“The buck stops here!” Harry S Truman
When we first dream of becoming a choral director, we think of the music. We work hard to become good musicians; we practice, learn repertoire and practice some more. And we imagine our life will be all great masterpieces and singing and working with great people and…..it is. But it’s also making sure details are taken care of, either by us or someone else, or there will be problems.
When Joanie* called me right after Christmas, I thought she wanted to have lunch. Turns out, my young friend wanted to talk to me about a Choral Ethics problem. Joanie had just resigned from her first church job and had just accepted a new (and better) position. Joanie wanted me to help her understand why she had problems in her old job so she could avoid doing them in the new position. She told me the reason she finally left was because the choir blamed HER for not getting their choir robes cleaned. It wasn’t until I started asking some very pointed questions I began to suspect where the problem was.
I asked Joanie to tell me about the things which bothered her most about her former church job. She told me she had been initially enchanted by the choir, great organist, congregation and the wonderful pastor. It all started to go south right before her first Advent with the congregation. She had been told she would need to do some recruiting and she was perfectly willing to do it, however, she got no help. No one put her recruiting information in the church bulletin or newsletter or on the Facebook page or asked her to speak during announcements. Oh. I asked Joanie whose job it was to submit recruiting notices to those places…she didn’t know. The choral library was a mess and she couldn’t find anything she was scheduling. Um, oh. Again, I asked her whose job it was to file music and….she didn’t know. Every Thursday morning, the church secretary would call and ask for the title of the anthem and would often be miffed for no reason. I asked her why she thought the secretary would be miffed and, she didn’t know. Uh, oh. I had a feeling I knew why. Trying to be kind, I asked her “who was doing the towels?” She stared at me blankly, and am sure you are wondering what I mean as well.
When my boys were teenagers, they decided they needed a fresh bath towel for every shower they took, often taking several showers a day. One day, not only were there no clean towels in the house but the towel bar in their bathroom fell off the wall! It was then I introduced the concept of doing their own towels to my little darlings. To this day, our family refers to the tasks no one wants to do but must as “doing towels.”
This situation was not totally Joanie’s fault. It was her first job; she was unfamiliar with this particular denomination and had always been a paid soloist in other church positions. She didn’t understand the nuts and bolts part of being a church choir director. But it was her job to understand what was expected of her besides the music. As I told her at lunch that day, the music is the easy part!
I explained to Joanie there seemed to be a total lack of communications as to who did what. She didn’t understand the non-music parts of her job and no one told her what was expected of her, assuming she knew. So no one said anything and there were bad feelings all around. The irony of course was no one said anything because they didn’t want to cause bad feelings. Instead, the bad feelings grew from nothing. Taking the initiative and asking questions about who does what seems so simple but Joanie didn’t want to appear naïve, she tells me. There is no harm asking a question, I told her, when there will be a simple answer. Appearing naïve is preferable to what happened, so she will be asking many questions of her new choir members, new pastor and new church secretary in her new job.