“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.” Henry Ford
We begin Choral Ethics 2017 with a January’s worth of letters (emails) concerning Four Rs; Being Ready, Being Reliable, Being Respectful and Not Being Revengeful. Each blog will present several writers problems and a bit of our email conversations concerning them. The New Year is always a good time to get things off your chest so there is still time to get your questions and dilemmas addressed this January. Please email me at: with “Choral Ethics” as the subject line. Your situation will be disguised as much as possible to keep the kernel of the problem but not to reveal who you are. I always respect your privacy and may ask follow-up questions to clarify if need be.
I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and your choirs did well in concert or in worship. I bet you spent quite a bit of time planning for whatever you did. Did you feel ready?
Ruth* plans quite far in advance in her position as a high school choral teacher. She has a good idea who will be singing in her top choirs and begins her repertoire selections for the next school year sometime in April or May. Her Freshmen ensembles are usually a bit of a surprise as to singing ability but she gets their repertoire and alternatives ready at the same time. She spends the summer readying choir folders and generally getting her choir room in tip-top shape to begin a new school year.
Her new Band Director/Department Chair colleague is NOT a planner. This caused a somewhat unpleasant situation for Ruth last fall. She was expected to have her top choirs sing with his top band at their joint Winter Holiday concert. But they did not know what they would be singing until just before Thanksgiving. The Band Guy had no idea how to look for band/choral winter holiday material and felt “strange” (his words) allowing Ruth to do it. He found something at the last minute Ruth felt was “cheesy” but she sucked it up and prepared her choir anyway. Ruth felt her choirs were not ready or rehearsed enough to do their best. The combined piece was not exactly a failure but it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience either. And she had to field parents’ negative comments about it too.
She doesn’t want to be known as a Prima Donna but does not want this situation to happen again. I asked if this was a new thing, for the top band and choirs to sing a combined piece. She said no, it was not, but they haven’t done it for a few years and Band Guy wanted to resurrect the tradition. I asked if the school owned any of the combined pieces they had done at past winter concerts with the previous band director. She said they did. I told her to drag them out in the spring and have Band Guy chose one. That way she’ll know which piece so she will be able to get in enough rehearsal and Band Guy won’t feel “strange.” Trying not to be too nosy, I asked why he he told her he felt “strange.” Ruth told me he feels instrumentalists are musicians and singers are singers. That’s why he thought it didn’t matter how soon he picked the combined piece. Oh. I give Ruth props for not blowing up. She’s quite the professional.
Roger* feels his church choir is never ready to sing on Sundays. They stumble over words. They muff entrances. Their intonation is off. When they sing anthems with more than two parts, they sound muddy. It’s been this way since he began this position five years ago. He chalked it up to being a “typical church choir” since his Pastor never complains and the congregation seems happy.
Roger is not a trained choir director; he’s a pianist and organist. While he’s done plenty of accompanying, he’s not done much leading of rehearsals until he was hired in this position as a choir master/organist. He attended a church music conference last summer and heard other church choirs who sounded much better than his choir, despite having fewer people. And he wonders why.
When he contacted me, I told him becoming a ChoralNet User was a good place to start to learn about directing. I also told him attending choral conferences of all sorts would help him improve his choir, but most importantly, would help improve him. We must always be improving if we want our choirs to improve. And sometimes, meeting our choirs where they are right now is the first step to their improvement. His repertoire expectations for them might change and that’s okay. We have to be willing to begin at the beginning if need be to be ready for the next step.
Being “ready” is more than picking repertoire or having a productive rehearsal; it’s a mindset. Are you ready for the New Year?