“Appreciation can make a day – even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” Margaret Cousins
Not all of the Choral Ethic comments I receive are about “conductors behaving badly.” Some are wonderful, touching life and career affirming. Today we’ll speak about how a few little words can make a difference.
Kristie* has directed a community children’s chorus (part of a larger choral organization) for about fifteen years. Her second year, she was approached by the mother of a girl who was really too young to be accepted into their program. Cassie* had an especially awful form of pediatric liver cancer, loved to sing and Cassie’s Mom thought it would be good to give her a chance to sing with other children. Kristie was a bit skeptical but checked with her supervisor and decided to give her a try.
Cassie came the first day and Kristie was shocked. She was a tiny little thing, completely bald with a central line (for her chemo) obvious on her chest. But her spirit and her sweet voice made everyone fall in love with her immediately! As the rehearsal period went along, the fifth grade girls competed with each other to sit or stand next to her during rehearsal. In fact, Kristie had to devise a rotating schedule so all of them would get a chance to be next to Cassie. Unfortunately, Cassie was not doing well by the time their first concert came along and wasn’t able to sing. The fifth grade girls told Kristie they wanted to sing the “Turkey Song” in honor of Cassie at the concert; and so they did.
A few months later, Kristie’s supervisor gave her an envelope (which was obviously a greeting card) from Cassie’s Mom. Cassie had died the month before and her family wanted to thank Kristie and the choral organization for helping make Cassie’s last few months of life so happy. Mom wrote Cassie would sing the “Turkey Song” for hours in the hospital. In fact, the last words she spoke which were intelligible were the lyrics of that silly song. Cassie’s death hit Kristie hard, especially since she didn’t learn of it until after the fact.
Kristie can’t forget Cassie and will accept any child, with any challenge into her non-auditioned group without hesitation. That thank you from Cassie’s family has resonated in her and has changed the way she looks at her professional life.
At the beginning of my sophomore year of college, we got a new choral director for our large university chorus. The director was young, fun and beautiful. Margaret Hillis’ assistant, she called James Levine, “Jimmy” and would tell us to sing out by encouraging us to have coraggio . My friend and I became rehearsal assistants and would take attendance, set up chairs, pass out handouts, doing all those things which needed to be done before rehearsals began. We learned a lot about running a large chorus just by doing those seemingly menial takes.
One summer, three of us worked with her organizing the university’s choral library. It was far from a glamourous job; summer in Chicago being hot and humid, with air conditioning spotty when classes were not in session. It was also dirty and dusty, and we often coughed and had runny noses as we worked. But we learned a lot about organizing music.
At the end of our three weeks, Doreen Rao gave us each a lumpy envelope. In the envelope were a thank you card and a banner of the type you would get at a fancy greeting card store. Mine said, “Keep on Singing,” and I still have it. I have always hung it on the wall next to my kitchen sink to remind me who I am and how necessary it is to thank people.
Doreen Rao’s ‘thank you’ to me all those years ago has made me a big ‘Thanker’. I write thank you notes to each of my choir members before a big concert and my church choir members twice a year, especially around Christmas. I write thank you notes to accompanists and instrumentalists and anyone who helps me with a concert or performance. It makes sense to let people know you appreciate what they do for you; perhaps they’ll do it again.
I need to thank someone now; thank you, Dr. Rao, for showing me the way all those years ago!