Sarasota-Manatee Chapter-AGO




Amy Cerniglia




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.


1. Attend

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.


2. Prepare

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.


3. Contact

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.


4. Prioritize

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.


5. Diversify

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

previous contacts.


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.


Amy Cerniglia


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