Feeling horribly disrespected

April 16, 2012 at 03:38 PM · Hello All. I started back playing several years ago after a long time away from the violin. After some solid practice over time I I signed on with a local church as a member of their ensemble consisting of violin, flute, guitars, piano, voice etc. It offered no compensation and I was glad to do it to get some solid experience. Since then I have improveded almost to the point where I was and that was a very high level

So last Sunday, I entered the church to find two professional musicians sitting in the pit area. One a cello, the other a violin. Both I know and they are excellet, but the violinist is no better than I and does not have my sound.

I was dismayed that both were given solo work while I sat. I must say I was very hurt and embarresed with this situation. After the service several people come up to me and wondered why that happened. I had no answer except to be professional and deflect the questions. The Musical Minister told me by e-mail he had done this in the past to add a little color on special occations. Am I nuts or do I have a reason/right to be feeling the way I do? Ithink I have not followed the advise I have given to othes....i.e Our value is in direct proportion to our compensation. I joined the local last week. No more freebees.........Any comments? Advise?

Replies (27)

April 16, 2012 at 03:46 PM · It appears from your post that you were not informed beforehand. This was disrespectful unless you were aware that the Musical Director did this periodically, and, even then, you should have been given notice that this was one of those days. Someone else who does this more will have to answer your other questions.

April 16, 2012 at 04:50 PM · By 'last Sunday' I assume you mean Easter Sunday? That is always a time when all sorts of things happen--special music, different ceremonies. I agree that you should have been informed, but people don't always think. My guess, no disrespect was intended, just the minister adding people for the festivity of Easter (and it would not be possible to invite someone in from outside and NOT give them the solos).

If you are a seen as a member of the church, the music minister may think you give your services as part of your 'tithe,' as a gift to the community of your talent, and not realize how you might feel by having a 'professional' from outside come in...that's how it's handled in a lot of the places I go to as an outsider (where I've met and worked with people from within the church who are hurt like you have been by the insensitivity of the person in charge.) In the churches where I 'belong' I don't get paid, or expect to--and I, too, have been upset by outsiders brought in at Christmas, Easter, etc., but that's the way it is! Churches don't follow the 'rules' of professional engagement. The 'value' one gets from playing in a church depends on the person; for some it's another job, for others, it's a service, and you need to clarify which it is for you with the music minister.

There are always tensions in communities, and churches are, first and foremost, communities. I hope you can open a good line of communication with the music minister so your connection is healthy and sustaining.

April 16, 2012 at 07:30 PM · This question is as close to a "Dear Abby" question as I have ever seen on this forum. The very fact that you've been playing pro bono for a long time probably signals to your music director that you are an amateur. He may have wanted his Easter service to be at a higher level, and he may have offered the solo parts to the hired help as a way of enticing them. Playing in a church is a good way to drum up wedding gigs, but only if people can hear you play. I can see you're a bit rankled but I would try not to read too much into the situation.

April 16, 2012 at 09:31 PM · Thank you all very much for your comments. I hope I did not seem that weepy a Dear Abby. The music director knows I have been offered professional seats in several local orchestras. She/he knows that I don't care to work at night in rehersals, etc. Also this person is aware of my background.

I have been performing pro bono there for a purpose, that is drum up business which has not occured. I am not a member of that church so it is not an issue of giving back.....And no, I was not informed they would be there.

April 16, 2012 at 10:23 PM · It's "the grass is always greener on the other side " syndrome. They don't appreciate what they have. Sometimes it's best to charge more so they think they are getting more.

April 16, 2012 at 10:23 PM ·

April 16, 2012 at 11:30 PM · Removed :-)

April 16, 2012 at 11:50 PM · I say the music minister failed miserably and deserves some kind of reprimand or firing! His action in not informing the regular members of the ensemble of his plans was disrespectful, tactless and demeaning. Shame!

April 17, 2012 at 01:32 AM · sounds like you were dissed, bad news, but you also gave several good reasons in your last post for chalking it up to experience and movin' on. Let 'em find someone else or hire you on a satisfactory basis. Don't burn bridges, tho.

April 17, 2012 at 03:40 AM · Sorry I guess I did assume you were playing at your own church. I think the thing to do is keep going, but inform the music director that you've got expenses to meet, gasoline keeps getting more dear (something to which you should be fairly sensitive with a name like Fillerup), so you've got to start charging him a nominal fee. Put the decision on him.

April 17, 2012 at 04:46 AM · I would just talk to the music minister and express my feeling to him - in a nice way. Communication is part of professionalism, you got to let the minister how you felt towards it (assumed that you never told them so, maybe just asked why they did that).

Though, I might choose another way to handle it - offer to join the session with the professionals by doubling the violin or simply just add some improvised lines, or, just sit there and observe the professionals. No matter how you think you're as good, or even better, than the player in question, you'll at least learn something from him. He doesn't have your sound, but you don't have his either.

Sorry if I'm being ignorant about your situation, but my point is to try to be positive when you face something undesirable.

April 17, 2012 at 05:12 AM · "Both I know and they are excellet, but the violinist is no better than I and does not have my sound."

One would expect that, all things being equal, that the violinist with the better sound would play the solo. So leaving aside the fact that you weren't told well in advance (an obvious faux pas), the question remains: does anyone besides you feel that you actually have a better sound than the professional? And do you possess other comparable professional skills? Meaning sight-reading, rhythmic steadiness, flexibility (such as ability to transpose up an octave, etc.), or familiarity with repertoire?

In other words, is there good reason for you to be paid equivalently? For example: if I were called to perform Messiah at a church in one hour, I could go in and do it with no practice and no rehearsal, including solos.

It's awkward at this stage to ask, especially at a church, to start being paid. I think it will be hard to do without coming off as a mercenary. I'd think the best thing would be to finish the season and then move on.

Once one is pigeon-holed as being a certain kind of player, that perception can be hard to change. That's true of anything--just ask how many aspiring photographers out there how many have difficulty making the transition from freebies for experience to actually being paid.

April 17, 2012 at 12:37 PM · I guess I have to agree with Scott that asking to be paid starting mid-season will be awkward. But at the start of the following season you can always say that your circumstances have changed.

April 17, 2012 at 03:50 PM · Thank you all for your input on this (for me) sensitive subject.

Here are some facts. I am not a religious person,however my wife is a member of that church. I am retired and well set, my wife contributes to the church in a substantial way.

A professional violinist whom I am well acquainted with who a concertmaster of three orchestras and a judge any may competions made the observation regarding my sound. She knows the other violinist. So I'm tooting my own horn here. Hope it did not sound that way.

I did tell the music guy how I felt in the most courtious way I could. No appology was offered. Also no compromise,

I have resigned and am in process of joining the local union. I am also putting together a promo package, along with demo discs and am constructing a web site. I still want to make music for people, but do not wish to have that experience again......So I hope this a possitive step...

April 17, 2012 at 03:53 PM · oops missed Scot Cole's query regarding the Messiah. Yes I could and done it many times.

April 17, 2012 at 04:38 PM · Here's an opportunity to turn this into something positive.

Speak to the music minister about this, but bring it up in this way:

Indicate you are interested in such events, and that you feel your playing is of an adequate level that you can play venues like the professional musicians. Ask him what the process is he goes through to get musicians, and how you would start getting outside gigs at other churches. Press him for any contacts he may have at other churches, or other types of assistance he could be for you to use.

At best, he could help you get similar events. At worst, at least he will be aware that you are involved at a higher level that he is apparently aware of now, and should think of you in a different manner in the future.

April 17, 2012 at 06:59 PM · Interesting post. I am a cellist with a masters degree in chamber music performance and I play in community orchestras here in my home city. I have experienced both sides of the coin being the one brought in and paid to beef up an ensemble, and also the one playing for free. Its a weird thing and sometimes hard to know what one should be feeling about it. Music directors are not always gracious about this and I have had hard feelings in both sides of the game. Keep playing music and we will all hope for a time when all musicians get reimbursement and respect for their efforts.

April 17, 2012 at 09:18 PM · Thanks all for your comments and personal e-mails.

April 19, 2012 at 10:08 PM · Unfortunately, in this profession you get valued at the price you put on yourself. In your position, I would have done exactly the same. My wife runs the choir in our local church, and occasionally I get roped in to play. I'm quite happy to do this (unpaid) but if anyone brought in somebody else and paid them, I wouldn't be seen again.

April 20, 2012 at 03:14 AM · I get calls for weddings these days, and when I turn around and tell them the rates they go crazy.

"Well, we were thinking it would be a good experience for the players."

Well, in that case, I have an exceptional quartet of fifth graders who would love to do it.

April 20, 2012 at 09:40 AM · I imagine the apposite quotation in ecclesiastically related circumstances, such as are being discussed here, would be "The labourer is worthy of his hire". If, in a particular situation, the "labourer" wishes to do it pro bono then that shouldn't be taken as a precedent for future occasions.

April 20, 2012 at 11:54 AM · Oh but it IS taken as a predicate for future unpaid gigs.

I'm no great shakes - I'm in a Community Orchestra, and I can't tell you the number of times people have approached me to say they have a job for me to play to "build up my musical experience." No thanks. Between the Conservatory, the Quartets, and my Community Orchestra, I'm getting plenty of "musical experience".

---Ann Marie

April 20, 2012 at 12:24 PM · That is a really stinky situation. Sadly, that is something I have had to deal with to. Having the professional (or when I was in high school-the older kids) get better seats than you even though you may be tecnically better. In my opinion, it is best to just wait it out, be respectful for you colleagues and relalize that your tie will come if you are patient. Best of luck with the situation!

April 22, 2012 at 11:38 PM · As I alluded earlier, unfortunately in this profession you are valued at the price you put on yourself. As another poster said, in early days I was "invited" to perform in various things "for experience". I already had quite a lot. I think my rude awakening came when I agreed to play for an amateur show "for expenses" for one of the lecturers when i was at uni. However, he'd booked a local "professional" (violin teacher) to lead. Turn up at first rehearsal - "Malcolm, will you put the chairs out" etc. Meanwhile "Miss Smith, is everything to your liking?". She was getting the full rate!. I wouldn't have minded if her playing justified it - but it turned out I already had more show experience (and probably orchestral experience) than her, and I had to carry her through the show. I learned my lesson!

April 23, 2012 at 12:15 AM · I, on the other hand, am very happy to do it for the experinence (see video link in other topic). But be aware, you get what you paid for :D

The sad thing is that in the OP's case they church did not. Frankly, I think any music director would/should be aware of such issues, know from experience that a pro-bono player may well be equal or higher in ability than a 'professional' and he/she has no excuse for this kind of boorish behaviour. The church does not deserve your generosity - and more to their loss.

April 23, 2012 at 01:08 AM · This is sounding a bit more complicated than it probably is. The church is obviously used to having a group of musicians from its own community who play without being paid. That's part of the support they give the church.

The music director is also used to bringing in other musicians when he wants more bodies around. Since by definition these other people aren't already part of the volunteer group, they have to be paid. Otherwise they'd play somewhere else that day. It really doesn't matter if they are better or worse than the volunteers.

It's also possible that they were offered solos because they had already prepared those pieces and wouldn't require much rehearsal. Again, from the music minister's point of view, that solves one problem without creating extra work.

April 25, 2012 at 01:31 PM · You behaved very wisely by "being professional and deflecting the questions" - and that's the way it should be.

As for your inner state of annoyance, that's pretty much understood - all creative goal-seeking people need the acknowledgment of their work, at least at major stages of their self-development - that's where you got none and that made you very inferiors. But you got to concentrate on your own improvement and find ways to prove that to yourself, in the first turn. All the rest is secondary.

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