“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every New Year find you a better man.” Benjamin Franklin
January of 2016 is almost upon us. As the old year of 2015 winds down, it is time for reflection. Next week, we will begin another Choral Ethics series so this is the perfect time to begin to think about what we can do to be more ethical choral professionals in the New Year.
A new year offers us a wonderful opportunity to take stock of both our personal and professional lives. We can resolve to lose weight or exercise more in our personal life, but how should we decide what to resolve in our Choral Professional life? Knowing what worked and what didn’t in our programs during the past year is an excellent place to begin our professional New Year resolutions. Self-evaluation can also help understand how to be a more ethical choral professional in the coming year by identifying weaknesses and reactions to those weaknesses.
It is important to think about our successes but equally important to think about our failures. What do you wish you had done differently this year? Did you behave in a way you regret because of it? What did you do that was outstanding? Did your behavior reflect your success? What are you most proud of this past year and were you boastful or just happy because of it? Sometimes being a good winner is just as important as being a good loser!
I always do a self-evaluation after a concert cycle as well as de-brief my choir one-on-one. I am fully aware one-on-one de-briefings don’t work for large ensembles but with my chamber choir, it has been a wonderful evaluation tool. Some of my own choral professional resolutions are a result of my one-on-ones as well as my own self-evaluation. This year, I resolve to delegate more, to talk less in rehearsal and to give more credit to those who deserve it.
Do you have any professional New Year resolutions? What are they this year? Do you have any Choral Ethics resolutions? What Choral Ethics dilemmas are of a concern to you this coming year? As always, please feel free to contact me via ChoralNet contacts with your Choral Ethics questions.
Until we meet again in the New Year; “we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”
“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens
We are almost finished for the 2015 holiday and concert season. Those of us in the community and academic sectors are finished already and can take a deep breath. Those of us doing church choir work are gearing up for the busiest and packed two days of the year; then we can relax. And we all need to relax.
If you haven’t done anything good for yourself this December, think about doing it soon, while you have time. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be good to your students and choirs. There is something to be said about the “Pause that Refreshes.” A refreshed choral director is more creative. A refreshed choral director is nicer. A refreshed choral director can think clearer. You get the idea!
Do something different. Eat a holiday treat you’ve never tried. Drink a holiday beverage you’ve never tried. Compliment the cook. Watch a child open their gifts. Watch a senior citizen open their gifts. Wear something sparkly. Read something having nothing to do with choral music. Sight read something you’ve always wanted to play. Read an actual newspaper and not the online version. Sleep in and have a good yawn when you get up. Be quiet. Laugh over something silly. Tell your family you love them. Watch a movie. Have a long lunch. Make grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. Be lazy. Fit in some “me” time. Use your gift cards before you forget. Throw a snow ball. Go someplace warm. Call a friend and talk to them, don’t text them. And don’t check Facebook. Do all of these suggestions or none of them, but do something for you!
If you can through the next two days, then you can relax, refresh and regroup for a bit. At least until the new school term starts in January and Lent begins in February!
“I like to compare the holiday season with the way a child listens to a favorite story. The pleasure is in the familiar way the story begins, the anticipation of familiar turns it takes, the familiar moments of suspense, and the familiar climax and ending.” Fred Rogers
There are sights and smells and food which evoke memories in us during this season, more so than at any other time. Whether we celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas or Winter Solstice, there should be something which takes us back to that simpler time in our lives and makes us feel good…..and nostalgic. Holiday specials—from Charlie Brown or Rudolph or Frosty–seem to do this for most of the general public but for musicians, it is the music.
Do you remember the first holiday concert or pageant you were a part of? What did you do or sing? Do you remember most of the words and the name of your director? What about the first time you heard G.F. Handel’s Messiah in its complete form? And I don’t mean just the Christmas portions and “Hallelujah.” Do you remember your first holiday season as a choral conductor? What did your choirs sing? While you were inexperienced, it probably was magical and still holds a special place in your heart.
Like many of you, one of my first choral memories is holiday related. I was about six or seven and we were singing Leo Sowerby’s unison arrangement of “The Manger Carol.” I was rehearsing this piece when I first realized I loved singing in a choir. There were about 15 of us in Cherub Choir and we had been working and working getting the unison just right. On the last rehearsal before we sang on the fourth Sunday of Advent, all the voices seemed to line up and it was as if ONE GIANT VOICE was singing. My skin prickled. And when we sang that Sunday, it prickled again…..it was magical. I like to think that particular unison lured me into thinking about being a choral conductor. And now, if there is ever a reason for any one of my choirs to sing that Sowerby, we do!
As we hurtle toward the Home Stretch of this concert and holiday season, I wish for you the Magic, Hope and Peace of those simpler times. And the cookies!
“No one understands us crabby people!” Lucy Van Pelt (Peanuts)
My Choral Ethics series will continue in January. In the meantime, we will explore our December experiences as choral conductors and directors. Last week, we spoke of children and this week it is all about us; the crabby us!
Most of us are over scheduled and under rested so it’s no wonder many are crabby. We’ve been planning for many months, if not years, for December of 2015’s concerts, Advent services and holiday events. It should be smooth sailing right about now, shouldn’t it? And yet, most of the time it isn’t and that’s why we’re crabby and stressed.
Marta* takes her middle school choruses to carol at their local Mall every year. She has a system and it works. Or it did. The Wednesday after Thanksgiving, they all pile in district school buses which were reserved last year. The kids know what to wear (white top, black bottom) and the chaperones are trained at the music parent meeting in September. The Mall has a keyboard (usually from the Mall’s piano store) waiting for them so she doesn’t have to bring hers. The schedule of Carolers is posted several places so everyone knows who is singing, where.
As you can guess, nothing happened the way it was supposed to this year. One of the two school buses was not available and she was informed the day before. Marta called her music parents group and they put together car pools for the Mall. When they arrived at the Mall, half of her singers were wearing school sweatshirts for an athletic event after school and had left their concert clothes at school. Nothing she could do about that. The carpooling parents were not the chaperon parents and there were miscommunications about what was expected and hard feelings between the two groups. In addition, the Mall didn’t have a keyboard for her and forgot to tell her in time to bring one. Of course, there was no posted schedule of carolers and for the first time, she hadn’t been informed as to where they would be singing. They did, eventually, figure where they were supposed to sing. Her students sang like angels, even without a keyboard. They drew a crowd without the printed schedule and she was told by the Mall people it was the best caroling the group had ever done. The two parent factions pulled together and all seemed good between them. When Marta got home that night, she had a good cry and a glass of wine. When she contacted me for a Choral Ethics opinion, I told her she had a right to be crabby but wasn’t destructively crabby, so she was fine.
I am crabby this year. That’s right; Ms. Choral Ethics is crabby and snapping at people. My spouse called me out last week and he is right, I am crabby. After thinking about it, I am not crabby just because I am crabby; I am crabby for several good reasons. In my professional capacity, a number of my volunteers bailed out. I had to pick up the slack so our holiday programs were able to go on as always. In a volunteer position, the professionals had me take over for them because I am so competent and capable and [fill in the complimentary word]. They expected me to do their job as well as the job I volunteered for but didn’t think to tell me until after the fact. I stepped up because I didn’t want this event to fail. I snapped at the perfunctory “thanks yous” because it didn’t feel like a real “thank you,” it felt like a “thank goodness it worked out even tho we didn’t help you”-type thank you. I was ticked.
I don’t like to be crabby and have thought about how I can prevent my “Inner Lucy” from coming out again. There is nothing I can do about my own volunteers—the Buck stops with me after all—but I can think twice about volunteering again for that organization during this time of year.
We all deserve a Hot Toddy and a nap. Perhaps not right now, but soon!
“Anyone who hates children and animals can’t be all bad.” W.C. Fields
For the month of December, Choral Potpourri will be a little bit of everything choral. It is our busiest time of year and to break up the tension, I thought we’d begin with a few stories about children and choirs……funny stories (and touching stories) about children and choirs….because we need to laugh…..especially at this time of year! Please share some of yours with us too.
Like many of you, one of my chamber choir sopranos, Ellen, is an elementary school music teacher. She directs fourth and fifth grade choruses and told us this story during our concert’s intermission several weeks ago. She was teaching the concept of the “pickup” note to her fifth grade chorus. One little boy asked her to tell him which note was the pickup line in the piece they were beginning. She tried to explain it was a pickup note he meant and not a pickup line. He kept insisting it was a pickup line. And he wanted to know what the difference was. She hemmed and hawed and isn’t sure what she actually said, but he seemed satisfied enough to let it drop!
One December, it was a terrible cold and flu season leading up to the annual holiday concert for Annie* and her grade school chorus. She wasn’t sure who would be well enough to sing for their concert, including one of her soloists and half the boys’ section. When told her 40 member chorus was struggling with illness and she wasn’t sure if they would be able to have a concert, her principal told her to “suck it up” because they were not going to cancel it. Even if it meant only two kids were singing! Thank goodness, most of the kids were well enough to sing the concert and were in okay voice, but many of them were coughing or sneezing between numbers. After the concert, one of the parents joked Annie was directing a “coughing chorus” as well as the regular chorus. Her singers seemed to be in better health the week after their concert, right before winter break. But the principal was quite ill. He thinks he picked up whatever bug the chorus had. Annie felt sorry for him for exactly two seconds!
Gavin*’s church children’s choir sang every year for their church’s Living Nativity night. Each member of the Nativity was added, one by one, with an appropriate carol sung by one of the church’s choirs. The angels had the women’s ensemble, often accompanied by the bell choir. The shepherds had the adult choir, the Magi, the men’s group and Baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph, by the children’s choir. It has always been done this way. Last year, they had a new Pastor and he wanted to put his own personal “spin” on it. Instead of sounding so “rehearsed” and “practiced,” he asked each choir to pray and come up with something spontaneously. The children had always sung “Silent Night,” one of the highlights of the evening. Since Pastor wanted them to be spontaneous, he asked Gavin not to rehearse with them and allow them to come up something, themselves. It was with baited breath the kids waited for Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus. Gavin stayed out of it. The kids began singing, spontaneously, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the WHOLE crowd joined right in, laughing. This year, Pastor asked Gavin to have the children sing, “Silent Night.” ‘
One of the most moving Holiday concerts I’ve ever attended was one in which my son, Russell, participated. Russell has autism and is non-verbal but loves music. In his junior high program, he was privileged to attend a music class taught by a wonderful lady, the late Betty Krebs. She insisted special learners should have the same opportunities as everyone else and always had holiday and spring concerts for her students. When she told me Russell had a featured part in her holiday concert one year, I didn’t believe her. Russell signed (using American Sign Language) “Up on the House Top” while his classmates sang. It made me cry because I never believed he would be able to do anything like that. Sometimes, there is such a thing as a Christmas miracle!
“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” Henry David Thoreau
I always try to be grateful. In this season of Thanksgiving, I am more grateful than usual. Perhaps our world is in upheaval but there is one thing I know for sure; there is plenty more Good than there is evil in the world. And for the Good, I am grateful.
ChoralNet is pretty great. I am lucky to have been a ChoralNet User since 1995 (20 years, does that even make sense?). The people I’ve met and the knowledge I’ve had access to have helped me in my career in so many ways. I’ve been a ChoralNet Moderator since 2011 and have been blessed to work with four (really five, counting Martin) of the best human beings it has been my privilege to know. I am grateful for my fellow Moderators Frank, Dean, Brigid and Tom (Tom and I are the weekend team)…love you, folks (and miss you, A.S.)!
We choral folk are beginning our yearly marathon of madness, from rehearsals and concerts and worship services to the family events we must attend. I am grateful for the busyness, for the opportunity to share our Art and for the knowledge what we do matters.
Singing in a choir is something that draws people together and when the world is going to heck, it is healing. I am grateful for the opportunity to occasionally sing in a chorus myself. It makes me feel great to let someone else take over the “steering wheel” too.
I am grateful for the music; the music I know and the music I don’t yet know. It was a privilege to have wonderful teachers, both male and female, guide me and for those pedagogues, Dr. R., Dr. L. and Dr. H., I am grateful.
I work with a group of wonderful singers in my own chamber choir. Their musicianship and their constant growth humble and amaze me. Along with my wonderful accompanist, Ben, (who also sings bari-tenor or is it tenor-tone?) I am grateful for Kari, Frankie, Ellen, Christie, Cindy, Ruth, Althea, Peter, Emile, Russ and Franklin. I don’t know what I did to deserve them but I am happy they are in my life.
I am grateful for having enough to eat, a good and warm place to sleep and people I love to share it with me. Of course, I am grateful for my family. My great husband, Chuck, and our three sons Russell, Gregory and Benjamin are the light of my life. Most days, our life together isn’t perfect, but some days, it’s practically perfect….we have a great life! I am honored and grateful for having had such wonderful parents who allowed me to dream and supported me in subtle ways. My Dad still does, coming to almost every concert I conduct and Baby Bro is my rock.
I live in a wonderful, diverse community with a great sense of what it means to be a community. I am blessed to be able to work with many, many wonderful fellow musicians and visual artists and business people sharing a vision for our community; for all of them (too numerous to name), I am grateful.
I have wonderful friends, some have been part of my life for a long time and some have been part of my life for a short time. Robin, my oldest friend, is the only person I’ll name here but the others know who they are. And I hope they know what they truly mean to me. I am grateful for the fun times and serious times and silly times we’ve shared too!
I am a very healthy person, outside of allergies, and am rarely sick. So, I am grateful for my good health and the relatively good health of those I love. Son Russell’s autism doesn’t count as illness; his ability to overcome some of his challenges and remain a sweet guy is something for which I am grateful.
There are many, many more people and things I am grateful for…including YOU!
Happy Thanksgiving, ChoralNet!