“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Francis of Assisi
I receive quite a few emails with people’s thoughts about my Choral Ethics project. Some folks tell me they are not exactly sure what Choral Ethics is, but will know it when they see it. Some tell me what I am calling “Choral Ethics” is an old-fashioned concept. Others tell me they have been practicing what I am preaching almost forever. They say no matter what happens around them, they remain true to their values. I’ve asked five to share their thoughts. These folks “live” their values and choirs see them practice what they preach, but how do they do it? All five have been successful choral professionals upwards of 20 years and have evolved into the core of values they have now by trial and error.
The unifying theme of all five has been cultivation of a “non-drama persona” (my term for it) in order to maintain their values. Three tell me it’s was simply a matter of learning how to be a leader, knowing where you want to lead and then leading. The other two confess they were “Drama Queens” in the early days of their careers but have learned to use drama judiciously, using it only when it will do the most good—if someone is always in high dungeon, singers stop listening! All tell me when they began to step back and really think about their own values, their singers and choral programs began to flourish. While we spoke of many other components for achieving a “non-drama persona,” three were most frequently mentioned—consistency, planning and not always saying what they think.
All agree some sort of consistency of expectations is important. It is when there is no clear guidelines trouble occurs between singers and directors. If singers know guidelines ahead of time, whether for auditions or absences, things run smoother, and a matter-of-fact approach usually works best. I have learned through my contact with these folks, one size does not fit all and must be custom tailored to work. All five shared their approach to a similar problem, but each solution fits their own situation. Professor L* tells me he expects his university chorus to sing in quartets, no matter their attendance, for their midterm and final exams. He feels it has been a very effective way to grades fairly and his students and the university know what is expected and how the grades are determined. Jazzy* uses number of absences (and weighs the absences with a rubric) as a way of grading at her two year college and has done so for ten years with great success. In the community sector, Alan* allows a certain number of excused absences per concert cycle for his singers. If they exceed, choristers are required to sing for him in private to prove they are prepared. Otherwise, it is suggested they usher for that concert. He’s had no problems with this approach, since it is stated very clearly in the chorus’ handbook and mentioned several times a concert cycle. Dante* believes everyone in his community chorus should be allowed to sing a concert as long as they’ve attended a minimum of three rehearsals. Tilly* allows singers in her church choir to sing any Sunday they wish without rehearsal if they’ve sung the anthem with her before, no exceptions, even for those who have sung the same anthem with her predecessor. This approach has worked very well with her choir, has reinforced the excellence of her music program and all her singers “buy into it.”
A long range plan consisting of short range plans has helped cut down on some of the franticness and stress for these choral professionals. Each has told me, when they are sure where they are going, they are able to maintain their “non-drama persona.” We are all cranky when we are under time constraints! Planning repertoire, rehearsals and fundraising or outreach opportunities can be time consuming, but the stress reduction outweighs their time involvement several times a year.
All five have mentioned not always saying what they think at times it would be easier to take a cheap shot. This goes for both in rehearsals and out. Perhaps their snarky comments would be fun while they are speaking them, but damage control is never fun. It is simple enough to keep our mouths shut, isn’t it?
* Name withheld by request