“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.” Oscar Wilde
Manda* tells me she can’t believe, in the 21st century, this happened to her. She thought she had moved on and now is faced with an uncomfortable dilemma. Here is her story; she asked my advice, and I gave it. What would you have told her to do?
Five years ago, Manda applied for a very nice community chorus position. It was a bigger job than you would have thought, with a children’s chorus, a youth chorus, a chamber chorus as well as the larger adult chorus under the organizational umbrella. She and her family had moved into the area and one of her new neighbors had mentioned the job opening.
The artistic director supervised the children and youth choruses and directed the chamber and the larger chorus. There was an executive director, but that person handled the administration side, not the artistic. Manda was more than qualified to supervise the children and youth choruses, having taught Kindergarten through 12th grade music in her former community and as well as directed the local community chorus. It was more like a three-quarter time position than a full time. Having just moved across the country, it would have been perfect as her family adjusted to a completely new part of the country and she worked getting her teaching certification for that state.
She went into the interview hopeful; confident her skills and experience would help getting her to the audition phrase of the process. The Search Committee seemed impressed, and she was “handed off” to the directors of the children and youth choruses for an interview with both of them. Since she would be supervising, it was thought they should have a say. Both were lovely young women and they all got along well. Then she was “handed off” to do a sample rehearsal of the chamber chorus, which she felt went well. Most of the singers were excited for her to do the sample rehearsal of the larger chorus and told her so.
Manda didn’t realize it was to be a group audition of all three of the artistic director candidates. She was the only woman and the oldest. Each candidate was expected to do a short warm-up and rehearse one assigned section of the same large work. When not directing, they were asked to sing in their own vocal section. Manda would be last and sang in the soprano section while the others rehearsed. Unlike the tenor and bass sections, the sopranos were not exactly welcoming. She sucked it up, smiled and sang.
When it was her turn to rehearse, she was business-like but relaxed. Her section of the piece was quickly learned and with time still allotted, was asked by a member of the Search Committee to go over a passage one of her fellow candidates was not able to perfect. With a few adjustments to what was already accomplished, she got them to do it, with time to spare.
Three weeks later, Manda had heard nothing, so she checked the organization’s website—the tenor had gotten the position, but no one had told her! She wasn’t happy but moved on which meant taking a few courses to get her teaching certificate while she subbed.
Several months passed and Manda subbed for a high school band director. She was surprised the director of the youth chorus, Gennifer*, was the choral director at the high school. She wasn’t sure how she should act but needn’t have worried because Gennifer came over to her and apologized. Then asked to have lunch with Manda that Saturday because it was important.
Gennifer told Manda both she and Deana*, the children’s director, had voted for her but the Search Committee was adamant the new director would be one of the men. Why? Because many of the older women members of the larger group didn’t think a woman would be taken seriously or respected as artistic director. In fact, EVERYONE, even those who thought they needed a male director, thought Manda was the better fit for their group. But their worries about being respected and taken seriously overrode the actual ABILITY to do the job.
All this brings us to the present. Manda was contacted a few weeks ago by the Executive Director of the choral organization to ask if she would consider taking the position of artistic director, and no interviews or auditions would be needed. With the Pandemic, only Zoom rehearsals and just the stress of it all, the person they had hired five years ago quit in a huff. Manda was given several weeks to make her decision and she is (as I write this blog) undecided.
When Manda contacted me, after I asked WHY IN THE WORLD the Search Committee thought a GROUP AUDITION was a good idea, I asked other questions. I asked if she would take the job if she hadn’t known why she wasn’t chosen. She said yes. I asked if she thought she could help the organization through the Pandemic transition and she said yes. I asked if her feelings about those older women would color how she viewed the position, her answer was also yes and that’s the dilemma.
Here was my advice; if Manda would really like the job, she should take it. If trying to get past knowing what she knows would be too difficult, she shouldn’t.
As women conductors and classical musicians, it’s always a struggle to be taken seriously. We hope other women would appreciate that and be supportive, but often, that’s not the case. We need to lift each other up, not pull each other down. And I told Manda exactly that; we must lift each other up. So how could she lift those women up?
What advice would you give Manda?
Until next week, be well and safe!
I am taking my Choral Ethics Blogs to my chamber choir’s Facebook page for the foreseeable future. Please join me there this morning! https://www.facebook.com/themidwestmotetsociety/