“Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” Voltaire
I became a regular blogger here at ChoralNet in the Fall of 2015, so it’s a few weeks more than seven years I’ve been writing this blog. Before that, I contributed about ten blog posts in 2014/early 2015 as a Guest Blogger at the request of a former ChoralNet editor. He asked me to write a blog or two a few weeks after the death of my mother, and I needed something to shift focus from my grief. Writing about issues I long discussed with Mom, a coloratura soprano, helped me deal with my loss and, I hoped, contribute to our Choral Art.
Why was I asked? Because I had responded to quite a number of ChoralNet Forum posts which raised some timeless choral issues. Issues regarding leadership, gossip, organization, accompanist issues, singer issues, administration issues, kindness (or lack thereof), high standards, low standards and a few “conducting while female” problems. After a life in a “show biz” family, I have seen it all; if the genre wasn’t exactly the same, the people perpetrating the issues were. I came up with the term “Choral Ethics” while writing some of my early blogs.
My whole view about many of the ChoralEthics issues and dilemmas I am presented with is this; people know the right thing to do, they just need permission to do it. I’ve had ChoralNetters contact me almost from the beginning of my blog, wanting to know what they should do. I usually ask, if there would be no repercussions, what would they do or what they think would be the right thing to do. Often, there are no clearcut solutions but several options and I hope I present those options to my correspondents so they may make the best decision FOR THEMSELVES. Yes, for themselves.
We, as conductors and directors, are often so concerned for the good of the group, we forget about ourselves. If we are beaten down by our administration, bullied by singers or accompanists, abused by the leaders of our choral parents’ group, expected to perform miracles by our chorus board, how can we be anything but stressed and unhappy? Of course, there are always solutions for these dilemmas, you just have to be able to see what they are in a calm way. Leaving is always an option but if you’d like a future reference, leaving in a dramatic way is probably not the way to go. Holding it together until the end of the choral year might be better if you felt safe enough to do so. If you know you will be leaving, you can continue to put up with nonsense until you are able to leave.
I get emails from retired directors who are horrified their former ensembles are making life miserable for the new director. They don’t feel comfortable being held up as “perfection,” and yet when they were in charge, they felt it was fine to denigrate other directors in front of their chorus. No wonder their singers feel no one else can live up to their example! And new directors contact me, those who are replacing those “saints,” wanting to know what to say when their singers tell them they are not as good as “Saint Cecilia.” Not much, is my response, just continue to be as good as you are able to be and let them gradually understand YOU are just as good, or you wouldn’t have hired as a replacement for Saint ChoralDirector.
After directors, accompanists, by far, are the ones who contact me the most. There are so many different issues and dilemmas I don’t have space to enumerate them today. My standard advice is try to find out what you’ll be rehearsing for each rehearsal and then practice it. If you are not told, do the best you can and practice any tricky places you think might come up. If your director won’t share their rehearsal plan, they get what they get. And don’t put up with abuse, in front of the chorus or in private. Those directors who send music flying over the piano—GET OUT RIGHT NOW! Resign—they need you more than you need them!
Next week, I’ll share an update from a person who had a most upsetting story. In the past few weeks, several of you have asked about her and I contacted her. Her response is hopeful, and I look forward to sharing it with you.