“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” Alfred Lord Tennyson
With age and experience comes wisdom or something akin to it. In our youth and training we read, we study, we practice and attend concerts and rehearsals and we think we know it all. And maybe we do, theoretically. It isn’t until we get out in the real world we begin to know what we don’t know. Often, we discover it’s the people we need to work with and our ability in how to handle them where we are deficient.
What shocks most young choral folk, in my experience, is the pettiness and sometimes the lack of respect they receive from older singers or the discipline they must insist on in a school choral group. Even experienced directors are occasionally shocked by a new behavior they’ve never encountered; since they are experienced you would think they’ve seen it all. They can’t imagine until confronted with a difficult behavior. I can attest; there are some interesting situations out there!
I suppose I should be grateful. The resulting unhappy people have given me much material to write about. In fact, I was worried when I became a regular Blogger here on ChoralNet I wouldn’t have enough Choral Ethics material and why my Blog is called “Choral Potpourri.” I reasoned I would be able to write about anything choral related if I called it that. I should not have worried; there is plenty to write about. It is a rare week I don’t find one or two or three emails about Choral Ethics in my Inbox. Email me anytime with your problems: . I always try to respond in a timely fashion. ‘Choral Ethics’ should be in the subject line.
I often feel bad I am not able to write about everyone’s problems. I try to vary the ethics issues and sometimes folks have similar situations so I merge them. As is my wont to respect the privacy of those who trust me, I change details, names and even genders so my readers here will be able to understand the gist of the problem but not the particulars. Some details are no one else’s business and I respect that. It does take a bit of time to get to the kernel of the problem and cut out the rest, but it is worth it to have the trust of those who confide in me. I have knowledge about a lot of things but my “wisdom” about Choral Behavior and Choral Ethics comes from a place you would not expect it to come from.
I will share something about my real life: my eldest son has autism. In past Blogs, you might have read about Russell. When he was very young, the school district arranged for an educational psychologist to come into our home three times a week and teach me behavior management techniques used in his early childhood program. If I am totally honest with myself, I learned much of what has become the basis for Choral Ethics from the kind professionals who loved Russell almost as much as we do. The behavior techniques have helped with him over the years but have also had a huge impact on my own music teaching, choral conducting, running of my rehearsals and how I view the people I work with every day.
Two of the main tenets of those behavior techniques are these: model the behavior you want from your students (singers) and it will be reflected back eventually. And for every one of your actions, there is often an equal (and many times) opposite reaction from your students. Pretty uncomplicated ideas, but what do they mean in the Choral World? If you want respect from your singers, show them respect. If you want loyalty, show your singers kindness. If you don’t want back-stabbing, don’t play favorites. Don’t teach down, teach up and always assume your students (singers) understand. Answer questions without impatience. Speak intelligently and chose your vocabulary with care, you are the teacher (director/conductor) not their friend. Don’t judge anyone unless you know what their situation is and if you don’t know, keep your mouth shut.
We all have a vast knowledge, stored up to bring out when needed, from our student days as well as before and beyond. It is how we interpret that knowledge or our decision to bring experiences from other aspects of our lives which shows true wisdom.