“Professionalism in art has this difficulty: To be professional is to be dependable, to be dependable is to be predictable, and predictability is esthetically boring – an anti-virtue in a field where we hope to be astonished and startled and at some deep level refreshed.” John Updike
Maude* began last fall’s concert cycle the way she did in “Before Pandemic Times.” That means she had to beg for her music, beginning in July, until just before the first rehearsal in late August. She is an accompanist for a community chorus, likes to be prepared, and cultivates the reputation of being dependable. She has begged and cajoled and demanded music in years past, so she has adequate time to practice before rehearsals begin, but somehow the chorus’s director thinks she does it all by magic. But no more.
The only thing that seems to have changed because of COVID with the director and chorus is everyone wears masks in rehearsals, but nothing else. The problem is, during all the lockdowns and stay-at-homes and supply-chain problems, Maude has changed. She is no longer willing to beg and cajole and demand her music, so she has adequate time to practice. She did the usual begging last fall but this spring NOPE! And when she still hadn’t received her music three days before rehearsals began in January, instead of stressing about it, she took a nap and relaxed. As you can imagine, she was not prepared for the first rehearsal and her director made snarky comments in front of the chorus about her lack of preparation throughout their two-and-a-half-hour rehearsal. But Maude WAS prepared for the snarky comments she knew were coming. And she made a few of her own right back.
Is Maude proud to have sunk to snark level? No, but she does feel better. The director and singers look at her differently and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. She was always dependable, always, and the one time she wasn’t she was chastised in front of the chorus. That’s another reason she’ll be leaving after the last concert in June.
Debra* is a choral assistant in a well-to-do public high school district in the Midwest. Unlike other choral assistants, she doesn’t accompany for the choral program but does all the busy work; she would have been called the department secretary in years past. The two choral teachers are nice enough people but far from organized. It’s lucky for them Debra is VERY organized. She files music, copies handouts, handles the computer and other equipment and is in charge of making the choral department run smoothly. She configures concert programs, taking them to the in-school printshop in plenty of time for each concert. She is the one to take the choir robes and uniforms to the dry cleaner, after the students check them in with her. She organizes the Choral Parents, setting up the meetings, and makes sure the choral teachers know in plenty of time so they may attend. She takes notes when there is a departmental meeting, even just between the two teachers. There are probably a few tasks I am missing but you get the idea.
While school was remote for almost a year, Debra manned her computer at home and helped the choral teachers with their own home set ups. It was not ideal—it wasn’t for anyone—but they managed. She was able to get to school for supplies a few times, but it was difficult. Once, she and the custodian scanned 30 different pieces of music to email to students so they would have music for remote rehearsals. Because of a few technical glitches, it took them three full days. She made the remote Winter 2020 concert happen through sheer chutzpa and it was considered a success, too.
Spring 2021 was a hybrid concert; the students sang from the school’s auditorium, and it was streamed live, then available on the school’s YouTube channel after it was edited. Debra heard about a similar concert, suggested it to the choral teachers, and made it happen.
Debra, like Maude, is leaving after this choral year. Like many in education, she is exhausted by the sheer stress of making it up as she goes along, under impossible circumstances. But what really pushed her was not being acknowledged by ANYONE for all she did during remote and hybrid learning.
The Choral Parents made a Big Deal out of both choral teachers at the in-person winter 2021 concert. The choral teachers made a Big Deal out of the Choral Parents. Everyone got flowers, the students got the choral teachers gifts and Debra, manning the camera during the concert, got Zilch. No words of thanks before or after the concert from anyone or a mention from the stage. She has had enough.
Debra had always enjoyed her job before the Pandemic because she loves choral music. She sings in her church choir and occasionally the local community chorus. She knows what she does is important to the choral program but doubts the Choral Parents or the choral teachers do. Debra will continue to give her all until the end of the school year but is looking for a new job. She thinks her community chorus would be delighted to welcome her and her skill set as would other school districts. She doubts her current school district will be able to find anyone to replace her adequately.
As I mentioned last week, during the Pandemic many people have changed their priorities. We as a profession need to think about that fact and change our priorities too. It can’t be “business as usual,” overlooking those who help make our programs run.