“A coach’s greatest asset is his sense of responsibility – the reliance placed on him by his players.” Knute Rockne
Holly* is the kind of singer we all wish we had in our choirs. She’s dependable and takes the initiative. She practices the hard bits outside of rehearsal. She helps with non-musical things without being asked. Being a member of her church choir has been like a “balm in Gilead” for Holly after a messy divorce and single motherhood’s responsibilities. The choir babysitter for her son during rehearsal, the beautiful music and wonderful people makes singing a carefree highlight of the week for her. Astrid*, her choir director, appreciates all she does for the choir. The choir used to take her contributions for granted, until she wasn’t able to do them; and then complained and made her feel guilty.
Holly always knew what she was doing to help the choir was being ignored by the choir. She shrugged it off in the past because it didn’t bother her. She did things to help because she wanted to, not because she wanted credit or compliments. She believed filing music or organizing their liturgical stoles according to color was her contribution to the choir and to her church. Holly felt since she couldn’t contribute as much monetarily, this was part of her offering.
This past fall was difficult for her. Her son talked about living with his father. Her Mother passed away suddenly, leaving the estate in a mess which Holly needed to clean up. She realized the only time she could get to her Mom’s hometown to do so was her son’s two week Christmas break. Holly decided she would have to leave the day before Christmas Eve to be ready for the paperwork and attorneys on December 26. That meant not singing for the Christmas Eve service or the Christmas morning service.
Holly told Astrid she would not be able to sing Christmas weekend right before Thanksgiving. She would still be able to sing for the Advent cantata but would not be able to do what she usually did for the Christmas services. When Astrid made the announcement they would need volunteers to coordinate the pre-service Christmas Eve Choir dinner and to clean up, there was an uproar. The choir usually just showed up with what Holly told them to show up with. And afterward, they all had their chores which Holly assigned. No one wanted to do what Holly did so effortlessly. And told her so numerous times. They made her feel guilty for needing to take care of her Mother’s business around Christmas.
Holly tells me she coordinated the Christmas Eve choir dinner anyway just to stop the snotty comments. She used a spread sheet from the previous year and assigned folks the same tasks. It wasn’t a big deal and now thinks she should have done it to begin with so there wouldn’t have been such an uproar. But Holly did resent having to do it when she was having problems of her own.
Astrid reported things went well but Holly is still a bit hurt. She is the first one to collect money for choir members in their hours of need or to pass around a birthday card or buy a thank you gift for Astrid. Why couldn’t people realize she needed to take care of her own family this time?
When she contacted me right after the first of the year, Holly wasn’t sure she was ready to go back to choir practice that week. She wanted me to tell her what to do; should she drop out or should she go back? I explained I understood her position, heck; I was even IN her position more than once in my life. I asked her if she loved to sing with Astrid. She said she did. Why did she NOT want to go back? She didn’t like the way people treated her when she couldn’t sing or coordinate Christmas Eve. Does she have enough hurt and resentment to make it reason to drop out? Well, no.
I suggested she go back but not do as much of the “busy work” she has been doing. Or only do the things that give her some enjoyment. She should let Astrid know she will be cutting back on those other things. Or maybe, since she is good at spread sheets and such, she should set a few up for the tasks she has done in the past. Someone else can do them, but she can assign them; she will feel like she’s doing something and the rest of the choir will not take things for granted any longer.
The take home from Holly’s story for us as choir directors is to not rely so much on one or two volunteers. We depend on them, but they depend on us to not burn them out. And sometimes, we need to protect those dependable and reliable choir members from the rest of the choir.