The Organist's Profession
The Amateur Church Organist
One of my correspondents, living in a city in the South of somewhat less than two hundred thousand population, writes, "To the best of my knowledge most of the organ positions in towns surrounding--, having from three to six thousand inhabitants, are filled by local piano teachers, who render service gratis." In every questionnaire filled out by obliging professional friends I find that at least one out of six organists is listed as an amateur. With the amateur, as one of a species, I have no fault to find. One of the first inspirations for hard practice and self improvement in organ playing I ever received, came to me through the playing of a professional architect. He was especially gifted in improvisation; some of the people who read these words will know to whom I refer. But amateurs who give their services, however high their motives are, are no help to the organist's profession.
Salaries in Monthly Payments
In the South, and universally among picture organists the custom seems to be payment of salaries by the month. I imagine that, where this custom exists vacations are taken at the organist's expense. Readers may he left to their own reflections on this point!
The Picture Organist
I present two reports in regard to picture theatres. The first theatre is in a city in the East of commanding social and industrial importance. In this city a "Class A" house will have an orchestra, the organist being a member thereof and receiving about $45 a week. "Class B" houses have no orchestra. In all theatres there mav be three or four three-hour shows, depending on the custom of the house. Two theatres have seven hours for each organist,--there are usually two players. The Union price in this city is $5 for a three hour show. Membership in the Union is absolutely necessary, and costs $50, with $10 annual dues. Of course, gifted players are able to demand and receive better money than the minimum Union wage; in this, as in other things, business ability if associated with a high sense of one's own talents, is the factor in securing the prizes in the profession.
One item of expense in connection with a picture organist's "job" is the matter of a library. The cost of such a library is often in the thousands of dollars; songs, overtures, piano pieces, violin pieces, popular music, "jazz" tunes, etc., etc.--these must be acquired weekly or while tunes are hot, until the player has practically everything that he may possibly need. To rise in the profession one must be alert for the popular successes, not scorning, either, the best of the "high-brow" stuff. It would take several hundred dollars to put one on one's feet as a picture player if one had previously belonged to that unhappy class of musicians who never buy a piece of music (particularly if they happen to know the Composer) if there is any way out of it.
As to vacation: the picture organist has to pay for his own. He can give instruction in music, if his physical energies are not pretty well exhausted by his daily playing. It therefore seems that all a picture organist can count on in the way of income is his weekly salary.
Taking up, now, another city of about three hundred thousand population I find that there are four large theatres and fifteen smaller ones. Two of the large theatres have orchestras of 10 and 18 pieces; a fifteen-stop Wurlitzer is in one house and a thirty-stop Moller in the other. Of course, other theatres in the city have organs, but I have particulars of these two only. The weekly salaries are $75 and $60. In one case the leader of the orchestra owns the library of 2500 pieces, valued at from $500 to $600. Vacations are at the expense of the player; the Union initiation fee is $50 and dues are $8 annually. In both houses the organists play 6 hours, with two 30-minute rest periods. The theatre paying $75 seats 2800; the other, paying $60. seats 1500.
If a man can stand the routine of daily work for 50 weeks he will receive at the first house, $3750; at the second, $8000. He must pay out (according to one of my informants) at least $2 weekly for music; he has little physical or nervous energy for teaching (perhaps the most remunerative form of professional work) ; he practically lives on his salary. Analyzed in this way a picture organist's position is not. alluring. The confinement must be maddening at times, and the feeling that one is not working in music for its own sake, If a man can stand the routine of daily work for 50 weeks he will receive at the first house, $3750; at the second, $8000. He must pay out (according to one of my informants) at least $2 weekly for music; he has little physical or nervous energy for teaching (perhaps the most remunerative form of professional work) ; he practically lives on his salary. Analyzed in this way a picture organist's position is not. alluring. The confinement must be maddening at times, and the feeling that one is not working in music for its own sake,
It may be urged, in answer to this, that in every occupation there are drawbacks, and that while the movie organist may not claim exemption from the common lot of humanity, considering all things--steady work, regular hours, surety of income, protection against arbitrary treatment through membership in the powerful Musicians' Protective Union--his lot has a great deal to recommend it.