“You hear things about certain people. When you hear someone was mean to a limo driver or a wardrobe lady, or someone was rotten to a fan, somewhere in your brain it gets stuck.” Joan Rivers
This is a Choral Ethics Blog post repeat from several years ago. I need to slow down and plotting out the rest of the summer now seems like a smart idea. I try to be here, one way or another, every week because I know many of you look forward to this blog and I don’t want to disappoint you. Hope you’ll enjoy one of our Oldies but Goodies!
I hate gossip. Hate it with a passion and will even avoid speaking with someone (if I can) if they seem to have a tendency toward gossip. If someone is gossiping “with” me, I never know what to say. If I join in, I am just as bad as they are and if I don’t, I look like I’m snobbish. I can’t win, so I don’t try. Most gossip is not true and is destructive so I try to tune it out if I can. If I can’t tune it out, I listen without comment. If there seems to be a ring of truth in it, I make note.
Andrew*also hates gossip. He directs a mid-sized auditioned community chorus in the Midwest and has done so for about five years. The first few years, he was only mildly aware of the culture of his chorus. Some of his singers seemed to be big gossips or take some sort of delight in gossip about others but he did his best to ignore it. Andrew is also a middle school choir director and says he would NEVER tolerate his students doing what seems to be part of the culture of his adult singers. It wasn’t until last fall he realized how bad it was when his best soprano quit over something said about her. He contacted me early this summer to help him figure out how to quash it as rehearsals begin again this fall.
We have emailed back and forth with some ideas which he hopes will work for him and his chorus. One of the first things I asked was if there was downtime during rehearsal, such as a short break in the middle for water or restroom. He said there was. I asked if he had section leaders and he told me no. I asked him about the biggest gossip (he didn’t give me their name, just their voice type!) and if they were involved in the chorus outside of singing. I asked about the rhythm of rehearsals and if there was a lot of chatting during transition between pieces. I also asked if he had contacted the soprano who quit and he had. After much collaboration between the two of us, here is what we came up with:
- Get rid of the break in the middle of rehearsal. No break so no chance for gossip. Instead, have water bottles available and encourage folks to use the restroom when they need to.
- Assign two section leaders per section (Andrew will ask them before rehearsals begin) whose jobs will be making sure their section knows their parts and keeping morale up.
- Asking the Big Gossip (who is an alto, by the way) to be his (and his accompanist) rehearsal assistant. She will make sure his podium is ready, enough light for the pianist, filing music…..etc. etc…….if she’s busy, she won’t have time for gossip during rehearsal!
- At the beginning of each rehearsal, Andrew will announce the order of the pieces they will work on and ask the chorus to put their music in order. He will move from piece to piece so quickly as possible with little discussion between pieces.
I asked Andrew what had happened (and what was said) to cause his best soprano to leave. He told me there had been comments about her weight, inferring she had some sort of eating disorder. In fact, she told him later, she had had a miscarriage in her second trimester. She hadn’t wanted the Gossips to know about her pregnancy and they (gleefully) assumed the worst. Her resignation had more to do with getting herself physically and mentally healthy again more rather than that nasty gossip, per say. Andrew contacted her again during our email discussions, asking her to come back. She agreed to come back to the chorus next January since her baby is due in September (she’s healthy and everything seems fine)!
Do you have any suggestions for Andrew (or anyone) on how to change the gossip culture of his chorus? What has worked for you?