“Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece.” Nadia Boulanger
How detail oriented are you? There are plenty of details, having nothing to do with the actual music which must be handled by SOMEONE for any music organization to run smoothly. And if you are the one ultimately responsible for those details, do you feel stressed? Could you ever be satisfied with someone else handling the minutiae for you for a change?
My friend, Jerome*, was having a bad year. He was crabby with his choirs, short with his accompanists and snarky with his friends, me included. Those of us who were his friends or occasionally worked with him wondered what had caused such an abrupt change in personality. Jerome was normally an even-tempered, sweetheart of a guy and this nasty stranger inhabiting his body was tough to be around. The first time he was nasty around me, I thought he was kidding. Vi*, another friend, told me she thought he hadn’t been acting like himself for months. He was so unpleasant to be around; many of his friends began to avoid him. When he called me for a Christmas gig; I agreed to do it and wished I hadn’t. I began to avoid him as well.
I saw Jerome again the following summer. He seemed to be his old self, telling jokes, asking me about my choirs and my family. I acted as if nothing was wrong, and asked after his choirs and his family as well. He told me he was sorry about the December gig, hoped he hadn’t been too big of a jerk but there had been a reason for his behavior. He then told me what had happened to him.
Jerome had been overwhelmed. Every small task it seemed in his big, well-paying church job and his community chorale gig fell to him. Since he was organist as well as choir director for the church, it was difficult for him to take a Sunday off. Normally, all the things he had to do, coupled with being a nice guy who cooperated with those he worked with, were not a source of stress but a source of energy for him.
It all changed when his youngest child was diagnosed with leukemia. He didn’t sleep, he didn’t eat properly, he ran around constantly trying to keep all his obligations as well as support his wife who did all the physician and hospital appointments and took care of their other children. Jerome told no one about the stress he was under since he always considered himself to be a trooper and didn’t want anyone’s pity. He didn’t realize it was help he should be asking for, not pity.
The day after Easter, Pastor asked him what was wrong and it came flooding out. The Pastor gave him “permission” to do what seems so simple; take care of himself and his family and ask his colleagues to pick up the slack for a bit. Jerome felt like a weight had been lifted from him. He explained the situation to the good folks he worked with, both at church and the chorale, and they rallied ‘round him and his family. He could focus on tasks at hand and not worry he was missing something important by letting them slip through the cracks.
As his son got better, Jerome did too. But Jerome made a discovery about himself; he could delegate and not feel less of a musician or director. His attention to detail could be used to delegate tasks to competent people and then, let them do those tasks. And he continues to operate that way, delegating non-musical details. Being forced into looking at the minutiae differently helped him be a better conductor, musician and person then he was before his son’s illness.
Perhaps we should all think about “giving up” some of those lovely little tasks that overwhelm us at times in our own work. Maybe by doing so, we will become better choral directors and conductors or at least, we might be more pleasant to the people around us. We don’t have to be the one to handle all the details, just the one who make sure they get done. By someone. Something to think about as the choral year winds down.
*Name Withheld by request