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Two years a flake?

Is two years long enough to decided that you just don’t fit in - working for a church as their Director of Music. I don’t want to be flakey.
I have the chance to apply for a job with the same denomination, the same full-time hours, the same distance from my home.
 
Any words of wisdom? Help, the deadline to apply is close and I don’t need to kick myself a few months from now.
 
L
Replies (14): Threaded | Chronological
on April 9, 2011 10:38am
L:  Sometimes 10 minutes can be enough to show that you don't fit in!  But as has been pointed out many times in this forum, it isn't always the denomination that makes a difference.  In almost every case it is the specific people and their personalities that do or do not work well together.  And that is usually independent of denomination.
 
So the factors that could be considered include how long the tenure of a priest/pastor is in that particular denomination; the support or lack of it by the church's governing structure; whether either looks better at the potenially new church; and all the allied questions that go along with those factors.
 
My wife went through at least 4 rectors and as many organists.  Some were supportive.  Some were critical.  Some were sneaky.  Some appreciated her expertise and professionalism and some did not.  But she built a strong program, and that program disappeared when she left the church.  So yes, it's the people, not the building, and not the denomination.
 
All the best,
John
on April 9, 2011 2:33pm
L,
 
It was apparent within a couple of months that my first position as Director of Music Ministries was going to be an exercise in patience as much as anything. I began in June; by the following winter I was actively looking for other positions which more fully fit my wish for a program. I was bound by an aging congregation's wish to hold onto the past, rather than to try new things (and that goes for the whole church- not just the music program). The pastor was always in damage control mode, making decisions while pre-emptively planning for backlash. I even went and talked to one of my professors about it, and he said it's never a bad thing to look around and keep an eye out. I'd say go for it- there could be many more opportunities available for you. 
on April 10, 2011 6:27am
L;
As musicians/performers, we all make lots of decisions based on "how it feels", backed up by our training and experience. Most often they're the right decisions. After two years of "not fitting in", you have all the information you need to make a from-the-gut decision. Only you can decide, but when choices are made according to what feels good, things tend to work out best for everyone.
Good Luck!  
on April 11, 2011 4:41am
I've been in church music for 40 years as singer, cantor, section leader, and choir director (adults and children).  Usually, I found myself transitioning because of situations other than the church situation (professional moves, etc. - mostly with the military).  However, the one time that didn't fit the previously described, it was because of personalities and professional disabilities (on the part of the parish administrator), rather than desire on my part.  So I haven't exactly confronted the "I don't think I really fit here" sense that you seem to be feeling.  BUT - if after two years you haven't felt like you are the piece of the puzzle that fits where it belongs - move.  Don't torture yourself with all the "what-ifs" - because that leads to paralysis, and you need to move on and find something else.  The truth is, you may move to something else, and find you don't fit in there, and have to move yet again.  I would, however, caution you to examine honestly the motivations leading to that sense of "not fitting in."  Is it unrealistic expectations on your part?  Is it that others have to change to you, rather than vice-versa?  Is it even, possibly, that you ought to be doing something else musically rather than being involved with the church?  Only you can answer that, none of us; and that self-examination could lead to a more focussed direction.  Good luck!
 
Ron Duquette
on April 12, 2011 8:09pm
"...Don't torture yourself with all the "what-ifs" - because that leads to paralysis, and you need to move on and find something else.  The truth is, you may move to something else, and find you don't fit in there, and have to move yet again.  I would, however, caution you to examine honestly the motivations leading to that sense of "not fitting in."  Is it unrealistic expectations on your part?  Is it that others have to change to you, rather than vice-versa?  Is it even, possibly, that you ought to be doing something else musically rather than being involved with the church?..."
 
Very good questions and thanks for the caution.
 
"paralysis"... already setting in and it doesn't feel good
 
Thanks Ron.
 
N
on April 22, 2011 8:10pm
L,
 
I have absolutely been in those shoes!  And recently, I've read differing music philosophy books in graduate school wherein we're encouraged to make it 5-7 years in order to make a difference.  Can I be honest and say that sometimes I believe that it's just impossible.  My thought is this: If you're heart is already gone, you're gone.  Now my next question would be introspective:  WHY is my heart gone?   If this is a habit for me, then I need to maybe re-evaluate myself and my calling? 
 
At the end of the day, unfortunately there is no absolute right or wrong answer (in my opinion).  You must weigh the options carefully and go with what you believe to be the best decision for you and your circumstance.
 
Wish it were easy,
-JK
on April 23, 2011 5:04am
It is like I’m in a bad marriage. Some days things are fine and other days… well.
 
I hear you John, 5-7 years. Today, I can see myself staying for the 5 years. Next Thursday, after rehearsal, I might be ready to pack my bags and escape during the night.
 
Yes, certainly not easy right now.
 
N
on April 23, 2011 8:27am
L - What's different between Sunday and Thursday?  THERE's the answer to your very first question which started this entire thread off - and a good one too, for all of us.  Define that difference, explore it; and you may know whether this is a long-term fit with struggle involved, or an invitation to "pack (your) bags and escape during the night."
 
Ron
on April 23, 2011 8:40am
I have been in your shoes--I had a wonderful church job for almost 4/5 years and then the pastor retired and was replaced by someone whose spouse was a church musician--and she knew it all.  I stayed a couple years after that because it evolved into the intolerable.  Just to keep my sense of self esteem, I got out.  Best decison I ever made.
 
Here's where I will caution you--apply to the other job and if you get it, resign, but do it so your present church isn't in the lurch. Wait until the end of the choir year--in June?--so they may begin a search during the summer.  Be professional because anything other will follow you around for years.  Your present job may be unhappy but will wish you well if you do it correctly.
 
Remember, even bad marriages don't start out that way--you can make the best of a bad situation by leaving with class and dignity--but you'll be gone and happy--the best outcome!
 
Happy Holy Week my friend,
 
Marie
on April 23, 2011 3:31pm
Ronald and Marie: Thanks for the words of wisdom.
Point well taken about leaving with class and dignity. I very much agree with you.
 
Ron: The point about Thurs vs. Sun…. well here goes:
Thurs night the sr. choir rehearses and it is always poorly attended, any excuse will be given as to why they can’t attend… the reduced numbers always make for a cut in the sound and the learning curve.  Most can’t hear eg. after three times of asking them to sing unison last week I simply centred out the poor soul who was not and asked ‘them’ to sing unison with the choir. Along with the various levels of impaired hearing comes bellowing and certainly no blend to speak of. They bicker over the way they used to do things etc. and the reasons why they don’t think the clergy should be telling them what to do or that they even have to run their ideas of doing things in the service by the clergy. There are members in the choir from a local congregation that closed a year ago… so grief issues, territorial issues etc. are all mixed in their somewhere as well.
 
Sun… they wonder like lost sheep through the church and are late all the time for our regular rehearsal in the same room it has been in for two years since I got there… I opted out of playing creative hymn introductions too and simply play first and last line so they can stand as a group (kind of) because they simply wouldn’t watch for my head nod to get them standing if I played out side the box. They lack a great deal of confidence and frankly I find it embarrassing to be showing 80-year-olds (who have been in the choir for 40 years!) to their seat if we have moved to sing on the chancel steps for the anthem. I have taken a back seat about a year ago as to how they get into church, process vs not process – I simply opted out of that aspect of this troubled group dynamic. They have to figure it out. Often I program a sung benediction that is sung from the centre aisle so recessing never gets to be a big issue.
 
Shall I go on?
 
Interesting thing happened yesterday… Good Fri service. I asked the jr. choir and the bell choir to lead the worship, sr. choir got the day off.  ((I hear you now – bell choir at Good Fri – well it was awesome and not just on account of my brilliant Good Friday compositions, haha )) –One long time member (soon to be a ministry candidate I think) said it was the best and most moving Good Friday service he could remember. The best part for me: these two groups were able to function well in the service, move about with confidence, share their musical gifts and from what I could see were participating in the liturgy.
 
So Good Friday was a good day.
 
Easter Sunday I’m just keeping my head down.
 
N
 
on April 23, 2011 8:07pm
N or L:  Thank you for the more detailed description.  It's more than clear that YOU are not the flake in your situation.  If your choir doesn't even respect your clergy, I guess we can't expect them to respect you!
 
But let me ask how capable your Junior Choir is.  I ask because after my late wife had whipped our "children's choir" (which grew into a Youth Choir) into shape, they were given repsonsibility for one of the services every Sunday during the academic year.  They were, in fact, clearly BETTER than the Senior Choir, too many of whom simply wanted to have a guaranteed seat during services including the crowded Christmas and Easter services.  Not that they were bad.  They weren't.  They were a typical adult choir, with some pretty good musicians, but adverse to taking on extra responsibilities like Lessons and Carols or extra services of any kind.  The Choristers, on the other hand, were better, more musical, and willing to go beyond the minimum commitment.  (And there were never any paid section leaders in either choir, although I guess that would be an oxymoron for a Youth Choir.)
 
It does sound as if, if you do decide to stay, your adult choir is going to need a serious attitude adjustment, and that will only be possible if your clergy agrees with your analysis of the problems and back you up.  And you will almost certainly lose a number of the complainers, no matter how tactful you are, which ALSO has to be understood by your clergy.  But do consider the possibility of giving your Junior Choir more responsibility, and your Senior Choir, in view of their childish behavior, less, perhaps even restricting them to leading (?) the hymns.
 
All the best,
John
on April 25, 2011 7:59am
N,
 
Being in teaching, we're continually taught to look at what are *we* doing in the situation---that might be making it better or worse?  I hear a great description of what the choir is doing on Thursday nights but not much description on what you are doing in response or in preparation.  I've been with my dedicated church choir for nearly 8 years now and I've certainly encountered many of these issues.  The "on time" issue happened right from the get-go, and it turned out the previous choir director always showed up at 7:30 but was usually in the back room picking out a piece for Sunday!!!  So rehearsal never started on time, and of course everyone showed up late.  I fixed this right away by saying, oh, it's 7:30, time to warm up!  And not waiting for everyone to arrive.  To the people who *were* there, I said, I value your time and believe I should respect that by starting at the time I said we would.  So we began and people who were late just missed out.  When everyone was there I said, I do understand that unavoidable circumstances happen, but I would appreciate it if everyone made an effort to be on time so we can get the most done.  Most of my choir members show up on time now--or at least within 5-10 min. of starting :) which is better than it used to be!  I have had issues with folks not showing up on Thursday and then expecting to sing on Sunday.  I had to lay out my expectations on this to the choir.  I said, I do my best to cover things weeks in advance so that if you have to miss a rehearsal, you will still have gone over the music.  However, if you miss two rehearsals in a row, we will need to talk to make sure you are prepared on that piece of music.  It's not fair to the people who were here, and I may ask you to not sing on that Sunday.  But please do come back the next week!!  One time I did have to ask someone not to sing on Sunday, and she wasn't happy about it.  In fact, due more to life circumstances than to me, she stopped coming for months.  But now, she is here on a pretty regular basis, and I think the rest of the choir appreciates that those expectations are in place.
 
Finally, the talking while I'm talking....this can still be a struggle, but I make it a point to wait until I have everyone's attention before going on with directions.  I might also add I have some choir members with some degree of hearing loss, sometimes in one ear or the other.  Since you mention 80-year old choir members, it is possible that they honestly can't hear some of what you say.  I re-arranged seating recently and one of my members said, oh I can hear you so much better now!  I think I must be going a little deaf in the other ear.
 
Re-processing/seating--it's true in my experience that adults don't deal as well with change as kids do.  My suggestion would be to create a routine and stick to it so they become comfortable with what they are doing.  If it's not working, simplify, simplify, simplify.  Do they have to process?
 
All the other issues, territorial, bickering, etc. in my opinion should be kept out of the music time (rehearsals and performance).  When we are at rehearsal we are there to make music and enjoy the process.  Any discussions should be held after choir rehearsal or at another time.  It takes time to really "gel" and my choir doesn't always agree with me, but they do respect me and frankly, most of the time we have a lot of fun.  Good luck working out your situation.
 
Heidi
on April 24, 2011 5:02pm
L - omigod, what a mess you're in.  You have my deepest sympathies.  What it sounds like is that you got a pig-in-a-poke when you came in - did you have ANY idea that these people were this way?  This is an argument if there is a need for such an argument for the person considering taking the position having at least one rehearsal and one Sunday service with the group BEFORE deciding to take the job or not.  What a horror!  I've been through some of your frustration with the mid-week rehearsal being a musical version of an upside down cake, and then on Sunday morning there are all kinds of people (most of whom weren't there on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday) now showing up and bringing in orange marmalade to smear all over the thing!  In that instance, we eventually dropped the midweek rehearsal for rehearsing immediately after Mass on the Sunday a.m. - some initial grumbling, but suddenly things started falling into place.  By your description, though, that's not the REAL problem:  the real problem is, as John points out, attitude, brought on by the (unofficial) Eighth Deadly Sin - indifference.  These folks are complacent in their indifference; they don't care, quite simply (not all, obviously; but enough to infect the group), and aren't willing to make one jot or tittle of effort beyond the minimum - but they get to say "I'm in the choir!"  Big deal.  I can be IN the House of Lords without BEING a lord; one can be IN a choir without necessarily BEING a chorister.  I wonder if any of them "got the hint" (I suspect not) when you went with the junior choir and the handbell choir on Good Friday.  That should be THE day (short Easter and Christmas) that a choir would want to do its part and be seen there to lead the community in possibly the most affecting day in the Church calendar. 
 
John's comment about getting the clergy on your side (if you plan to stay; if not, no point) in getting the choir to understand that their attitude is unacceptable.  Diplomacy be damned; you're suffering, and they're the cause; and the program is suffering, and they're the cause.  However, I also appreciate and understand that you can't get rid of them wholesale or by diktat; but you CAN make it increasingly difficult to continue to participate.  It's wearing on the soul, but it is ultimately the point you want to get to - getting people who should've never been in the choir in the first place or who should've left 20 years ago out.  Better to have only three dedicated souls around which you can build the choir YOU want and that the community should have.  You do it by making reasonable, firm, and inflexible requirements - timeliness; no excuses ("oh, I couldn't remember if we were in Room 36 or 26!" - "Sorry, we've been in 36 for the last 10 years, and you've been in the choir for the last 30 - why did you think it would change?"); making expectations clear and consistent.  I know; they're volunteers; we make allowances.  Just not so many that they forget that their first purpose is as ministry, and this involves sacrifice every bit as much (if not more) than pleasure.  Christianity isn't supposed to be a walk in the park; Christianity is "the narrow way" strewn with rocks; our only effort is to avoid them and pilgrim on.  I will ask my gang to pray for you that you find your way clear in this problem set.
 
Ron
on June 20, 2011 10:52am
Thanks for the prayers.
To updade: I am packing and on my way to a new post.
"Two years a flake" had no effect on me landing a fine position in the area. I was selected from a long list :). The parish has a long standing reputation for fine music and a great program.
The new post also has very a different history and expectations than the one I am leaving. They are more formal than I have worked with for a few years but I know I will be fine.
You can be sure I did everything short of hiring a PI to check all aspects of this new job before I signed on.
cheers,
L
 
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