married and had families to support. They were paid full-time salaries and their daily labors were directed toward preparation for worship and praising the Lord. Centuries later, Nehemiah continued what David had begun regarding paid singers. More centuries later, the apostle Paul stresses that those who labor in the Lord's service are worthy to be paid. There are many scriptures that address the issuse.
on April 26, 2004 10:00pm
I am an untrained choir member. I have served under two different choir directors; one had paid singers, and one does not. Now, I still love choir and it is my favorite thing that I do, but I long for the days when we had "ringers" in our choir.
on July 20, 2004 10:00pm
I have worked for five years in a professional Quartet singing the Main Mass for the Cathoilic Cathedral. I can tell you that we take our job very seriously. I myself am not religious, although I grew up singing in a men and boys church choir.
I believe that like stained glass was put into a church to represent what an artist's "vision" of heaven is. It is meant to transport people from the everyday to somewhere sacred. The music is the same and meant to transport people to somwhere serene...I have heard many church choirs that have transported me alright... they made me wish I had a video camera for america's funniest home videos.
The use of music in Liturgy should be for the benefit of the whole congregation, and not for the 10 dear sweet singers, who have been there for 40 years, but have lost the edge. I am not saying that all amature church choirs are like that. It just makes me angry that singers are not taken seriously enough to pay them for years of training that it takes one to gain the skills to be a professional.
on October 6, 2004 10:00pm
I am a trained singer who has served as a paid cantor in the Catholic church for over ten years.

I am currently looking for a church position near Jacksonville Florida.

My email is as follows

Thank you sincerely,

Patricia Alberson

on January 27, 2005 10:00pm
I am lucky to be the choir director in a RC church in Bethesda, MD. where we have had a paid quartet for over 30 years (I've been director for 27) volunteers (about 35 of them!) who have a WIDE variety of skill levels have never felt any anymosity towards the paid people - and to boot, many have been non-Catholic and non-Christian - and indeed have a great respect and love for them. that paid quartet guarantees a "core" sound that has attracted these many volunteers, who - being a pretty sophisticated group - want solid choral literature, not pap

thanks for this reinforcement of my beliefs (I'm pretty sure just what we bring in on Easter probably pays their salary for the year!)
on February 2, 2005 10:00pm

When I was in the Cleveland area, I often was paid to sing for services at different places. I always enjoyed singing for services. On one occassion a music director decided that we would sing from
the messiah on the morning of the service without any practice. I don't think that she noticed we didn't have any tenors, but I noticed and the other paid baritone sang bass while I sang the tenor line. After the service, the director came to me and said that she'd completely forgotten that none of her tenors were there until she'd started playing.

She was ready for a musical disaster, but was extremely relieved to have had the part present. This is just another example of why it makes sense to have paid singers. Professionals sing often and in all kinds of situations.

on January 4, 2006 10:00pm
I have sung and accompanied in both paid and volunteer contexts, and those who know me know that I am an annoyingly picky musician; so I philosophize on this concept from that of one who highly respects excellence and who believes that the worker is worthy of his hire. That said, I do have mixed feelings about having paid singers in a church choir. If it happens, it must be done very carefully. I agree that with paid singers (and highly skilled volunteers)the sound is perhaps better, but sound is only one aspect of sacred music. It has nothing to do with money; it's attitude. Indeed the Old Testament refers to paid singers and to playing skilfully and to the importance of high-quality music in worship. However, these people were already part of that faith community. When someone comes in as a paid singer without becoming part of that group spiritually as well, it all too easily changes the dynamics and focus of the choir. Too often I have seen the paid singers expect to be the dominant influence musically, but, while striving for excellence is importance at whatever level of competence, it should never override the priority of worship. Trained musicians too often think that choir practice is just about practicing the music, so they can just show up at the last minute and run through the anthem; unfortunately the very fact of being a professional musician makes it difficult to not place musicianship first. It's not just preparing the voice; it's about preparing the heart. Anyone who is a paid singer, at his home church or another, must be very careful to maintain the humble attitude that(especially if he is not part of that body of faith) he is there to enhance WORSHIP, not present a performance; he must not draw attention to himself but must humbly serve the volunteers, help them learn their parts and gain confidence, and undergird them from a less prominent position. This is no place for ego. Paid singers may have great skill, but in truth the great privilege is that of being a part of an entity existing solely for the purpose of glorifying the Living God. As beautiful as the music may sound to the human ear, it is secondary; it pales in comparison to the beauty of a spirit who has tuned his heart to sing His praise.
on November 8, 2006 10:00pm
As a boy chorister and teenager I was paid for church choir. Singing in churches as a paid singer while in college literally put food on my table. In those days there were lots of boychoirs who needed men who could sing alto, so I never lacked work.

Now as an adult countertenor in a mixed choir, I have always been a volunteer singer, and in fact, I always contribute money to the choir budget to give young people the same opportunity I had to get help with my educational expenses. I've found that if you contribute to the budget you get some input on the repertoire and get some solo opportunities that might not otherwise happen.
on July 11, 2007 10:00pm
I have been a professional singer/musician in the music industry for 10 years. I have been a volunteer vocalist on our worship team for 3 years now. Our congregation is international and my home church where I worship has approximately 10,000 in attendance each weekend.

With so many lives being affected by our services it is imperative that we do our very best. Our vocalist and musicians are some of the best in the state and the music industry. We hold auditions, but all vocalist are volunteers. Guest artist who travel to our congregation are paid.

Our main duty as worshippers is to lead our congregation in worshipping God. Solo or "special" songs during service may come across as entertainment. However, our responsibility is to glorify God.

For me personally, I feel that God has blessed me with a gift and enabled me to be developed into the singer that I am today. I have been educated by wonderful instructors and have performed in places most only dream of.

Singing whole heartedly to God, being an example of true worship to others and not "putting on a show" is one of the best ways that I can give back to God for all that he has done for me.

Imagine all the things He can do for you, to pay you for your service to Him.

on July 21, 2007 10:00pm
In my opinion, it is just and right that all who have put in years, and hundreds or thousands of dollars, into education and training for their present service in God's Kingdom, be amply and consistently paid for their work, whether that worker be preacher, choir director/organist, church secretary OR professional soloist/section leader. In the Book of Nehemiah, it is pointed out that the singers be paid every day their portion of the frankincense, meat offerings, tithes of the corn, vessels, new wine and oil, and that this was a commandment of their king (Neh. 11:23, 12:47 and 13:5). Today, it would be the dollar equivalent of all those above-mentioned items, all of which are costly and expensive).

Yes, we staff singers are singing for the Lord, but my Bible tells me that He is not a cheap Father. Also, based upon the positive reaction and support that the paid soloists receive from the ministerial staff and congregation at Atlanta's North Avenue Presbyterian Church, all involved seemed to be blessed by the music ministry.
on January 30, 2008 10:00pm
This question is easily answered from a Roman Catholic perspective because the Vatican documents cover all the relevant issues in detail. Pope John Paul II stated the Roman Catholic position on the proper recognition and just remuneration of trained workers many times, and of course this includes Catholic Church musicians who are professionally qualified and commissioned by the clergy for their roles. I am fully trained as a Roman Catholic Cantor (I hold the STB - Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology, and the Archbishops' Certificate in Church Music(UK) and I was commissioned by Cardinal Basil Hume), and I combine professional Cantor engagements with my volunteer Chorister commitment, under the fine music direction of the Cathedral Organist, Bernard Kirkpatrick. This seems to me the best way to contribute to Roman Catholic worship generously, while not sacrificing musical standards. All organists engaged by the Cathedral are paid professionals. In an ideal world of course all trained Church musicians would be paid a salary, but with the currently restricted financial support for Church music in Australia we have to deal with realities. Our amateur volunteer Choristers receive generous public recognition from the Church for a regular and consistent commitment to the Cathedral Music Ministry, and they have formed a strong team. Since we have both amateurs and paid professionals serving in the Music Ministry at St Patrick's, and education programs in Roman Catholic Church Music are still in their infancy in Australia, issues and misunderstandings do arise from time to time. But since we desperately need the help of competent professional musicians to develop the ministry, these are few and far between.
on July 20, 2008 10:00pm
I've just ran across this website and have enjoyed reading the comments for and against having paid singers in church choirs. Our church currently does not use paid singers, but I can certainly see the benefits of having strong, consistent choir members to assist those of us who just love to sing but can't read a note of music. Our choir, which at one time had about 60 members a few years ago, has dwindled down to about 1 to 2 dozen, if that sometimes. Sometimes we don't even have one of one voice (no tenor or no alto). From a personal standpoint (and I've talked with other choir members who feel the same way), I'm timid and afraid to sing out if I'm unsure of the notes, etc... but if I happen to sit next to someone with a good (accurate!) voice belonging to someone who does read music, I'm bold and courageous! And that (bold & courageous) is evident in the overall choir performance. And if the choir is 'good', then that encourages others to want to be part of it. If it's just mediocre, well, that doesn't exactly make congregants want to become a part of that ministry. I would be in favor of paid singers if our church could afford them. I do get discouraged when I look out into the congregation and see at least half a dozen who have excellent voices and could sing in the choir (and have in the past) sitting 'out there' instead of 'up here'! I guess it happens in every church; but it sure is frustrating, especially when the choir is down to a dozen people!