“No man ever got very high by pulling other people down. The intelligent merchant does not knock his competitors. The sensible worker does not knock those who work with him. Don’t knock your friends. Don’t knock your enemies. Don’t knock yourself.” Alfred Lord Tennyson
As you may recall, Choral Potpourri/Choral Ethics is re-visiting some of our most discussed Choral Ethics dilemmas for the month of January. We finish today with an “oldie but goodie” that has been discussed frequently. I’ve called it gossip or being mean, but you could say it’s simply putting someone down and expecting others to join in your “fun”.
I have written several Blogs here on ChoralNet about what I call the culture of choir. In those blogs, I speak of how the behavior of your choir—to each other, to you as director, to other musicians—help define your culture. When there is trouble with recruiting or retaining singers, it is often in direct response to the choir’s culture.
Our story today concerns Carl* who began singing in his church choir a few years ago. Carl loves to sing and sang in his high school and college choirs. He was a member of his college’s male a cappella group and says those experiences helped define him as a person.
After graduation, things got in the way of his singing in a choir. First his job, then marriage and parenthood; you know, LIFE! Finally, when their youngest child began high school, Carl’s wife encouraged him to start singing again. He liked the music at their family’s church so decided to sing with the church choir.
But Carl recently quit singing with the church choir. He liked the choir director, her choice of music and her directing style. But he could not STAND the petty games the women singers played. Everything was an opportunity to gossip. Every soloist was “no better than they should be.” Every service held some anthem or hymn which is “impossible” to sing or some announcement which riled someone up. Carl used to try to get to rehearsal five or ten minutes early to visit and get to know his fellow members. Then he began to arrive as close to the downbeat as possible just so he could just sing and not listen to their malarkey. He wanted to quit at Christmas but decided to continue until the end of the choir year.
When the choir year ended, he decided he had had enough. That’s when he contacted me to help figure out the best (and most Choral Ethical) way to quit. Since the choir year had just ended, I told him he probably didn’t need to do anything if he didn’t want a confrontation. Besides, choir practice wouldn’t start again until after Labor Day and there was a possibility he might want to go back. And there was always the path of least resistance which is to just not go. If asked why he’s not coming to rehearsal, he could always say his job (parent, child, or home renovation) is going to take more time than he realized and he won’t be able to sing. Or he could just tell the truth.
Why tell the truth? Because the choir director has a right to know. She probably knows what’s going on with the women but may not realize their behavior is causing the choir to lose singers. Losing a male singer is BAD for a church choir! Maybe she’s spoken with them; maybe she’s spoken to clergy about them, maybe she’s had other complaints, but she should know why she is losing a singer. The culture of Carl’s choir had gotten to a place where something had to be done. And his director needed to step up, be a leader and do it.
I contacted Carl to ask for an update for today’s blog. He told me he DID speak with his choir director over a year ago. She was flabbergasted he wanted to leave because of the Choir Gossips and thanked him for telling her why he wanted to leave. She told him she would see what she could do and would get back to him. In fact, she spoke with clergy and explained what had happened. Clergy was not pleased and felt there was really nothing to do in this situation, other than ask the Gossips not to gossip during choir practice.
The choir director wanted to do more. She changed how her rehearsals were run, doing sectionals every other week, and having a tutti rehearsal 90 minutes before Sunday services. Her reasoning was this; with rehearsal right before a service, there was NO TIME for anyone to gossip. She let Carl know her plan and he agreed to try singing with them again until after Christmas. He did and felt good singing, delighted to continue after Christmas–then the Pandemic struck. He has hopes things will be even better when his choir is finally able to sing together–so do we!
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/