“We cannot be kind to each other here for even an hour. We whisper, and hint, and chuckle and grin at our brother’s shame; however you take it we men are a little breed.” Alfred Lord Tennyson
As you recall, Choral Potpourri/Choral Ethics is re-visiting some of our most discussed Choral Ethics dilemmas for the month of January. Today’s topic has been discussed many, many times. Those of you who are regular Choral Potpourri/Choral Ethics readers I’m sure have been expecting it, another Kindness blog. In this time of Pandemic, kindness matters more than ever and begins with all of us. I have a few beliefs which are central to being kind in our profession and try to put them into practice whenever I am able.
I believe in keeping my mouth shut, even if I have an oh-so-clever snarky comment on the tip of my tongue. And in keeping my mouth shut if my observations (even if true) serve no purpose other than to bring pain because it’s NOT KIND. Being clever and observant and making SURE others know you are clever and observant, no matter who it hurts is not being clever and observant, it’s just being mean. We are mean to others and it doesn’t help us as people or our profession.
What does it take–a few minutes–to NOT make a nasty comment or to make a person feel welcome and appreciated? What’s in it for you? Not sniping is such a small thing in the grand scheme of things. It shows you have a degree of self-control. Being petty with someone you don’t like–or think you don’t like–may be hard at first but the rewards will be worth it. I am a great believer in “faking it until making it” with those sorts of people. Try to get the reputation of being someone whom anyone would want to work with and be around.
I try to be kind; treating my singers and accompanists as I would want to be treated. I always correct the section and always try to say something good during rehearsal—even rehearsals when there doesn’t seem to be anything good!
I admit I had my own misguided notion of what it means to be “kind” in rehearsal. For many years, I thought it unkind to be brutally honest in my criticism because I wanted to be kind. I would say something was “mediocre” –not dreadful or wrong or terrible–as I pointed out what needed to be done to correct a mistake. I used the term with my adult choirs and children’s choirs as well and noticed something interesting…..the children would laugh at the word, and then fix the problem very quickly but it would take the adults a bit longer to grasp what needed to be done. I couldn’t figure out why.
Then a singer in my auditioned chamber choir shared she HATED it when I used “mediocre” as a criticism because I never praised them after the correction was made. I thought about it but had to agree with her. I didn’t want to be unkind, but I suppose I also didn’t want to be perceived as “weak” by being too pleased. Now when I make a correction, it is done very succinctly, no extra words to confuse, just the facts. It’s amazing how this strategy has improved the rapidity of my adult chamber choir grasping a correction.
Many choral folks never show a smidge of kindness to not appear “weak,” however, the strongest among us are the most kind. You can be tough, uncompromising, not willing to “settle” and still be kind. It takes intelligence to be kind, it’s tougher than that nasty and clever repartee, but the reward of respect is great. In these tough Pandemic times, respect on both sides is more important than ever.
When there is true respect from your singers and others you work with, there is a sense we all can accomplish anything and a certain freedom…and peace. Think how much easier it will be for those we work with to not always be waiting for the barb, the castrating comment, the “other shoe” and we can just concentrate on being the best teacher/director/conductor/performer we can be!
Until next week, be well and be safe.
I am taking my Choral Ethics Blogs to my chamber choir’s Facebook page for the foreseeable future. Please join me there this morning! https://www.facebook.com/themidwestmotetsociety/