“Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.” Abraham Lincoln
The last few days, I’ve been thinking about a few of my more memorable students and choir members, starting with one of my first jobs, and continuing on to the group I conduct now. Some of them were funny and some were irritating. They had one thing in common; their behaviors were such that I can’t help but remember them.
Emily* wasn’t really one of my singers but a student in a Humanities class I taught at a Catholic Girls School. She had recently lost her mother, and her father thought being around other girls and women would be good for her, despite being Jewish and attending a Catholic Girls School. Em was obsessed with Ted Nugent. I mean, that girl would bring him up in almost every class, even when we were talking about the Renaissance! For their final paper, I gave the class a choice of writing about any artist or musician from any Era we studied in class. Her final paper was about, you guessed it, Ted Nugent, and was actually quite good.
I’ve had some wacky private piano/voice students, but their parents/spouses were often wackier. The husband who thought my electronic metronome was out of date, therefore I couldn’t possible be a good teacher AND TOLD ME SO. The mother who told me I couldn’t possibly teach her son (or direct him in a choir) because I couldn’t sing all the notes in his baritone range. When I used the term “Middle C” with a three-year-old student, her father was furious because I did not use the “correct” term of either C4 or C’. For a three-year-old.
Richie*, a tenor, would greet me at every rehearsal during Lent with, “what’s the dirge of the week?” In that same choir, I also had a on again/off again tenor (it’s always the tenors) who would demand to sing “How Great Thou Art” whenever the mood struck him, usually that Sunday. He complained when I told him we already had rehearsed anthems but offered he could sing in two weeks. When he DID sing, he made such a big deal of it, pushing the mic away from the Lectern and singing as loudly as he could, that I cringed every time he did it. Clergy cringed too. I probably let him sing too many times, but he was LOUD in every way!
Jana* and Glenna* were in the midst of “Diva Wars” when I arrived. Both felt they should be the one to sing “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve. Did I mention I began this position in late August? That fall while they were sniping at each other and at me, I decided NO ONE would sing “O Holy Night,” which irritated them both. But it bought me a year to figure out the best recourse. I decided to allow one to sing “O Holy Night” and the other to sing “Gesu Bambino,” and I didn’t care who did what. But I had a stipulation; the following year, they would switch and sing the piece that hadn’t sung the year before. It worked out but it was snarky going for a while.
I have a soft spot for Connie*, poor old thing. She was in her late 70s/early 80s when I first met her, and she had a vibrato you could drive a truck through. I was told she had been a fine soprano in her younger days, but it was hard to believe. She was such a sweet, chatty lady, in charge of the Women’s Organization’s yearly fashion show, and had a sense of style and kindness but she was always late. Always. She lived less than five minutes from church, but her husband expected her to make a huge meal every day, even on choir practice nights, as well as finish the dishes before she left. I don’t recall her ever being on time for choir practice. She had colitis, with flare-ups almost every Sunday morning, so she would sneak into the choir loft, not having been to our warm-ups, during the organ prelude. Her assigned seat was next to me, so she would describe IN DETAIL why she was late, while I was trying to listen YIKES! She loved me and I loved her, so I made allowances, but she was something!
One of the first singers in my chamber choir was Linda*. She had a degree in voice and was an excellent musician but thought our repertoire was too difficult. She had to practice—I made her cry with Poulenc—and felt she should just be able to come to rehearsal and be done with it. She sang alto because we needed altos at the time but claimed she was a first soprano. I thought she was more of a second, but since she was singing alto, it didn’t matter. She asked to sing soprano one concert cycle, but she was the only alto, so I told her no. We had two more altos the next cycle, so she sang soprano, and thought she would be happy. After that concert cycle, she told me unless I chose easier music, she wouldn’t be back. She wasn’t.
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/