” I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” Lou Holtz
In two weeks, I will begin another series on Choral Ethics here on ChoralBlog. There are a few misconceptions floating around as to what I mean by Choral Ethics, so before the series begins, I’d like to clear them up. Choral Ethics is not just ethics, but ethics specific to our profession. What may be acceptable for another group of musicians may not be for choral professionals. Choral Ethics and behaving ethically to our singers and colleagues (no matter the level of our ensembles or colleagues) is important to every one of us in some way or other and has the potential to have an impact—positively or negatively–on our profession for years to come.
Writing about Choral Ethics has turned into something I am quite passionate about, but my interest started simply enough. Nearly four years ago, I decided to write a book about something I came to call “Choral Ethics.” A few things motivated me, including a rather unpleasant encounter at a community arts event with a choral colleague. Nothing seemed to provoke our confrontation; in fact, I had just recommended the person for a rather nice job. But she was hell-bent on being unpleasant, so…unpleasant she was. She harangued me in public and I thought she was being “unprofessional” as well as something else I couldn’t define. After our encounter; I began thinking about behavior, specifically what we deem “professional” behavior.
“Professional” means different things to different people and musicians throw the term around all the time. As I began to think of what I believed to begin with as a lack of professionalism, it occurred to me it is not a lack of professionalism but a lack of some sort of accepted ethical guidelines within our profession. As I began to examine my own behavior, both in rehearsal and out, I was determined to behave as kindly and as ethically possible. And the whole concept of Choral Ethics was born.
In order to have some sort of general choral ethics code, each of us needs to begin to think about our own personal code of choral ethics, ideally beginning to develop it while in training. Those working with young conductors can begin the process by being a good example first and sharing their personal codes with students. I find my own teachers and the conductors I have worked with influencing my own ethical code, whether positively or negatively.
My personal choral ethics code is a work in progress but has three basic parts. I try to treat my singers and accompanists as I would want to be treated. I try to always say something good about my colleagues if at all possible and if I am not able, to keep my mouth shut. And I try to keep my own skills as good as in my capability. This does not mean I expect less from my singers, accompanist or myself; I just try to be nice about it. Since I’ve begun to consciously behave more choral ethically I’ve noticed a difference, subtle at first, with my choirs and how I feel about myself. Rehearsals are more relaxed and we seem to accomplish more. I feel more at ease with my colleagues, no matter how I feel about them. And I feel less stress!
In my upcoming Choral Ethics series, I will share stories submitted to me by our colleagues. I am grateful to those who have felt comfortable enough to contact me with their concerns and Choral Ethics dilemmas. All names have been changed and some minor details have been modified to protect privacy. I am always looking for new stories so please contact me with YOUR stories or Choral Ethics questions if you’d like and they might be featured in a future Choral Ethics Blog post.
Thank you for the support and the “atta girl” I get both on ChoralNet and through personal contact when I write about Choral Ethics. I am a bit surprised the whole thing has resonated with so many. When I first thought about writing about this subject, I wasn’t sure there would be an interest. Now I see not only is there an interest, but a real need.