“Make yourself do unpleasant things so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.” W. E. B. Du Bois
Donna* and I have been corresponding since late last fall. After a move, due to her spouse’s job, she found a church position. She began last August, 12 months after their move, contacting me within six weeks of beginning. She is an organist as well as a choir director but was hired as “just” choir director. She was organist/choir master in her last position, which entailed not only directing the choir but playing for all services, weddings and funerals; it paid well but was stressful. She thought it would be pleasant to get her feet wet in her new community with a less demanding job. Hah!
On paper, her new position seemed idea; directing one adult choir, with one weeknight rehearsal, directing the choir for Sunday and Holy Day services, as well as regularly scheduled staff meetings. It is less time-consuming but perhaps much more stressful than she imagined. Where is her stress coming from? Guess.
The organist, Elsie*, is a lovely older woman who has been playing for this congregation for almost 40 years. While an adequate musician, her playing is ordinary. And Donna, who is a bit of an organ virtuoso, has had to bite her tongue more than once when told how lucky their congregation is to have her. Elsie has a cycle of music she uses over and over year round for preludes and postludes. She plays well enough but never veers from her comfort zone. Her hymn playing is fine but predictable and seems to be an “old lady mean girl” if you know what I mean.
Elsie insists her friend substitute for her when she is not able to play, even though she has been told Donna is perfectly capable. But Donna does need to be told when she will be needed. Her friend showed up to one Sunday morning service to play without Donna being told. Donna accompanied her choir, since the Sub hadn’t been to rehearsal during the week. Elsie yelled at her for doing so when she came back.
The choir is stuck by attitudes ingrained in them by their former choir director, Dave*, who had been in that position for about 25 years. They won’t warm up because they believe it to be a waste of their time when they could be “singing”…and I use quotation marks because Donna did. Dave was not a trained singer but a trumpet player–you know, a real musician—and believed he couldn’t get as much accomplished in rehearsal if they took time to warm up. At least, that’s what Elsie told Donna. Donna is a trained mezzo-soprano and tells me the choir’s voices sound tired half-way through rehearsal. She knows if they warmed up and allowed her to teach some sort of vocal technique, they would not tire as quickly.
There is a cycle of anthems Dave used. Donna refuses to use many of them since some are just not that great musically or are old and hackneyed. The choir is quite displeased because it’s what they are used to singing. When Donna does program one of their favorites and they rehearse it, it’s as if all the want to do is sing the anthem, they don’t want to rehearse the anthem. If she stops to correct a note or rhythm, they will either not stop and continue singing or claim Dave let them make that mistake because it sounds “better.” And so it goes.
Donna wants you to know, she didn’t accept this position meaning to shake things up. She accepted this position to get back to doing what she loves and what she believes to be her calling; to use her skills for the greater glory of God. She is the professional with her own experiences and opinions…..and yet…and yet she has been relegated to being a “Dave Clone” and that’s just not fair. I have written one or two other Choral Ethics Blogs about leaving a mess for those following you; here is another example of someone doing just that.
Donna wants to know if she should resign after Easter. I told her to think what would be best for her and then make her decision. Does she need the money? If she does, then she should sit tight until after Easter, and then begin looking around for another position. If she’s really miserable and doesn’t need the money, then resigning after Easter makes sense. She will need a reference from her current boss so it’s best to leave on good terms, even if that’s not how she feels. What would you tell her to do?