“Truth is always strange, stranger than fiction.” Lord Byron
Since writing about Choral Ethics here on ChoralNet, I have received many emails. Folks who contact me either want to thank me or to tell me their stories. And their stories are amazing. Some seem outlandish at the outset, but then I follow up by asking the emailer a few more questions. Then I “get it,” deciding it has to be true.
Martha* spent nine months co-founding a non-auditioned community choir, consisting of mostly people over 50. Their goal was to get together, enjoy singing and perhaps perform a little something for family and friends. Period. The community center found a young choral conductor who did an excellent job of choosing music and directing. He required this choir, made up of folks over 50, to memorize a couple of pieces for a fifteen-minute community performance attended by friends and family. That doesn’t seem like too much for simple folk songs but then he required they memorize an Italian aria, in Italian. Some singers balked at the idea of memorizing a language unfamiliar to them and complained it was too difficult. Several suggested to him it pretty common for choirs to use music in performance, but he wouldn’t budge. Martha, who is a therapist and works primarily with midlife and older adults, wrote a very respectful letter discussing the problems of word retrieval at this age. He responded, saying he would likely not require memorization again. Then changed his mind and required them to memorize another aria in a foreign language. Then told the choir as long as they worked with him, they would be required to memorize. Several lovely people dropped out as a result. After working so hard to “birth” this choir, Martha decided she had no choice but to leave. It was a very difficult decision but when she realized her R and R had become more stressful than her work; she felt she had no choice.
It seemed a bit odd to me for a choral director not to take into account or to understand his singers’ age would make it difficult in their ability to memorize a new foreign language. Perhaps he didn’t understand this would be a chorus of older adults, but Martha assures me he did understand. She believes he had a vision of this choir being a showcase for him and not a community chorus for senior citizens as was intended.
Dougie* started his first college teaching job in as strange a way as I have ever heard. He interviewed one spring with a nice, four-year liberal arts college in the Midwest with a strong choral program. He was charmed by the music faculty, including Monty*, the gentleman he would be replacing due to early retirement. The college owned a wonderful, large choral library and Monty was quite proud of it.
Dougie was hired for the position and excited to get this “dream job.” He, his wife and young child moved into a quaint house in late July, getting settled so he could begin to work on repertoire from that lovely choral library the first week of August. This was in the days before music libraries were put on spread sheets or online libraries so everything was organized in a card catalogue. Dougie decided to go in on the last day of July, pick up the card catalogue and start browsing.
When he opened the door to the choir room, he had a sick feeling. He found the card catalogue, opened the box and found……..nothing. Well, nothing but a note from Monty. Monty’s note described how he was being forced into early retirement and would be punishing Dougie for it. How? By taking that lovely music library and hiding envelopes of music ALL OVER CAMPUS! Dougie contacted the department chair immediately. Together that day they found a few envelopes of the thousand pieces of music the college owned. Dougie wanted the college to press charges against Monty, but since he had hidden the music and didn’t steal it, they couldn’t. Eventually they had the music work/study students help look, but it took until the end of the fall semester to find most of the music. Even a few years later, they occasionally found an envelope. At first, Dougie thought it a sad way to end Monty’s tenure. Then he was too busy trying to find the music to care. What a legacy!