Five Tips for Successful Networking
Community shapes an important part of our lives, and working in churches provides a
built-in community for many organists and music directors. However, unless you work
at a church large enough to employ an assistant organist, you’re unlikely to work dayto-day with people of your skill set. This is unlike traditional work settings, where you might easily meet others in the same department of similar positions.
It takes time to build relationships, especially in a field where people may relocate for a
particular job. Here are some steps to creating community, or network, with like-minded
musicians. By networking, you can find substitutes, collaboration partners, and
potential opportunities down the road.
The American Guild of Organist offers a regional and national conference every other
year, as does the American Choral Directors’ Association. Many denominations hold
their own music conferences, and you may also be interested in music education conferences. You’ll not only learn something, but meet many other people in the same field by striking up conversations with attendees and speakers. At AGO and PAM conferences, I’ve had many chances to share ministry ideas with organists young and old.
Depending on your church’s continuing education budget, you may be better off simply
attending local performances. If you’re a student, this can be especially helping for
forging relationships with established organist/choirmasters who hire a keyboardist on
special occasions. You can also likely attend performances at a reduced price as a
student, so take advantage of the opportunity while it lasts!
In a state like Mississippi, where just one organ program serves the entire state, I met
many organists relieved to find someone who could fill in for weddings and funerals.
On the other hand, when competing with a more crowded, it’s important to show your
face so that you stand out.
You don’t want to stumble over the question of “what do you do?” or recite your entire
resume. Think of ways to summarize your work in a couple of sentences. By practicing
your introduction in a way that comes naturally, you don’t have to worry about thinking
on your feet.
With that out of the way, you can listen more genuinely as the other person introduces
themselves. Ask about their projects, how long they’ve lived in the area, and offer
contacts that might be useful to them. By truly connecting with others rather than
focusing on what you might say, you can build stronger networks based on reciprocity
and shared goals.
In traditional fields, you might exchange business cards, but this isn’t as much of a
practice in church music. Social media works well for maintaining contact, as platforms
such as LinkedIn and Facebook provide convenient ways to interact with colleagues.
Communication can deepen new relationships and strength those you already have.
Without flooding an inbox, periodically reaching out can go a long way. In this scenario,
quality trumps quantity.
As social media blurs the line between business and personal, you’ll likely find out
more about a person than a short meeting might have communicated. Many organists
my age are getting engaged and married, and it’s truly fun to see those happy
milestones. Avoid online drama like the plague.
Author Andrew Sobel recommends, “Think people, not positions.” If you try to carry on a lengthy conversation with the keynote speaker at a conference, they will very likely
be busy, with their attention drawn in many different directions. As a general rule, it’s
not easy to break into the circle of an established professional.
However, you’ll always meet up-and-comers. At one recent workshop, I heard a music
educator in the early stages of his career present a fantastic lecture. Despite having
not necessarily “made it” yet, it was easy to notice the incredible potential, and he was
very approachable as a relative newcomer.
Maybe you already know plenty of organist/choirmasters in the area, and just need a
good cellist for your Tenebrae service. Maybe your network only includes organists your own age, but few older or younger.
It can be especially important for us as organists and music directors to meet others
outside of our own denomination. First, there are plenty of wonderful music resources
in other churches that you may not hear about in your everyday circles. Secondly, you
could someday find yourself in a different denomination, without the benefit of your
Every professional musician likely has a wealth of information from their individual
experiences. By widening your circle, you only learn more in the end. Networking can
require energy and time, but can result in truly rewarding community.