“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain
My late Mom always said arrogance and ignorance are a deadly combination. As a coloratura soprano, nothing irritated her more than someone telling her how to sing or what to sing, unless they were a director or conductor she was working with. And even then, if she thought SHE knew more than they did, she was not impressed. Her technique was flawless, and she worked up until a few weeks before her death practicing her breathing exercises so it would be. She was constantly listening, attending recitals and concerts, well into her eighties, and kept up with new music. So, if you told her you knew more, experienced more, etc. etc. than she did, you had BETTER know more!
Mom’s attitude has stuck with me all my professional life. Anyone who has told me they know more than I do about singing, or choral literature HAD BETTER KNOW MORE than I do and prove it to me somehow, or I don’t listen. Period.
Let me explain what I mean. I know several wonderful church musicians who, while great organists and accompanists, have no knowledge of the human voice. Several have told me, in no uncertain terms, warming up a typical church choir is a waste of time. They’ve told me their singers would show up AFTER they were sure warmups were finished or drop out altogether if they instituted warmups of any kind in their rehearsals. When I pointed out singing was like doing anything else physical, I was met with eye rolls.
After listening to their choirs, I could tell they NEEDED to warmup by the way their voices seemed to fade out after a bit. But those organists and accompanists told me it was because they were not professional singers their voices were fading out, not because of anything they were NOT doing. I disagreed but could not convince them AT ALL. This was during an interim choral position I had, and held my tongue until I left but boy, oh boy was I ticked!
To me, it is letting the ‘tail wag the dog’ to allow a choir dictate whether there are warmups, or not, in rehearsal. Choirs will not be vocally healthy in the long run and then there will be more time lost. My feeling is this: if you are hired to be The Professional, be the professional. If your expertise is the voice and vocal music, you should be listened to, no matter how many degrees someone else has in keyboard performance or music theory. Choirs will eventually respect you if you advocate for them and their voices. But it will take time.
Monica* was hired to be the choral director of a medium sized mainline Protestant church a few years ago. She directed four choirs, including the large adult Chancel Choir. The accompanist for that ensemble was the organist, Robbie*. Robbie fought with her from Day One about her warmups. He told her they were unnecessary one rehearsal and not extensive enough the next. She tried to please him but shared with me that at a certain point, she did what she felt was needed for rehearsal or right before Worship.
One rehearsal earlier this autumn, Robbie let Monica have it in front of their choir. He called her unprofessional and ranted and ranted and RANTED about her AND the choir. It turns out, Robbie had just been hired by another church, for a “better” position and he was saying everything he had thought for three years.
Robbie had planned to stay through Christmas but after his little “performance” in front of Monica and the Chancel Choir—which included members of the church council—he was asked to pack up his things and return his keys.
Monica asked me if she had handled this situation correctly. I told her she handled it MORE than correctly. By always being above the fray, she looked like the professional, but Robbie looked like a spoiled brat. There is something to be said by not letting other people’s arrogance ruin YOUR OWN reputation!