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Job Interview Questions - And Answering Them

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  • Job Interview Questions - And Answering Them

    I'm having an informal conversation with a local church about their opening for a part-time pianist/organist position. The person with whom I'm speaking has asked me questions that, based on my experience to date, namely being in the 4th year of my first church job, are somewhat puzzling to me. I'm hoping for some background and context and suggestions from people here.

    1. One question was - how do I approach congregational singing? I'm not quite sure what is meant by that. Hymns are congregational singing - they are _the_ congregational singing in the church I play at. I ask our choir to consider themselves as leaders of all congregational singing, and because we are small in number in both choir and congregation, I ask the choir to forego singing parts in favor of singing the melody and therefore helping the congregation with their part, the melody.

    But this is more the domain, I'd think, of the choir conductor, and this church has a choir conductor. I approach congregational singing as just that. I'm not sure what's being asked.

    2. I've been asked to say what sources I use for finding organ music, specifically prelude, postlude, and offertory. I use the Internet, and I've used the help of the good members of this forum. I periodically visit ebay,, sheetmusicplus, and other sites, and I look for organ music, given that I'm still new to organ playing, is relatively easy, and I pick out pieces I like that I think I can play well, and I practice them, and I play them in church for preludes and postludes. (We do our anthem during the offertory, so there is no need for separate music. For communion, I usually improvise on classical guitar, sometimes on the organ or piano, and sometimes I'll play a printed piece of music.)

    3. I've been asked what my experience is in preparing music for the church's holiest days, and again, I confess to being somewhat puzzled. In my current church, music for special holidays has always been choral music, and therefore selected mostly by the choir director.

    There were a few other questions, but those I am able to answer.

    Your insights as to what's being asked, and why, would be helpful to me, and you have my thanks in advance for your time in replying.


  • #2

    We cannot accurately answer your questions because we also do not know the intent of the questioners. Just be honest, ask for clarification, and then answer based on what you know to be true. The answers I read appeared to be good answers, so I hope that's what you were asking about.

    Best on the interview/application.

    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos


    • #3
      A lot of the questions ( and the answers ) are kinda dependent on things we really don't know here. What a church is looking for in an organist varies on a bunch of factors. Denomination is one for sure. The size and musical sophistication of the current music department is another. The size and musical abilities of the congregation enters in too.

      And of course ( for us organists ) is what sort and size of organ is there. Some music just won't work well on a tiny organ after all. Some churches realize that; others may not.

      What is your approach to congregational singing is an interesting question for them to ask. It sounds like perhaps their current singing is not real vigorous. But again, I find that is a denominational thing.

      Question 2 seems to me to be very odd. Pretty much everyone is aware of the resources available with the Internet these days, so it is not like the old days where you had to make regular ( and time consuming ) visits to the music store to find things.

      Question 3 is to my mind is another potentially loaded question. Are you going to be expected to select hymns for the Holiest days ? If so, do you understand the church year well enough ? Is it a liturgical church ? Do you currently play for a similar church ? One thing I always try to do is make the hymn intros bigger on the festival days. Maybe not a whole choral prelude, but parts of one work good a lot of times.

      Here is one thing to keep in mind in any job interview : You are interviewing them, as much as they are interviewing you. A good fit between both of you makes life much easier.
      Regards, Larry

      At Home : Yamaha Electones : EX-42 ( X 3 !!! ), E-5AR, FX-1 ( X 2 !! ), US-1, EL-25 ( Chopped ). Allen 601D, ADC 6000D. Lowrey CH32-1. At Churches I play for : Allen Q325 ( with Vista ), Allen L123 ( with Navigator ). Rodgers 755. 1919 Wangerin 2/7 pipe organ.


      • #4
        I agree with the above. Do ask questions yourself! If they are currently dissatisfied in some way with their music program, they may be looking at you as a "savior" of the program, and possibly fishing for your thoughts on what might be wrong with "music today" and how you would go about fixing it. If that's their intent, you should at least know it. And find out if there is 100% agreement within the church on any needed changes. You don't need to walk into a situation where there is trouble brewing!
        *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!


        • #5
          After reading @myorgan's response to my post, I just went ahead and answered the questions to the best of my ability, e.g., I talked about how I rehearse and perform hymns at my current church. My responses seem to have been well-received and I'm apparently now in motion from the first-line person to the search committee. Part of my reason for applying, even though I'm happy where I am, is that we don't have much in the way of a "program" where I am - it's hymn singing, anthem singing, and a few special pieces for Easter and Christmas. The job is actually more limited where I'm applying but that's because more people are involved in the music making and the music making is more involved, e.g., I saw string players and hired solo singers, thing I don't and won't see where I am now.

          This forum has been a very good resource for me as I navigate what was an unfamiliar universe only a few short years ago. My thanks to you all.



          • #6
            I've had many job interviews in my multiple careers over the years, but none were church-related. In all honesty, I fell flat on my face when going into an interview relying on my own merits. When asking first for help from God, the interviews have always gone (surprisingly) very well for both parties.

            I pray that I won't have to do this again soon, but all my coworkers are jumping ship and my day may be coming.
            Last edited by KC9UDX; 04-14-2019, 12:33 AM. Reason: Spell corrector going overboard as per usual


            • #7
              Organist selection committees and the resulting interviews are more reactionary (IME) than in many other sectors of employment. Whatever was perceived 'wrong' with the outgoing musician becomes fodder for the criterion list for the next musician that church chooses. So the interview questions may not always 'make sense when looked at objectively'. A church I know of was fined rather heavily by CCLI because their musician made a lot of illegal copies of copyrighted material. Do you think, going forward, they are going to inquire where their next musician gets his repertoire? You betcha.

              Yesterday was "Easter Sunday" and the Sunday before was "Palm Sunday". Technically, Palm Sunday is a 'get out of jail free' Sunday for many musicians because Easter Sunday is the one that everyone has their eye on. I had my choir prepared with three anthems for each of those Sundays, brought in a guest percussionist for Palm Sunday and a guest conductor for Easter Sunday. There were people in attendance at both Sundays from churches I had worked at before who knew that their own churches would not have anything comparable. I'm not any better than my colleagues but I have been doing this Church Music stuff for a very long time. That is both a good thing and a bad thing. If you have been around for a long time and can't get your head around Chris Tomlin or Michael W. Smith, that's not a great thing. If you have been around for a long time and are always growing, then your church has the best of both worlds. Who knows, they might even appreciate it.

              Because you can never know exactly what a church has been through with their last musician its hard to have any strategy for the interview process. Just be yourself, if it is meant to be, it will. If not, then not. I applied for, but was not chosen for, a church position in easy walking distance from my home, that was paying (IMO) an outrageously generous compensation for a single service and choir rehearsal. I got a phone interview but was never invited to a formal audition. I knew the incumbent and knew I was tons better but the selection committee obviously didn't think so. Six months later I was hired by my present position. Its 15 miles away but it has a TONS better instrument but only 1/3 the salary of the closer position. But they love me and after yesterday I think that has only increased, if that's possible. Go figure.


              • #8
                I was fortunate to know both the retired and soon to be retired organist in my new parish. In fact, I called the organist emeritus and asked "what is going on and why is Joyce wanting to leave?" It was explained that Joyce was at the prime of her organ playing and now wanted to end that career and spend more time with immediate family, and be able to travel more often with her husband. I submitted my intention letter to the church, actually delivered it in person, and met the interim pastor in the office, who immediately recognized me and invited me into his office for a short chat. An audition/interview time was set up and I had about 10 minutes to 'shake hands' with an organ I had never before seen, or heard. The audition went well ... and they had me play several hymns at sight, including playing the accompaniment part for a choral anthem that I had never seen before. Half way through the choral anthem reading one of the committee members came over to the piano and whisked away the piece of music and said "Ok, you certainly know what you are going!" The interview was two-way. I was able to ask questions as well. One week later I received a telephone call from the interim pastor and asked me if I would accept the position at "X" amount of dollars for a salary. I accepted; he then returned to the church council with my verbal acceptance.

                It was a major move for me as I had been in my previous parish for 34 years. The old parish was certainly stunned when I presented my resignation - the pastor had tears in his eyes, as did many parishioners and choir members. After a much well deserved "roast" and reception following my last Sunday of services I made the transition to the new church, a much larger church with 1,300 members. That was in September 2016 and the membership has risen by 75 more each year since.

                Best advice is to be yourself ... don't put on fake airs ... any committee will see right through those in a heartbeat. I absolutely love my new position now with three services, one of which is on piano for a Saturday 5pm service. Then my two services on Sunday morning at 8:00am and 9:15am, then home sipping iced tea by 10:35am. It's the 2nd largest ELCA Lutheran parish in our region. They have been wonderful to me and I have earned their respect ... I was virtually unknown to most of them when I took this position. Just me, being me, in a normal fashion, has won their praise and respect. I'm far from perfect ... but this church lets me know that I'm perfect for them.

                This last church position will be my last. It will be from this parish that I will retire from playing. For me the best was saved for the last, whenever that will be. I've been a church organist/recitalist for 58+ years and at present have no intention of retiring. As long as the feet and toes continue to wiggle and hit most of the right notes, I'll keep playing.

                Another wonderful part of my present church position is location. It's just 2.5 miles from our house. Less than a 5 minute drive either way! It's the closest I've ever lived to a church where I was employed.


                • #9
                  Thanks for everyone for their comments thus far. I am pleased with how I presented myself - satisfied might be a better word. Either way, I feel I have given a full and honest idea of who I am, and am now waiting to hear what, if anything, else might happen.



                  • #10
                    Best of everything, Steve, and I sincerely hope that everything goes well if you get the new position.