The plight of the busy church pianist

September 10, 2012 - By 

Being a church pianist can be a tough job–especially when you are the only pianist in the church. Greg Howlett wrote a great post for the busy church pianist a few years ago on this blog. Check it out, because he provides some great advice.

Truthfully, I have been blessed to be in churches where the keyboard accompanying responsibilities have been able to be spread out among at least a couple individuals. Currently, we might have one accompanist who plays for the choir, another who might play for a soloist or ensemble, another who might play for an instrumental offertory, and I play for the congregational music. As much music as we do, it is almost a necessity to have this many pianists involved.

However, many churches have just as much music, and have only one capable pianist who can play adequately for the service.

Ouch! This has got to be hard. These pianists plod forward week after week, service after service. They are very faithful (they have to be!), arriving early and staying late for additional rehearsals, spending various amounts of their free time learning music to play that will probably not be repeated. They have choir music, music for specials, instrumental offertories, preludes, postludes, and invitational music to learn/rehearse/brush up on. And yet they must avoid even the appearance of burn out.

My hat goes off to these musicians. If you are one, I say: bravo! And, thank you. I used to think I could do it all, but the older I get, I am just thankful when I get a break in the service and someone else plays. And I’ve noticed that when I play for the majority of the service (more than normal) that my brain starts to slow down, and I make a lot more mistakes.

If you have more than one accomplished pianist in your church, be thankful, and utilize them to the degree that they desire to serve. If, however, you only have one, be sure that they are taken care of and appreciated. It’s hard work, and it can be a thankless and unappreciated job, especially in volunteer settings.

What’s your experience? Do you serve with other accompanists? Or are you the only one?

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  • James,
    Thanks so much for this post. In my church I am the only pianist and also serve as interim music director. It is a very difficult task and sometimes very tiring. There are times when you have everything prepared for choir practice and several don’t show up making it hard to get in a good practice. I don’t think some folks realize how much time goes into preparation and practice just to get ready for choir rehearsal. This doesn’t even take into account the time spent working on preludes, offertories and postludes as you said. It is by God’s divine grace and appointment that I am where I am and that is what keeps me pressing on. God bless you!

  • Terry: keep pressing on! Thanks for sharing your story. And thank you for your faithful service to the Lord. Your church is better off for it.

  • Great article. I used to serve as the only church pianist for years, so I can identify with this article very much. Now, I’m at a new church and filling in when needed. I also help out other churches when their pianist is out of town or cannot be there. It is my prayful desire now to help out those “lonely pianists” out there to relieve them if they need to be out town or simply cannot make the service. I’m thankful that God has given me opportunity to do just that this past year.

  • That’s an awesome ministry, Jeff. Thanks!

  • Really good words, James. Playing for everything is so tiring, physically and mentally, and even though the responsibility is does have its own eternal rewards, church people don’t realize what their pianists endure. Sadly, even pastors don’t understand. So it’s left to the pianists to encourage pianists. Thanks for being understanding and encouraging, as both pastor and pianist.

  • James, good words. I have noticed like you that when I play more during a service than normal, I get sloppy.

  • Excellent post. It is so important that we diligently attempt to foster and nurture a desire in our young pianists to thrive and excel in their piano playing as a way to serve the Lord AND serve others by being an encouragement to the members of a congregation through music.

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