“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” W. H. Auden
What does it mean to be an ethical choral conductor/director? Our own Choral Ethics code should be a model of behaviors for how we treat our singers, but shouldn’t it be a bit more? Don’t we need to be Choral Ethical to our colleagues in addition to our singers?
Vance*, who teaches at a community college and has a church job as well, has strong opinions on the subject and what it means to be ethical to our fellow choral colleagues. He believes being ethical in our profession means supporting each other with singers, recommendations, concert promotions, publicity, encouragement, and concert attendance. We may feel alone in our institutions and organizations; we are rarely alone in town. There are conductors in other schools and churches or nearby communities and he thinks developing a personal and congenial working relationship with them which is not just over the phone is important. Working together no matter the choral group you direct Vance believes is good, not just for the individual director, but for all directors and choral organizations in the community.
Vance also has opinions about what he considers to be unethical choral professionals. He has been left “holding the bag” a few times in his career, cleaning up messes—literally and figuratively–left by predecessors and has wanted to ask them one question: how can you leave a choral library in the shape you did? Leaving a disorganized choral library might not be considered unethical behavior by some and Vance realizes everyone has different standards as how exactly a choral library should be organized. However, we can all agree dumping a year’s worth of octavos collected at the end of the school year in one collective heap regardless of title and leaving it for your successor to take care of it not exactly the most stellar of behavior. Music dumping by his predecessor makes no sense to Vance, since now the guy looks like a big jerk to his former colleagues in the music department, in addition to his successor. Vance has gotten over it, but does wonder how the fellow is doing in his new position.
Maggie* has lived in her community for several decades. She’s made quite a name for herself, often being referred to as “a teacher’s teacher.” She is also a lovely person; with a history of taking a chance on singers no one else seems to want and turning them into excellent musicians. Or rather, her fine reputation is agreed upon by everyone except those in the local “premier” choral group and their director.
The chorale Maggie directs is a bit different from other community groups; it’s unique in that it focuses on a certain kind of ethnic music. Her chorale is not in competition with any other group in the area but it doesn’t stop those in the “premier” choral group from taking verbal swipes at her and the chorale. All of the other community choral directors have spoken to her with their support, both together and individually, and feel she is being treated terribly. But it does make it difficult to invite her and her ensemble to the biannual local choral fest or to have a group meeting of local choral directors. They do what they can by making sure to invite her and her group to the fest or director meetings, but they can only do so much without causing trouble.
Maggie and her chorale attend local choral events when invited but sometimes wonders why they do. The “premier” group’s director is condescending or just plain rude and so are his singers. It’s very humiliating for her chorale to have to deal with this behavior in public and she is at a loss. Maggie wonders what to do because by attempting to make her look bad and behaving the way they do–without Choral Ethics–they are hurting their own organization, whether they realize it or not. It makes Maggie sad for our profession.