“If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This is not the Blog I had planned to write this week. I had planned to write about our concert on Sunday, how this is the concert we originally planned for Spring 2020 and, well, you get the idea. But young Jess* contacted me and my plans went out the window.
Jess is an early twenties-something choral singer. She is fairly newly graduated from college, with a fairly new job in a city far from both her hometown and her college town. She arrived just before the Pandemic hit and was just beginning to meet people, besides at her workplace, as she settled in. She was able to work remotely but that meant she rarely went out, except to occasionally do some shopping.
Jess began to listen to music, all sorts of music, in her free time. And she realized she missed singing. Jess sang in her high school swing choir as well as several a cappella groups in college, so she began looking around for similar type groups in her area. There didn’t seem to be any, so she looked for community choruses and found two near her home. One was “highly auditioned”, and one would accept anyone who paid their yearly dues. The two groups rehearsed different days of the week, so Jess decided once restrictions were lifted and they were back in operation, she would join both. She thought she could get back to singing and meet new people by joining these choruses.
Restrictions in her community were lifted last summer and she auditioned and was quickly accepted into Chorus One. She attended the first rehearsal of Chorus Two and was welcomed warmly. Jess had sung a LOT of swing and pop a cappella music but not a lot of classical, large chorus music and found she LOVED it. Both groups sang similar repertoire but had a different sort of “vibe.” Chorus One sang more difficult music but it was a very easy-going atmosphere in rehearsal. Chorus Two sang easier music but the rehearsal atmosphere was anything BUT easy-going; it was tense and more competitive than the highly auditioned chorus.
When the ladies in Chorus Two discovered she was a “newbie” regarding large choral works, they began to suggest recordings for her. If she had listened to a recording of a work they suggested and it wasn’t the “right” recording, they acted disgusted. They had a “right way and a wrong way” for doing everything, from marking music to organizing their music folders. It felt like they were gatekeeping her choral experience because nothing she did or liked or had sung before was quite up to their standards; she would never be good enough.
When the ladies found out she was also singing with the other group, the ladies made disparaging remarks about Chorus One, their “high falutin” repertoire, the qualifications of their director and general nasty and snarky comments. It was funny because Chorus One was so much better musically; voice quality of singers and what Jess believed to be their differences in musical standards. It didn’t make sense, but she WAS a choral newbie and maybe they were right.
Chorus One was a huge contrast to Chorus Two. Rehearsals were relaxed. Rehearsals were family-like, comfortable and no one felt in competition with anyone else. Jess asked their director, Marcus*, for suggestions of works to listen to and he shared his favorites. He offered to take her to a local symphony concert, and soon they began dating.
She told Marcus she was also singing with Chorus Two and he encouraged her to continue singing with them. He asked about her experience and said he really admired their director. They were more than mere acquaintances, shared some singers and pooled their contacts for orchestral players. Jess was confused when Marcus told her he ADMIRED the other director. She was under the impression from Chorus Two ladies that was not the case.
Jess contacted me, asking what she should do next year. She would stay with Chorus One, though she felt challenged and a little uncomfortable with her own abilities, but Marcus assures her she is doing fine. She was not sure what to do about Chorus Two, as she liked the music, the director and most of the other singers but couldn’t stand those ladies. She disliked being told what was good and what was bad or how she should listen to music. It’s a bit more complicated than that but I’m not sure how to describe the situation without giving away confidences.
I told Jess to do what makes her happy. If the music, director, and other singers make her happy, than she should continue. If the ladies and their gatekeeping are NOT making her happy and cancelling out the good, then she shouldn’t return. If that is the case, she should tell the director why she’s not continuing.
I have written in this blog more than once about Choral Ethics issues involving singers driving other singers from their ensemble by their attitude and behavior. It’s always my advice to tell the director or the board–or both–because they have a right to know WHY a good singer is suddenly quitting. And they won’t be happy.