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UK Organist wanting to work in the USA

Dear all,
I wonder if you can help. I'm currently the Senior Organ Scholar of a prominant university in London, UK with a world class choir, hoping to work as a musician for the foreseable future in church music especially.
Although I would love to work in a large UK cathedral, I would like to work in the USA as a Director of Music at a good church (preferably NE America) and freelance as a conductor, recitalist, accompanist etc... around the NE.
How difficult are visa's to get for UK musicians in the USA, and what are the pro's and con's? I love the USA, and am not sure that I want to work in the UK for much longer.
Any and all help/advice greatly apprecitated!

All best,
Replies (10): Threaded | Chronological
on September 3, 2015 6:19am
While I do not know the various difficulties of obtaining a green card, I do know that jobs for a serious church musician are becoming more and more rare in the US.  There are big churches, with grand organs and even good choirs ... but they also want someone who is able and willing to work with praise music and all the other trappings of the contemporary American Religious Emporium!  Places where you can do an English Cathedral type program are just not out there any more.  In New York and Boston there are certainly a few, and they are very desired positions.  Your being a Brit has the potential of being a huge asset at many of these establishments.  My advice would be to apply for positions and then let the church deal with your immigration status if they want you badly enough.  Good luck ... but I can tell you that jobs even in modest sized northeastern cities garner upwards of a hundred applications and often come with serious down sides.  Be careful.  You may get what you want, and then be very sorry you left the UK.  
Good luck, 
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on November 19, 2015 5:24am
Whikle they are rarer than in the USA [factor of population] , there have been, recently, several «plum» jobs in CANADA for which, as far as I can determine, NO applicants from the UK.    Why Canada is «forgotten» I am at a loss to understand.   Perhaps church's lack of connection to ChoralNet as an advertising pipeline may be a part of the answer.   Canadian churches tend to feel that advertising through the RCCO and national church papers is all they need to do — well, it HAS been «successful» in their opinions.   I guess what I am trying to convey is that if UK O&CMs want to come to this side of the pond they are missing arguably the best positions if they are not frequently consulting the RCCO and AGO employment ad(vert!)s both printed and OnLine. 
on September 30, 2015 9:16am
I agree with everything Tom said. The competition is STEEP for good church jobs here in the states. If you are willing to work part-time you will have more options, BUT remember that working part-time means you won't receive any health benefits, and possibly no retirement either. Fewer and fewer churches are hiring full-time musicians, and also as Tom said a successful candidate is musically versatile and doing a LOT more than playing organ and directing a choir!
Do keep in mind also that the cost of living in the NE US is high, so again a part-time job isn't going to go very far in terms of living expenses. Not trying to discourage you, but rather I just want to portray the truth of what it's like as a church musician in the states... not always a glamorous life!
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on November 15, 2015 2:23am
THank you for these replies. I understand it's not as glamerous as it set ous, but by the way, the same can easily be said for the English Cathedral Music tradition. Do you know how I would consider applying for a VISA? There may be a high living cost in the NE, but the wages are significantly more than those in the UK.
Do any position come with housing included? I hope to explore a range of options before ruling myself out of coming over to the USA!
on November 15, 2015 5:12am
Unfortunately, I don't think there are any church positions that come with housing. If you are willing to be flexible geographically, there tend to be more full-time church positions in the Midwest and the South.
on November 15, 2015 6:55am
I see - well, I'm prepared to do that, also! I am also interested in part-time work and working with different choirs and more conducting elements :)
on November 16, 2015 3:32am
Ruaraidh Sutherland, who's from the UK and was in a similar position to you a few years ago, is now organist at Christ Church Rye in NY state and might be willing to chat about this.
on November 17, 2015 2:54am
While I agree on some level with the general consensus that major church positions are becoming less prominent in the US, I don't believe the situation is quite as dire as it's being made out to be. 
I would recommend contacting Music Directors who are active in Anglican Churches in major US cities as they would have the most valuable insight in response to your questions. Consider researching the various Episcopal Dioceses in the US and see if that leads you to any contact info for prominent Anglican musicians. I regret that I don't have contact information for any of these people.
For what it's worth, I know of at least one Anglican musician in Chicago whose housing is provided by the church. I don't know how rare this situation is, but it's certainly not nonexistent.
While it won't be easy, I don't think you should be pessimistic about your chances. Your background and skill set will make you attractive to a lot of Anglican music programs.
on November 17, 2015 6:37am
Christoper makes some very good observations about being in touch with musicians in major Episcopal (Anglican) positions in the US.  Going beyond the NE US will give you some more options.  It was noted that retirement and health care in the US are both major issues for musicians.  Often churches, particularly, do not see the way clear to provide these necessities in the way they are provided in the UK.  However, staying in the Anglican Communion could be a downer here.  I have been a life-long Episcopalian, and at the time I acquired a family and obligations of that sort, I have stayed away from the Episcopal Church where one works at the 'pleasure of the Rector' (quote from Canon Law).  As such, you may be fired without cause at the pleasure of your boss.  At least in other protestant establishments you have boards and committees that can protect you to a certain extent.  Of course, if the guy in the front office wants your head, you might as well resign.  The matter of housing is something you can play with in some places.  I know several major churches in New York City do provide substantial housing for their musicians ... the single most expensive item in living in a large US city.  The other issue, particularly if you wish to work in the Episcopal Church, is the fact that in some diocese ... particularly Chicago, but some others too ... the Bishop has simply declared that there will be no 'full-time musicians' hired ... end of discussion.  There have been some big law suits brought by musicians who find contracts (legally binding ones) broken by the clergy and their lawyers wind up suing not only the church and rector, but the diocese as well.  After several large settlements ... this is the result.  This is still a country best known as the 'wild west'.  Anything goes and often does!  Just be very careful that you have an iron clad contract with a church, and that you can get the proper immigration credentials before buying a plane ticket.  The American Guild of Organists, to which most of us belong, will not do anything to protect its membership against wrongful termination of employment. I hope you find that which you seek.  But often changing venues does not solve the problem ... it just changes it ... sometimes not for the better!   Tom
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on November 18, 2015 5:08am
I am an organist/church musician in an Anglican church in Texas, and I was an immigration attorney also up until I moved away from NE three years ago (I'm no longer practicing law).  You have to have a job offer before you can get a visa.  There is a particular visa for professionals, the H-1B, for which the church can petition for you.  (There are also O visas that are much more difficult to get for outstanding performers.)
There is a full time job open that does all English-style music with a wonderful organ in a neo-gothic gorgeous building. The search just started.  It is St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Fort Worth, Texas.  It is a wonderful church in a great, fun town with lots of pipe organs in large churches and is also right next to neighboring Dallas.
Best wishes and keep us posted!
Sherryl Smith Pond
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