“Unless a tree has borne blossoms in spring, you will vainly look for fruit on it in autumn.” Walter Scott
We in academia (or those following a choral year) plant our seeds in the fall, watch our ensembles begin to blossom in winter and early spring and harvest our fruit (concerts or the end of the church choir season) in late spring. If we are not careful with our choral planting and nurturing, we don’t get blossoms and we don’t get fruit. Or the blossoms are sickly and the fruit is straggly. We must prepare our soil before we plant. We must diligently water and fertilize, both making sure there is enough warmth and not allowing our young plants to get too cold. We know what to do, when, either from experience or training. If we don’t do these things, our choirs will not bear the fruit we would like them to. And will have no one but ourselves to blame.
Our reputations are much like our choirs; we have the ability to have the reputation we want and deserve. We just have to plan and work for it. It’s easy enough, or should be, to be that choir director. How? Gemma* can tell us how to get from a no-name director with no reputation to a great-name director with a great reputation. First, you have to fail.
Gemma has been at her present position for ten years as the full time music director of a medium sized congregation in the Pacific Northwest and loves her job. She came from the Northeast with her spouse when he was called to serve a congregation as a pastor. When they first moved to the area, Gemma wanted to focus on their two young children. After four years, the kids were both in elementary school, she was bored and applied for the position she has now. And didn’t get the job.
Gemma practiced the organ at least three or four times a week (there are advantages being the spouse of a minister!) and knew her skills hadn’t slipped because she occasionally filled in for her husband’s congregation’s organist. There was no animosity between her and the music staff since they were grateful she would be able to sub for them if they needed her. And she sang with a local community chorus as well as the church choir. Her CV was stellar, if not current, and her organ audition was flawless. So why didn’t she get the job the first time? No one had heard of her and told her so!
Somehow, that bugged Gemma more than anything; “no one” had heard of her. After she complained to her husband, he suggested talking to his congregation’s director of music to see if he had any ideas. Jeff* suggested joining the local AGO chapter to get on their sub list. And their congregation wanted to start a concert series. Jeff didn’t have time to administer the series, so he “hired” Gemma to do it and she was paid a small stipend. She got the reputation of being a great sub organist and knowing a lot about the local classical music scene. As time went on, the community chorus director would occasionally ask her to run a rehearsal or a sectional for him, and the community chorus became one of the cornerstones of the church’s concert series as well. She was doing a little bit of everything, getting involved in the music community and not too proud to do what was asked of her if she was able. That made all the difference.
One Easter Sunday, Gemma was subbing for the congregation where she didn’t get the job. The pastor took her aside after the service and asked her if she would be interested in applying again for their position. The person they had hired was moving on to “greener pastures” and had given his notice right before Lent.
Gemma has outlasted two more pastors and is still very happy with her job. Her spouse is at a different congregation from that first one. In fact, they chose to remain in the area because of her job and the reputation she worked so hard to nurture!