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Hiring musicians for Christmas Cantata

Hello! I am 22 years old and am a first year music director for a Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma. Members of my congregation came to me and agreed to financially support the hiring of musicians for the annual Christmas cantata. Does anyone have advice as to:
How much to pay them?
Should I make instrumentalists sign contracts?
Some kind of checklist leading up to performance day?
If anyone has any expierenced advice I would be more than gracious! Thank you!
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on October 16, 2011 5:40pm
Hi Erik,
I've only done this twice but here's what I did last Christmas and am doing again this Christmas: I paid each musician $100 for coming to the dress rehearsal and and playing for the cantata. There was only 25 minutes worth of music in last year's cantata and 30 in this years and I set my dress rehearsal time at an hour, last year I let the instrumentalists go as soon as that time was up. I gave them there music the 3rd week of October last time and am planning to give it to them next week for this year. We're a small church with a small budget so I asked my friend who played flute for us (she does have a degree and a performer's certificate) what she thought was fair and she was the one that came up with the $100 price. I did not have any contracts but I knew all of the musicians so I didn't feel it necessary, had it have been someone I didn't know then I probably would have had them sign one. My saxaphone player last year told me that he liked that I gave them music so far in advance so that would be something to think about.
Hope this helps,
on October 16, 2011 7:05pm
Hi, Erik, and more power to your congregation members!!!  What you actually need to do is talk with other choir directors in your town or to some of the musicians who play such gigs and get an idea of the going rates.  They'll be different in different parts of the country.  Around here (and this is a Right-to-Work, non-union state), the going rate for one rehearsal and the performance runs between $100 and $150, although symphony players may get a little more.  I've gotten as much as $200, but that's on the high side and presupposed a very professional approach.  The tradeoff is that pro or semi-pro players who CAN play the gig on one rehearsal save you both time and money, while cheaper players (students, for example) will require more rehearsal time because of inexperience.  (In other words, you get what you pay for.)
Contracts (or just letters of agreement) are always a good idea, but not really necessary unless you're hiring union musicians under a union contract.  In that case do everything by the book.  But it's good just to have the specific details and schedule in writing.
Checklist:  Get the music out well ahead of time if you possibly can, like maybe a month in advance, if you expect your players not to be learning it during rehearsals.  Reconfirm and remind everyone in the week before the rehearsal and performance.  Treat your musicians professionally; they're hired hands, sure, but they're also doing you a favor and it's important to recognize their contribution.  And KNOW YOUR MUSIC and exactly what you want to hear, and make quick and clear corrections in rehearsal.  They will REALLY appreciate it!  And of course remember to use very clear conducting patterns and not stir soup, if you expect them to stay with you and make all their entrances.  The occasional entrance cue is also helpful, but without a clear pattern it's hard to count rests without getting off.  (Especially in the "Halleluia" chorus, where the downbeat shifts to the middle of the bar for a while!!!)
on October 17, 2011 6:52am
Sounds like you are asking the right questions, and you are on top of things!  John and Clay had some good advice for you.  Also, a lot depends on how many musicians you need 
for the work(s) that you are performing.  For example, if you are doing something that requires full string section (3/3/3/2/1 or similar) plus horns and percussion, you may be 
looking at hiring 25 musicians with a budget of $4,000.  That's about $160 each.  However, if the music you are performing requires just individual instruments (trumpet here, harp there), 
you may be able to hire less musicians, but pay more.
Also, there can be additional fees: some percussionists will charge extra to transport their own timpani/xylophone, etc.  If you are close to a local symphony, usually there is a contact person
that can round up the musicians for you for a small fee if you are looking at hiring 20+ people.  This can save you time and headache.  I would ask some of the other music ministers in your area if there is a symphony contact they would recommend.  This can be helpful because he/she will already have a database with the player's contact info, and you'll just have to provide a list of the instruments needed, rehearsal and performance date and time, and how much you are going to compensate.
As Clay said, don't waste the instrumentalist's time...get them out on time or earlier!  If you have a piece that doesn't require their services, let them out early and practice it last if possible.
Also, church choir members don't understand rehearsal etiquette like college or professional choirs.  Please remind them beforehand that while the orchestra is there for dress rehearsal, to save all choral questions until the end of rehearsal -- if they have a diction or breathing question, tell them to make a note of it and save it for later!  The orchestra wants to play and go, not listen to you tell the choir to breathe at measure 21...this can be covered before or after the orchestra is needed.  
Finally, if you can use local musicians or church members as instrumentalists, definitely try to do it!  This can be an opportunity to strengthen relationships with local musicians
and with the community.  If you are hiring outside folks for a big work, you can integrate your "home" folks into the orchestra as well.  If they are not symphony level players, put them on the 2nd part and give the professional the 1st part.  
Good luck with your Christmas cantata!  
If you have any questions, you may contact me at the office.
God bless,
Cody Johnson
Dir. of Worship Arts
Gulf Shores UMC
251 968 2349
on October 17, 2011 7:52pm
Hi, Cody.  Your suggestion to ask the manager of a local symphony to contract players for you can be a good one, but Erik needs to be aware that it will also probably result in higher cost.  If the orchestra management helps out, they are going to want to get a fee for doing so, and it's entirely proper that they should.
I haven't seen it for a couple of years, but there used to be an update every year in the paper on how much the things listed in "The 12 Days of Christmas" would cost.  And one of the mistakes they always made was to assume that the "Ladies Dancing" would be hired THROUGH and FROM a ballet company, which would of course charge a fee for doing so.  And an AFofM union contractor who puts together an orchestra for you will also charge a fee, equal to the pay of one of the sidemen on the gig.
It's like using prepared food.  You pay someone to prepare it for you, and it costs you more than if you do it yourself, but you save yourself the trouble.
All the best,
on October 29, 2011 10:30am
Thank you guys so much for your advice. If you think of anything else, please feel free to post another reply.
In peace,
on November 15, 2011 5:27am
I have been able to use qualified high school instrumentalists at a much lower cost ( sometimes a small honorarium).  Depending on the cantata you are preparing, you can use younger players.  They are often thrilled at the opportunity and it gives them good practical experience.  If you contact the local high school orchestra teacher, he or she can direct you to capable students.  That being said, I have also paid professional level musicians ( local music teachers in our school system) around $125 for the rehearsal and performance.  Find out what instrument your local music teachers at the public schools play - many are terrific on their first instrument and enjoy the chance to perform.  I also pay a few vocalists on occasion to fill out the choir if needed.  I pay them the same as the instrumentalists because it requires the same amount of work on their part.  Our church has a limited budget for the cantata and I often do not use the full orchestra but selected instruments that make it work.
Good luck,
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