As I sit to write, I am struck by the sun streaming across the table where I have my laptop; it feels so good! It’s a bright day, with no snow and the grass looks incredibly green. The green grass and the sunshine are deceptive because it is February in Chicago. It may be cold, but the sunshine tries to convince us spring is on its way. But it’s February here in Chicago. As much as I want to believe the contrary today, there is plenty more snow to come this winter. Tomorrow is Ground Hog Day so we shall see what Punxsutawney Phil and his fellow prognosticators have to say about an early spring!
I have been writing about Choral Ethics for well over three years now and have heard many “interesting” stories as well as made some dear friends in the process. I have listened in disbelief to folks seemingly too gullible for their own good and tried not to shriek when they tell me the predictable end of their stories. I have scolded those who know better who did NOT do better but somehow want me to absolve them. I have been amazed by the goodness and kindness of well-respected choral folk who DO NOT HAVE TO BE good and kind and yet, are. I have laughed with, cried with and commiserated with many, all in the name of Choral Ethics. As I think about the last three plus years, one thing stands out to me in perfect clarity when it comes to Choral Ethics; we all want to believe the best of people and are hurt and confused when confronted by the worst. Most often, typical Choral Ethics problems stem from a lack of communication or misinformation or unrealistic expectations or a lack of morals on someone’s part.
There are the “legend in their own minds” conductors who create havoc in rehearsal and out. These are the self-proclaimed geniuses and know-it-alls who are impatient with everyone with which they must work. They feel they are being expected to work beneath their talent and let you know it; Boy-Howdy, do they! I get many, many emails from the former and present choristers of these directors, wanting to know “what’s up with this guy?” You would be surprised how many emails (over 30) I’ve received about ONE DIRECTOR during the last three years. He’s retiring this spring and one of his current singers tells me she’s throwing a party!
I am contacted by people who cannot believe colleagues nerve or chutzpah or whatever you want to call it. Back-stabbing, undermining and talking smack about others; these are the toads of our profession. What to do when you are confounded by hearing you are being gossiped about? How do you handle it when your singers are being lured away? Why is another choral person questioning your education and ability and program and your choir? I tell the folks there are no easy solutions, other than to take the high road. And promise eventually they’ll be vindicated because I believe in Karma.
I hear plenty of complaints about singers and accompanists, though the accompanists complaining about directors might outnumber the reverse! Directors complain about their boards (or clergy or department chair) not understanding how a chorus/choir works or what is possible with what, and who, they have to work with. Unrealistic expectations on the part of those not directly involved with rehearsals in preparations for concerts or worship services cause hard feelings for everyone. What to do?
We are daily bombarded with “hacks” about how to make everything in our lives “better” and it is true in the choral world as well. Recently, I have had quite a few people contact me, having questions about others motives in “helping” them and their programs. Is it right to trust your “gut” they wonder, especially if something sounds too good? Do they trust what they know to be true? Or do they go with what they are being told is so much better than anything they’ve done in the past; look, see how many other people are doing it? The common thread with almost all of these folks is this; they do not trust their own instincts any longer.
In this turbulent time, I think it is more important than ever to stick with what we believe and stay true to our morals and core values. Remember Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, Polonius: “This above all: to thine own self be true?” I don’t mean to imply never to try something new or not attempt something which makes you slightly uncomfortable. I do mean this; if something feels morally or ethically wrong or too easy to be right, you think twice.