“Part of the happiness of life consists not in fighting battles, but in avoiding them. A masterly retreat is in itself a victory.” Norman Vincent Peale
The old chestnut of “happy wife, happy life” is true. If your spouse is happy, things are generally happy in your household. Most of us in long marriages (I celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary in August so I will include myself) have learned to keep their mouths shut about things that don’t matter—and they really don’t matter. Yes, it makes me crazy my spouse leaves the kitchen cabinet doors open every time he takes a glass or a bowl out. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not important. I follow behind him and close those blasted doors. If I constantly reminded or nagged him or was snotty about him always forgetting to shut those doors, it would not make him happy and consequentially, I wouldn’t be happy. There are plenty of other things, things that have long driven me mad, but not enough to be mad. I ignore them because they don’t matter. It makes for a more pleasant dinnertime as well as a happy, shared life.
That equally old other chestnut of “pick your battles” is also true, especially in our choral work. If the music is most important in our work, then why do we constantly get sidetracked by things NOT about the music?
Greta* used to sing alto with a community chorus. She enjoyed the other singers and the music. What she didn’t enjoy was the director who was constantly picking on the alto section. He would get ticked if everyone didn’t have a pencil or didn’t have a pencil out IMMEDIATELY when he wanted them to mark something. For any mistake, even if they were sight-reading something new, they were scolded and he was nasty. Often he would pick on someone in particular. He seemed to focus on the petty, the unimportant and wasted time ranting and raving about small mistakes, forgotten pencils or missed rehearsals. Greta contacted me because she read one of my early Choral Ethics Blogs on pettiness.
It was a rare rehearsal they got through a complete piece or large work, even close to a concert. And he was disorganized and unapologetic about it. Nothing they sang ever was polished because they didn’t have time to be with his weekly diatribes. The director gave the impression he was doing them a favor by condescending to direct a mere community chorus. The chorus’s performances seemed to confirm his opinion; they weren’t very good and were lucky to have HIM as their director. The chorus’s morale and self-esteem were at an all-time low when Greta decided to leave. Others followed until their numbers dwindled to around 30 from their former ranks of 75 to 80.
The reason Greta contacted me after reading my blog on pettiness was this; she’s back singing with the chorus. After two years away, she wanted to share what happened when pettiness left their ensemble. Their new director doesn’t single out sections or people. Often, she’ll have them sing through a section without stopping, even if they make mistakes. She figures out how to correct those mistakes with no judgement until they get it. She compliments when they get something right.
Greta feels the new director and the new board have more realistic views of what makes a good community chorus. Instead of EVERYTHING being important, only the music is important and everything else is not. The old board pandered to their director and whatever he believed to be important; everything—even what hand to carry their music folders in– was a big fight and nothing got done. Finally, a few singers got tired of not being happy singing and changes were made.
The chorus is working on one of the large choral works they performed in the past with their old director. It was already scheduled and the new director thought it was a good idea to follow through. At the first rehearsal, Greta was ready to be chastised for not knowing a section that had always given them trouble. They were not technically sight-reading but never, ever got it right. Instead of saying something nasty, the new director broke it down into small sections, and THEY GOT IT. This is when everything changed for Greta. After five full rehearsals and a sectional, they know this work better than when they first performed it; happy chorus, happy life!