Menu Close

Coming to an Agreement

The Employment Agreement

It is in the interest of both the employing institution and the musician to prepare a written agreement at the time of employment. The agreement should clearly reflect the expectations of both the employing institution and the musician as related to the position.

Benefits to the Employer

As the institution prepared a job description for the search process, it itemized the key responsibilities of the position. These duties state how the institution expects its employee to perform in the position. The institution should render these expectations in writing and establish a regular process to evaluate the employee’s performance.

Benefits to the Musician

An employment agreement sets out the duties the musician is expected to perform and gives a regular method of evaluation during the term of employment. The agreement lays out how the institution will supervise the employee and the music program, letting the musician know to whom he/she is responsible. It also states what the employer is willing to provide in terms of benefits to the employee.

For both the employer and the musician, statements may be included that outline the proceedings for terminating the employment relationship, protecting the interests of both in the process.

The employment contract with the musician should be considered fiduciary-one of utmost good faith and fair dealing, both in terms of hiring and termination.Employment of the musician should be maintained on the basis of the highest ethical standards commensurate with those in the secular community. While most professionals in the field of sacred music come to that field because of a deep and sincere personal religious faith, and by nature of the position they seek to hold with a church or synagogue will be intrinsically involved in the expression of that faith, personal beliefs, religious testing criteria, or opinion-probing may be totally inappropriate in the selection of a church or synagogue musician. At the same time, the musician should be expected to have an understanding of and an appreciation for the religious beliefs and rituals of the church or synagogue with which he or she seeks employment. [1]

In the work of musicians in religious institutions, the tasks at hand tend to dominate relations between the institution’s staff and the employee. Those tasks include planning for worship, arranging schedules of activities for the institution, preparing for rehearsals, and conducting rehearsals, programs, and services. There is rarely an opportunity in this relationship for the musician and his/her supervisors(be it a minister or committee member) to discuss the details related to the employment agreement (such as benefits, vacations, salary, working conditions, and so forth). Yet, these are important components of a working relationship. Both the employing institution and the musician should render the details of the employment agreement in writing at the outset of the working relationship, and this agreement, as well as all aspects of the job, should be reviewed on a regular basis.

An annual performance review, based on items to which both parties have agreed, provides a timer for an evaluation of the working conditions and employment agreement.The musician and employing institution are guaranteed at least one time a year when they will sit down and discuss the progress of the music program in the previous year and the future employment needs of the musician and the program needs of the institution.

Keeping an open line of communication about employment matters is healthy for the building of trust in the relationship between the institution and the musician.Early identification of stresses in the relationship may allow problems to be worked through before they become so major that termination or resignation are perceived as the only solutions.[2]

The Professional Concerns Committee of the Orange County AGO Chapter is available to assist institutions and musicians in establishing the nurturing dialog related to the development of employment agreements. Please do not hesitate to direct your questions to us at XXX-XXX-XXXX.

An example of an employment agreement is provided in this booklet. Exhibit A represents a simplified contract model. In the most basic sense, it lays out the duties of the musician and the benefits offered by the employer. It provides some termination language and guarantees an annual review. It will require the musician and employing institution to adapt the documents for their own circumstances.

These are only models. They should be tailored to each institution’s and musician’s situation.More examples of employment agreements are offered by denominational music associations and the national office of the American Guild of Organists. The Orange County Chapter and the American Guild of Organists assume no responsibility for members or institutions using our agreement models. By using our models, individuals and institutions agree to hold harmless the Orange County Chapter and the American Guild of Organists from any legal action deriving therefrom.


  1. “Points of Consideration for Churches and Church Musicians,” New Hampshire AGO Chapter (17 October 1983),The American Organist, January 1985, p. 56.
  2. Please refer to the Professional Concerns Forum, pp.26-32, published in the December 1994 issue of The American Organist for a thorough discussion of the communication issues involved in employment relationships. In this discussion of the working relationship between institutions and musicians in sacred music, both parties are reminded of the many reasons the negotiation of an employment agreement is valuable and are given excellent examples of ways to nurture a healthy, long-term association.