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Advice on how to communicate committment with parents of a church children's choir.

Good afternoon,

I'm hoping for a bit of wisdom from the choralnet community.
 
In September, I started a position as Director of Music at a Lutheran church in NJ just east of Philadelphia.  Since I have arrived, many of my ensembles have been more active than in the past several years and from what I have heard, I am expecting more of the kids.  Next weekend, I am taking my children's choir to a festival sponsored by Choristers Guild festival. I have had plenty of communication with the parents since December about the date of this event. Unfortunately, when I emailed the permission slip out this past week, one of the parents said "oh that's the first day of Little League. My son can't participate in the festival.  That's his favorite activity."

Something like this is probably nothing new to many of you. Now this comment itself didn't upset me. I think kids should be well-rounded. Involvement in sports is a good thing. However, what concerns me is:

1. The parent only noticed this now. If she had told me back in December, I probably would be only mildly irritated and would have let it pass quickly.  I shouldn't take it personally, but in my opinion, lack of communication = lack of respect.
2. This parent is not teaching her son the meaning of committment. I remember one rehearsal in September and the kid said "I missed last rehearsal because I went to a baseball game." and the kid didn't think there was anything wrong with that statement.

My questions for you are: How do I communicate respectfully with this parent? What should I do in the future to help communicate the value of committment (this second question I'm hoping will get many answers)?  In May, I am going to establish a schedule of all of the events (rehearsals and when the kids sing during worship).  I will send that schedule to parents.  What else can I do?

Thanks,
Austen
Replies (21): Threaded | Chronological
on March 20, 2011 4:35am
Hello, Austen.
 
You may want to include a sentence along the lines of, "Please check your calendars now and let me know ASAP of any conflicts so I may plan the choir's activities appropriately." This way you are letting parents know you EXPECT communication and have a reason for needing it. Also, many parents DO value sports over the arts, so a comment about the child being at a ball game instead of rehearsal is to be expected these days.
 
When I was teaching full time I received comments similar to what you've received when it came spring concert time. Students would approach me saying things like, "I have sports practice (or a game) the night of the concert. I won't be able to make it." My response became, "This concert has been known by you and your parents since September (or earlier if the school published a calendar of events at the start of the school year). You won't fail baseball if you miss one practice/game, but missing this concert for an unexcused absence such as that will hurt your grade in Chorus. I will expect to see you there."
on March 20, 2011 11:25am
Craig:  Agreed on all points!  But it might be helpful to look at the layer of thinking BEHIND the automatic responses.  Sports are regarded as TEAM activities, non-participation is seen as letting down the TEAM and not just the individual.  And of course there ARE consquences that some coaches will enforce, since any player can be benched or even dropped from the team, an action with much more devestating social consequences than simply a grade in school!
 
My own quartet was VERY active in high school, so much so that we scored a full-ride college scholarship, an appointment to the USAF Band, and a professional entertainment career that lasted almost 20 years.  But I was in track and field, one of my partners was the center on the state championshiop football team, and another was a pitcher on the baseball team.  So yes, we (and our parents) had to deal with this up close and personal!  (And it actually didn't help that my father was the band and orchestra director.) 
 
So it seems as if the FIRST line of defense should be to establish that choir is JUST AS MUCH A TEAM EFFORT as any athletic activity, and that every participant's TEAM effort is equally important to the TEAM's success or failure.  (Of course in athletics there's always a loser, so it's a lot easier to define "failure"!) 
 
And even then, we ask so much of our children--and of our students--and have such great hopes that they will be interested and active in so many different things, that there will still be direct conflicts, and that's where you have to make decisions between what's best for the individual students and what's best for the team.  I know that at the college level I try to avoid putting those decisions on the students' shoulders, since they should always be resolved by the grownups.  But that doesn't always happen when you're dealing directly with parents and with coaches or choir directors who are more concerned with themselves than with the kids.
 
Not an easy question to deal with by any means.
 
All the best,
John
on March 20, 2011 1:57pm
Welcome to the world of church music in the new century!  Having been in this business of children's choirs since 1965, I realize that the entire sense of committment to church activities has changed drasticallly in the past ten years.  It has been coming on for a long time, but the true religion of American youth these days is sports.  Parents have little care for the fact that it takes the whole 'team' to do the job, because they don't rate us as high on their list of priorities as sports and numerous other activities.  Just today, I had a final handbell choir rehearsal for next week's appearance in church.  Parents assured me that only one person would be missing, and I had known about this for a good while.  When I showed up today ... three unexplained absences.  In tracking it down, one stayed home because of homework ... not that it couldn't be done later, i'm sure.  And another pair of brothers had to audition for some sort of activity at school.  The sad thing is that these are choices against the ongoing ministry of the church and the effectiveness of its musical groups.  Our former Wednesday evening schedule of youth/children's events and choirs had to be discontinued several years ago because of lack of interest.  Parents wonder why their kids go away to college and never go back to church ... it's because they allow this sort of thing to happen.  It is a clear message that church is not important and you'd better hitch your wagon to some other star for inspiration and solace as life gets tougher.  As the theologians say, we live in 'post-Christian America'. 
on March 21, 2011 9:06am
I identified with the post by Thomas Clark-Jones. Children's choir comes after soccer, kickball, softball, volleyball, and any other sport that kids can find. That is really tough to fight. Our school music teacher faces this constantly when kids tell him they have a game or ball practice so can't come to the school's program. He responds: "Your sport has many games and many rehearsals. This program is our only 'game.' You must be there." He sends notes home and communicates regularly--to no avail. I also communicate regularly. People will tell their coaches if they have to miss a practice, but they won't tell them they have to miss for children's choir.
People often wonder why Asians have become so prominent in classical music. Perhaps because their parents don't worship the God of sports and the children find other activities, such as music, to occupy their time. Yes, all children need something to do besides school, but do they really need sports practice every single night of the week? I have often felt that you can't go into music unless you are a bit feisty, because musicians always have a lot of battles to fight and must spend valuable time justifying what they do. That shouldn't be necessary, but it is. And yet, some of us believe in what we do enough to continue to fight these battles.
Susan Raccoli
 
on March 27, 2011 12:01pm
Give the generation after the current young Asians a chance to be acclimated to American culture, and you'll find them as addicted to team sports as the rest of the society's youngsters - and, I'd be willing to warrant you, the parents will not be anywhere near as insistent that they take violin/piano/voice, etc.  We are fighting several things, not the least the acculturation of American media around sports (March Madness, anybody?) being beamed into our homes 24/7 (ESPN? ESPN2? etc.), and the tendency of the society in general NOT to see things in terms of what your behavior can mean to others.  It's not just the kids; I'm sure every single one of us can recount time after time that our adult choir volunteers have something else that just seems to be more important than God and the Church.  While we have to respectful to the parents of our children, I think it is past time that we speak far more bluntly and to the truth - as in truth to "power" - about the question of priorities.  Parents establish priorities for their youngsters; as they enter into their teen years, we expect the youngsters to develop their own set of priorities.  It is perhaps appropriate to start with the parents of young children and ask the blunt question:  what's more important to you, sports or God?  If the answer is the former, invite them politely NOT to participate in the essential team activity of music in the Church, and certainly not to do so on an "as-available" basis.  That's not politically correct, I understand; but then, you're not hired as a babysitter nor as a substitute for an off-day for sports.  Perhaps your choirs will shrink by half; perhaps, even, go away.  I'm reminded of a discussion with a priest friend of mine, who said that, if the world were to judge the Lord's success rate on the basis of who was standing at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, He'd be judged an abysmal failure, for all the preaching and teaching and healing He did.  He then asked, "And why is this?" and I shot back, "Because it isn't supposed to be easy!"  And, incidentally, the judgment is not the world's to make.  That's right, folks; it isn't supposed to be easy - neither on us, nor on those who claim to be trying to do the right thing to get there - and we do them no favors by trying so desperately to make it so.  It's not, and we ought not.  We have the right (because not only is it our jobs, but because the Way for the Christian is narrow and strewn with rocks) to look at folks and say that a commitment to choir/eucharistic ministry/reading (lector), etc., is a commitment to the community and to the Lord - period.  That's not a popular stand to take in America, these days; and doing so will make you probably at least unpopular with those for whom commitment is "a sometime thing" - if not unpaid - but if that's not what you're willing to do, because your own salvation is at stake as well, then you need to ask why you're there in the first place.  In school, you can get docked grades.  In church, you don't have the marking pen; the Lord does - and the grade isn't revealed until after you die.  Sorry; I hadn't intended to go quite this way, but this is something that continues to bother me.  We're so busy as a society trying to be so nice to each other that we avoid essential if unpleasant truths.
 
Ron
on March 21, 2011 12:21pm
Dear Austen:
        What can we all say but "... you're preaching to the choir on this one." This society of our's is heavily sports-oriented, and no one community seems to be immune to the quick gratification of having Little Johnny or Little Jennie on the "good team". If the parents are not already enticed, their kids and their friends are already there.
        In my own case, my kids were into the sports thing as well, but this was balanced with other activities (music, religious school, etc.), and the family guideline was that whatever activity gets on our master calendar first got priority. And by the way, a good coach will understand -- maybe a call to the coach to explain the situation will get the coach on your side! I saw one or two coaches give kids time off for school/church/temple commitments.
        You are right, lack of communication does equal lack of respect, especially when the family has had the concert information about the concert since the beginning of the school year. All you can do is point out to the child and parent that they are letting down the rest of the choir (their "team") but NOT showing up, and their attendance is expected.
        Other than to remember this instance, there is not much else you can do -- either the parent(s) are disrespectful, don't care, or are woefully unorganized (which is also a definite possibility, but not an excuse...). The same may be said for the coach -- keep track of the team information as well, for tracking purposes. In future, you will have the opportunity to remember this incident when there are audition opportunities for solos -- should all other points be equal, this family's commitment level will be noted and taken into account.
on March 21, 2011 2:32pm
"the family guideline was that whatever activity gets on our master calendar first got priority."
 
Thank you Ronald for getting to the core of the issue!  That statement is exactly why I was upset, although in this case, they may have known about the start of Little League since September.  If they had known about that other activity since September and had told me a few months ago, I would not have been upset.  I was upset because the parent JUST realized there was a conflict, NOT because it was a SPORTS conflict.  Two sisters (other family) weren't in the children's choir until November because of soccer.  I wasn't upset over that.  Kids need to get exercise.  In that case, the mom did say "I'm sorry they haven't been able to participate."  I'm just thankful they are participating, even if it isn't for a full year.
 
I also really liked this statement "In future, you will have the opportunity to remember this incident when there are audition opportunities for solos -- should all other points be equal, this family's commitment level will be noted and taken into account."  I may say something along those lines in a handbook for next year.
 
 
on March 24, 2011 2:23pm
Austen,
 
Welcome to the reality of the world of children's church music! Only one child had a conflict at the last minute? Wow! I'd say you are doing very well then if only one child didn't attend. Lack of respect? Yes, but this is the way of the world. Parents and children often don't view the church and church music as all that important. It' a consumerism mentality of shopping and taking, rather than giving of their God-given time, treasures and talents. Let it all go or you will go crazy! I have worked in this field for over 40 years and would not have made it this far if I didn't let go and concentrate on the good.
 
Since you have nothing to hold over the heads (such as a grade in a school choral program or fear of dismissal or loss of tuition in one of the popular community children's choirs), you need something that has a positive approach to it. I strongly recommend the Voice for Life program that is part of the Royal School of Church Music. This is a much better program, when administered properly by the director, than any school, community or other church program. You will hear success in their voices and the congregation will experience this as well as a result of participation in RSCM.
 
Singers want to learn and know more...as a result they can earn rewards, if the director desires, as in ribbons/medals, much the same way Scouts earn badges. (Do a search of the RSCM in America for future information or attend one of the summer courses as a director. The St. Louis Course is one of the best, though there are other programs closer to you.) After awhile, the ribbons aren't as important to the children as the knowledge and recognition they receive when they sing so beautifully!
 
I direct children's music fulltime in a very large, affluent church and have children with conflicts and lack of commitment consistently. This is part of the mentality of the "Age of Entitlement" that these parents and now their children are learning. I ignore their conflicts and problems, and concentrate on those singers who are present and committed. Afterall, do you really want the child who selects other acitivities over the choir program? No! So, how do you capture the attention of singers and their families? How do you get them to be committed? Well, create a program that is so good that they will be calling you to be a part of it. (I experience this frequently.)
 
I have a select group of choristers who sing with their own age group (either a rehearsal on Sunday or mid-week) and sing with their select group a part from the others at a different rehearsal time. These 20+ children, in grades 3 - 10 grades, are the ones featured on the best anthem with the orchestra at the Christmas concert and are the ones who receive all of the solos and parts in the annual children's musical. They receive such outstanding training that their sound is gorgeous...children and grandparents are frequently enrolling their children in the program just to get their child in the top group. No one is excluded...we have "y'all come and sing choirs where any child can sing. The only requirements of the top choristers group is to sing on pitch and be committed to a higher standard and level of musicianship. The love it!
 
The best singers are frequently given a scholarship to attend one of the RSCM Summer Training Courses with the understanding that the must serve in their own group plus the top group for the upcoming season. Singers truly want to attend the summer courses and are hooked on my program as a result. The singers and I reap the benefits! Esprit de corps is paramont to any good music program. What do you do with the children for fun? Do you have a party? Do you serve treats at rehearsals? Do you have overnights and movie nights? Do they attend special training events? They will want to be a part of it all if they have a social as well as a musical connection. Make sure parents know all of these things and make sure they know that not everyone should be a part of your program. Make it a bit exclusive and sophisticated, at least with your top group. You are doing them all a service by explaining the details of your expectations early on. Know that you are always going to have to leave a few behind.
 
When all else fails, or before it fails, remember to pray. Your relationship to Christ along with your respect towards your singers and parents, even when they don't "deserve" it, is the only way you will receive the respect you want. Offering Praise to God through our music is what we are called to do...let go of the negative and concentrate on what God has called us all to do.
 
Blessings on you and your music ministry!
Debra
on March 26, 2011 5:31pm
Hi Debra -
 
Thanks for your wonderful response.  I actually had 2-3 kids who I know couldn't come a few weeks ago.  One thought she chouldn't go, then she thought she could, then she couldn't.
 
How compatible is RCSM with Choristers Guild programs?  I will check into Voice for Life (I have heard about it), but I am a big supporter of Choristers Guild, hence my choir's participation in their festival today.  Unfortunately I don't know if I would be able to have a select group at church.  In a few years, I could reasonably see having 20 kids in the children's choir and I would be thrilled with that number.  I don't know if I would have more than 25.  I could be mistaken, but that's my gut speaking.
 
Since this is my first year at the church, it will take some time before the program really builds.  I have tried to do all you suggested.  We haven't had any overnights yet, mostly because I'm responsible for 5 ensembles and have had to stablize numbers for 4 of those.  It's certainly been a busy year.  Fortunately I have the summer to plan for the next program year!
 
Blessings,
Austen
on March 26, 2011 7:25am
Just for jollies: below is a Facebook status post I put up a couple of weeks ago, on a very frustrated Sunday morning in my affluent sports-oriented parish:
 
"Math problem: I have 21 children in the Children's choir. There were 10 present at our last rehearsal. There were 13 at the rehearsal prior. 4 of those 13 were not among the 10 from this past week. There are 17 present this morning; of these, 8 were not present this past week, and 4 have not attended any rehearsals since our last service. Calculate the odds of how likely it is that they will know what they are doing as a group today."
 
My co-director (she directs the younger children, I have the older ones) and I were talking about this issue as well--how choir seems to be more of a "drop in center" than anything else, something they come to when they have nothing better to do, and all the emails and reminders about commitment, teamwork, expections, etc. seem to have little effect.
 
I have two thoughts: One, make it clear from the first rehearsal of a piece, song, service, what-have-you that there will be a number of small solo parts chosen at the last rehearsal, and they will be given to the choir members who are most prepared and most solid on the music. (This is easy within Catholic liturgy; the children can perform small--or large--parts of the cantor ministry.) Try to include, over the course of the season, as many students as possible in the solo or small ensemble bits. This year (the previous facebook post notwithstanding) I noticed a dramatic increase in my own choir's attentance when I implemented this, though it was more a practical decision than a strategic one--I discovered if I gave "cantor" parts to students prior to the last rehearsal, half the time those students wouldn't show up for the last rehearsal and we'd be up a creek. So I assign them at the end...
 
My co-director and I also had a thought that if we charged a fee for membership in the choir, even if it were just a nominal one, we bet people would be much more diligent about showing up. Anyone tried this?
 
I will definitely look into the RSCM stuff...thank you for the resource!
--Jenifer
on March 26, 2011 5:36pm
Hi Jennifer -
 
I understand your rationale about "there will be a number of small solo parts chosen at the last rehearsal", but personally I wouldn't want to have such a policy.  What if a kid is sick the rehearsal before they sing the anthem in church?  Unfortunately at the church where I work, there aren't really opportunities for cantoring or having a solo within the liturgy.
 
Blessings,
Austen
on March 29, 2011 6:50am
Austen--honestly, I'm not entirely comfortable with this as "policy" either--it has just sort of Happened, and I'm running with it for the season to see what happens.  And it really only works when there are "service music" bits that can be assigned, and ones that other students could step in to "pinch hit" as necessary, at that. By now I have a fairly good sense of which kids are more or less likely to just not show up vs. those whose parents would call me.  But just, for example, giving three of the fifth graders one verse of the Communion Song to sing together, seems to be a really effective motivator. I probably wouldn't do it for anthems, too risky, I agree.
 
And be assured that for things like Christmas and Easter I talk with the parents and make absolutely sure their kids will actually be there, and I have backup people just in case as well. 
on March 26, 2011 6:00pm
Thank you all for your comments!  I hope this conversation continues.
 
Over the past few days, I reflected on my original post.  The student who I referenced in the original post has been at every rehearsal (minus one or two due to illness) and has sung/rung at every scheduled Sunday.  Here is what I think irked me.  When I taught in public schools at the high school level, I had a handbook and had the following expectations: if a concert occured on the same night as a sports practice, the concert took precedent.  If a choir competition occured the same night as a regular sports game, the choir competition took precedent.  If a sports championship (like a state game) occured the same night as a concert, the state game took precedent.  Regular games and concerts never conflicted.  Some of you may disagree with that policy, but that's what it was and seemed to work.  In my mind, the Choristers Guild festival was more important than a baseball game, but I didn't communicate the weight of the festival.
 
This was apparent when another parent mentioned something.  This other parent used her van to drive me and kids to the festival (including her own), and is a HUGE help to the music ministry.  Her sister and their family, who she only sees once every two years, is coming to visit this week.  As a result, she said her kids aren't participating in any activities this week (other than school) and will miss rehearsals.  I was completely OK with this.  Then I thought, "Why am I OK with this but not the other kid participating in the festival?"  This is where I think the tiered system could come in handy.
 
As a result, for next year, I'm thinking of creating a tiered system for all of my events.  For example, an "A" event (like a festival) would be more important than a "C" event (like a rehearsal).  It would either be a two-tiered or three-tiered system.  I really have good and consistent attendance from my children's choir, but I need to be clearer on which events are more important.  It will also help that I will publish next year's schedule by early June.
 
The festival today went very well.  I had two kids say "wow - they really missed out."  One of those kids was the boy mentioned in my original post(:  I think that alone will make the difference for future events.  I think it will just take time to communicate my expectations and have parents understand what they are.  I feel that I do have support from parents, who appreciate what I am teaching their kids and have communicated that to me.  Of my 5 kids that sang in the festival, each of them had one or two parents there.  This was for a festival that is an hour away from my church!  I think flexiblity with a huge amount of grace is vital.
 
Please continue this conversation.  As I have heard many times "the process is more important than the product."
 
 
on March 26, 2011 7:54pm
Austen:  At present you're having conflicts with sports.  But take my word for it, it doesn't stop there, and it doesn't EVER stop!
 
At the college level, a student (whether a music major or not) who is really interested in getting the most out of school is likely to be in more than one ensemble.  And possibly a given theater production or opera workshop.  And probably not in a varsity sport, but not unusually in a club or intramural sport.  Along with ALL the classes and labs and group projects and exam review sessions and everything else they're inolved in, not to mention both social and professional fraternities and sororities. 
 
I had a personal tiered system back when I directed a very active, very demanding show ensemble that toured on a regular basis to represent the university.  The conflicts were pretty fierce.  In most cases we could work things out, because I planned ahead, because I had an extensive professional background and you HAVE to plan ahead!  BUT, the only reason I bring this up, it doesn't work unless all the other directors or supervisors buy into the system, and not all of our conductors did so.
 
And I have to say that this was nothing new to me.  I was in high school a LONG time ago, but even then I was in band, orchestra, choir one year, scouts, a VFW drum & bugle corps, and a very active barbershop/entertainment quartet that was in demand AND a string quartet that was moderately active.  AND three of us in the barbershop quartet were involved in varsity sports. 
 
It's called time management, and it's something that every student needs to learn to do or they'll go nuts!  And it may be that in this day of overly-involved parents, THEY need to learn it as well.  I just lost my best alto and my best violist (the same person) for my Spring Concert because she's a high school student whose parents decided that she needs to concentrate on practicing the viola concerto she's playing in early May, and I can't really object because it's their place to make that decision, not mine.
 
So I guess the idea I'm trying to get across is just that it's the active kids who ARE in a lot of things that we usually WANT to have in our ensembles, and they're the ones we most hate to lose.  Which means that while you can be as hard-nosed as you want (and of course you NEED to be to some extent), but there will always be consequences for you and your ensemble as long as you force kids to establish their priorities.
 
All the best,
John
on March 27, 2011 12:11pm
One other thought, folks:  it is also about making choices.  America is the land of "you can have it all - and you ought to."  That's nonsense, and those of us old enough to have been around a while realize just how much of this is nonsense.  But the entire society keeps preaching it on the radio and the TV and the social media, etc., etc. - but it can't happen.  Part of what our jobs are is to teach the necessity of making choices.  We complain we don't have family time - why?  Because Johnny's at baseball, and Mindy's at viola lessons, and Dad is in Tulsa, and Mom has Oprah's Book Club.  Bottom line:  choices MUST be made.  Parents have a JOB to help their children learn to make choices.  We have the right and the responsibility to let parents know that this is the case - not because we're mean, not because we don't their Johnny or Jannie in the choir - but because for those kids who have made a commitment that this is important enough for their time, so it should be for every other person involved.
 
Ron
on March 27, 2011 3:28pm
Ron:  I agree completely with what you say both about making choices and about learning to make choices, but I like to think that my approach is a little more nuanced.  My advice to young people is, and always will be, "Don't close any doors behind you until you have to.  That time will come, and you'll have to make choices, but until then keep learning what you enjoy and what has the most meaning and the most value to you."  I guess it might be called a truism that you can never choose something that you've never tried out!
 
Elementary school might not be the right time to start making limiting choices, although I think that does depend largely on he individual kid.  Our older daughter had a terrible time chosing a college, because they all assumed that she knew what major she wanted, and she had no idea at all!  She ended up at a very demanding Great Books school and got a superb education, and they simply didn't HAVE majors.  You got education, not training.  But she was always good at math, got interested in education as a career, and is now finishing up a Ph.D. in Math Education.
 
She was in a Suzuki violin class with Joshua Bell (although much younger).  Josh could very well have had a career in professional tennis, and had to make a decision between tennis and violin.  He chose violin, and the musical world is richer because he did, but I suspect that the world of tennis is poorer.
 
The same thing happened to string educator George Bornoff, about whose life and work my mom and I have written.  He was offered a professional hockey contract, and could have had a fine career, but again, he chose violin, and proceeded to make incredible breakthroughs in string pedagogy that revolutionized the field.
 
Those choice points come, and they can be life changing.  But at 10 years old?!!!
 
All the best,
John
on March 28, 2011 6:35am
Alright, John, I'll concede the point that at 10 it may be too soon to be self-limiting in one's choices until one has savo(u)red some of the possibilities, but the essence of my point remains:  we kid ourselves as parents and educators and leaders and our kids if we make it seem as though anything and everything were always possible.  One of the things I'd always been at pains to point out to Robert, our son, is that a choice in one direction necessarily limits choices in others; therefore, think carefully before choosing.  It can lead to paralysis, I agree; but isn't that what life is all about in the end - understanding (first of all) that you CAN'T have everything?  We hear women complaining now that wanting and trying to have career and family and, and, and...just isn't working out.  They're burnt out.  We look at our kids with soccer and piano lessons and extracurricular school-related activities, and they're running ragged.  I'd rather have the kid in my choir who says, "Okay, Mr. Duquette, I'll be here for a year (or however long the choir runs - usually academic year, even in church), and then I may do something else."  Fair enough; THINKING about this has occurred, and that's what we want and need - but we also want and need the stepping up to some sense of responsibility.
 
Let's go the other direction, for a second:  We've been emphasizing the parents and the kids, but what about the director/educator?  Would it be acceptable for one of US to be pulled in twenty-four directions in the same number of hours, and in so doing, not fulfill our responsibilities?  Yes, we juggle and balance matters and sometimes things come up that we don't anticipate, but in general we've made choices (thereby eschewing others) adjusting our lives accordingly, and that is the burden of adulthood and responsibility.  But we're supposed to be models, aren't we?  Isn't that what ministry is supposed to be about, and isn't that why we're so bothered when ministers (read this broadly as meaning ANY type of leader of a group) don't live up to that modelling behavior?  The burdens of those choices we all know; but one of the rights of that choice or series of choices is that we get to look at others and say, "this is the price of choice, the price of responsibility; that you are beholden to others beyond yourself, especially in music and in general in ministry in the Church."  We do our children poorly when we don't make it clear that, as they get older, the choices start narrowing because you accept greater responsibility every time you make a choice, and it's usually because you are held to account by more and more people.  When I was a second lieutenant, the range of my responsibilities were limited; they were immensely larger as a major with 20 years' service, in that matters I wrote about could have impacts on decisions made by people as high up as the Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR).  My basic objection is that the society wants to disestablish individual responsibility for choice, and in so doing, reduces society to individual "cells" bumping into each other randomly and without any acceptance of the consequences of impact.  We don't have that right; in fact, we are obligated to the contrary.  Too much at 10?  Maybe; but when does it start happening?  And if it's too soon at 10 for the kid, is it too soon for the parents at 35 to buy into this notion?  This is why I favor a straightforward statement about accepting responsibility and being responsible to the remainder of the choir - and that, at age 10, the majority of that burden is on the parents.
 
Ron
on March 28, 2011 10:11am
Ron D. wrote:  "We've been emphasizing the parents and the kids, but what about the director/educator?  Would it be acceptable for one of US to be pulled in twenty-four directions in the same number of hours, and in so doing, not fulfill our responsibilities?"
 
I had to chuckle at that, Ron.  I've NEVER, through probably a half-dozen different careers, all in music, stopped multi-tasking, and sometimes I'm wearing so many hats I forget which heads they're on!!  Of course you're right, but another aspect of time management is developing the ability to assign the necessary time to each of your different activities and still fulfill your repsonsibilities for all of them.  When my quartet, The Four Saints, was in the USAF Band ('57-'61) we were on call 24/7, as you well know.  We were also developing new material all the time and preparing for a professional career once we got out.  And once I discovered that Uncle Sam would pay most of the cost of additional education, I took a continuing series of classes that eventually led to finishing my undergrad degree.  (It took me 12 years, but I did it!) 
 
I did the same thing in grad school and I've done the same thing ever since.  No college in its right mind would ever advertise a job description that's what I have actually DONE!!!  And I grew up believing (and still do) that that's how normal people operate.  My mom cooked and cleaned and raised a family and also taught everything from junior high to college and taught piano lessons.  My dad directed the high school band and orchestra (2 different preparations), taught elementary string classes, taught marching band (more different preparations), and sang in a barbershop quartet just for fun.  He also taught violin lessons after school and on Saturdays, and taught good piano students to play cello and bass!  Oh, and he was the choir director at our church, and my mom was the organist.  And here at this university we've always been a small department in a huge university, and every single member of the music faculty teaches what other faculties would consider an overload as a matter of course.  PLUS playing in symphonies, or conducting church or community ensembles, or teaching at summer camps, or all the other things that musicians get involved in.
 
So no, I've known plenty of people who just did one single thing and did it very well, but that just isn't me, so I'm not all that anxious to try to limit what students choose to do (although there are some Departments that DO exactly that, for their own reasons).  Believe me, my college students are VERY GOOD at prioritizing and choosing what to devote their time to, and sometimes I don't like their choices, but they've been doing that since high school, and probably since middle school.  And the folk saying is still absolutely true:  if you want something done well, give it to somebody who is already completely busy!
 
I don't think we really disagree.  It's more a matter of degree and of how adamant to be about forcing choices when compromises might be possible.  That isn't nearly as EASY as being hard-nosed, but I've always believed in inclusion rather than exclusion.  Some people simply don't think that way, and that includes many choral directors.
 
All the best,
John
on March 29, 2011 10:03am
John - I'm with you; in fact inclusion has been at the heart of whatever I've tried to do - I believe that we are called on to be "bridges" between varying groups.  (When I was at the MI officers Advanced Course, it was even noted by one of my fellow classmates.  As an additional side note, I do some occasional historic interpretation work as de Lafayette, and my readings on his life, especially at the end, is informed by how much he saw himself as a "bridge" character bringing together disparate groups who might not otherwise think they have anything in common.  Why I do Lafayette is precisely because he sees his role in this way and I do too!)  Nonetheless, a "bridge" only has so much room, and there is a point at which prioritizing becomes essential.  It's also true that while I agree about the "If you want something done well..." rubric, there is also a point where a very busy person has to look someone in the eye and go, "Nope; too busy; couldn't do it as well as it ought be done; and besides, it's YOUR job to do."  That's another part of this as well; and perhaps it's because I realize far too well the tendency to want to be involved with everything and, through sad experience, having to say, "I'd love to; but I ought not, because it won't get done near so well as it deserves."  You're right; I think that perhaps at the root is the humble acknowledgement of limits to one's own abilities and to avoid taking on so much more that you can't give what each deserves.  Perhaps, what is really being said, is that you can manage 20 tasks well; while I can only manage 10 - but we have to be honest enough with ourselves and those around us, especially the kids, to teach them that doing what they take on well is the first task; and the second, so closely allied that it can't be really separated, is to admit how many of those things they can take on they can do well. 
 
Ron
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