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Rude Church Choir Director

Not sure if this is the correct forum for this posting...
My girlfriend sings in a church choir and the stories she tells me about the director are terrible.  It's an all-volunteer choir and if someone is struggling with their notes, he picks them out and says degrading comments about their singing and issues in front of the choir.  
Having been a choir director myself, I know that church choir directors often don't have any accountability.  How can we get a message to this jerk that he needs to get his act together?  The people who sing for him LOVE their God and want to sing in church, but sometimes hate the process.
Thanks for any suggestions.
Replies (15): Threaded | Chronological
on December 14, 2011 6:29am
I would have her record the whole thing so that she has proof of the behavior for whatever action she might wish to take. Some recorders are tiny, you know.
She could speak to him privately asking his advice re her contribution to the choir. Then you could help her if there is in fact a shortcoming in her performance.
You will get lots of advice on this one!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ed P
on December 14, 2011 10:47am
Tom:  Clearly anyone with that attitude should not be conducting a choir at ANY level, let alone a volunteer church choir!  But assuming that your third hand report is in fact accurate, every church has governance, whether it is pastor, priest, Presbytery, Board, or the equivalent.  And any complaints should be made to them, in writing, in a calm and businesslike manner.
And if the people who should do so choose not to take action, choir members who are offended should drop out to seek another church, and explain to your clergy IN WRITING why they are doing so.  (I've just been watching the latest reports on the situation at Florida A&M, where apparently the administration allowed things to get completely out of control.)  These are people whose job it is to pay attention to such things.
All the best,
on December 15, 2011 6:33am
I think you ned to consider the possibility that the director has no idea he's degrading or hurting feelings.  You didn't give specific examples so it's hard to know if he's saying "can't you get anything right?" or if it's closer to "you always seem to sing flat on this piece".  Both can be hurtful, but the second example can be seen as constructive criticism on his part. 
Either way, I think she should talk to him first.  She should let him know he's hurt her feelings and embarassed her in front of others.  After speaking about her own feelings, she can add "and I know other people have felt the same way" but you should always be careful about speaking on behalf of other people's feelings without their express permission.
If he accepts this, apologizes and tries to change, then there's no need to go to anyone else.  If he sloughs it off and makes it her problem, she now has something even more to tell the church authorities.
Remember the basic rules of constructive confrontation:
-  Speak about your feelings and avoiding labels.  Say "I felt bad when you..." not "You're cruel and selfish"
-  Speak to the offender first before escalating
-  Keep an open mind to the other perspective
-  Try to remain calm.  :-)
Good luck!
on December 15, 2011 7:49am
Hello Tom:
If, in fact, this is the way the director treats his singers and runs his rehearsal...he's gotta go!  I would not hesistate to ask the pastor to attend a rehearsal.  If he is well-connected to his congregation then he must be aware of this.  Ultimately the choir director is responsible to the he not?
This is not rudeness...this is abuse!
Good luck with a very touchy situation.
on December 15, 2011 10:36am
Unfortunately, prior experience tends to show that in the presence of "the boss" behavior changes.  I do NOT recommend recording his remarks sub rosa - that is unfortunately illegal in most states without the knowledge/permission of the person being recorded.  On the other hand, if the person who is recording is doing so for his/her knowledge of the pieces of music, informs the director and others, and "happens" to record the unpleasant remarks, ah, well, different story!  I quite agree, though, that a meeting from the offended person with the offender is a start, minus these other possibilities, and it needs to be kept in the realm of the "logical five questions - who, what, when, where, how" avoiding the "emotional question - why."  Unfortunately, this is emotional behavior on his part, and without eliminating the emotional aspect (by avoiding "why?" questions) the offended party will never find out the real reason for his behavior - nor be able to lead him to changing it.  Ultimately, that's what's desired - because if it is otherwise, seeking his firing, then the approach has to differ.  What does this person really want - change, or removal?
on December 15, 2011 6:10pm
Hi Tom -
While it might not immediately deal with the problem, the most effective way for a volunteer musician (bless her heart!) to deal with a brute like you describe is to tell him that he can't treat people that way - and to leave.  There are many other church choirs directed by good musicians with more gentle hearts that would welcome another singer. 
Best wishes,
on December 15, 2011 6:39pm
 I like Misty's level-headed advice. One hopes you will heed those good words.
Thanks, Misty.
on December 16, 2011 2:48am
Hi Tom,
I think we've all met this guy!!
I've just recently started a blog in which I'm giving away all my best Choral Magic Tricks - my secrets. Although I haven't actually started yet on my litany of Director transgressions - but I will.
Perhaps your girlfriend could tell her Director about this blog while I'm still being relentlessly upbeat and positive and have not started talking yet about all the awful mistakes I've made. Singling out individuals for public criticism is definitely one of those mistakes.
Good luck - here's the link
on December 22, 2011 5:45am
Tom, do you know if this choir allows observers at rehearsals? Maybe it would be OK for you to sit in on a rehearsal, say you and the girlfriend have plans following rehearsal or something, and see for yourself if this is a case of insenstive direction or over sensitive reaction.  Your posts suggests multiple incidents of inappropriate behavoir, but I'm sure you know what can happen when a story is retold. If attending rehearsal is viable then I'd suggest not assuming he's a jerk going in - he may well be but looking at it like that will compromise your objectivity.
on December 23, 2011 5:06am
Devil's Advocate response: As a church musician, I would not want to see a choir director get in trouble because of complaints by the boyfriend of one of the singers. Why is the boyfriend complaining and not his girlfriend?
Does the girlfriend exaggerate? Does she like to tell stories depicting her as the victim? I would need more evidence before I placed blame. Let the girlfriend and other singers talk. We all know that gossip and rumor can happen
anywhere, churches not excluded. Let us not condemn a choir director on hearsay. I agree that choir directors should not make fun of people or ridicule anyone. But I would not take action without direct confirmation of
inappropriate behavior by the singers themselves, or else by a definite witness to such behavior. If no one else is complaining, one might wonder about this situation.
 Direct investigation is needed before we draw any conclusions.
Susan Raccoli
on December 24, 2011 7:32am
Susan - Based on the boyfriend's description, himself a choral musician, this doesn't sound like just "projection" on his or his girlfriend's parts.  I think there really is an issue here, but it's how to get it from being just an "issue" to being a "solution." 
You and I both know, as directors, that the "authority" of a director is very powerful, and people hesitate to challenge that - as it is with any authority being challenged.  I agree that facts are needed, but the problem is that an outside observer coming in will likely change this director's behavior, if indeed there is a problem with it.  (We do all tend to "clean up our acts" when outside folks are in the area!)  On the other hand, in your advocacy, you've thrown the problem on the complainer - "is she a gossiper, a person who projects everything with her as a victim," etc., etc.  While possibly true, it doesn't address the problem:  if one is suffering, then others may be suffering as well.  And, even though someone above this posting suggested "light-hearted sarcasm" seen as nastiness, that's yet another issue.
I advocate the direct approach - in the best of worlds, one-on-one; but in the real world, at least a couple with the director (if he's indeed the shnook that's been posted, it at least means if he's nasty again, someone else will see it) - or possibly even someone who is NOT the victim of his nastiness (hard to think who wouldn't have been at some point) and the victim, with the non-victim advocating for the victim.  (Is anyone else in the room bothered by this? - There may be some surprising responses even there.)  Then if there is no acknowledgement on his part of a problem, or no solution, then take it up with his boss - EVERYone in this world has a boss of some sort, even CEOs (the shareholders) - and try to get a solution there.  If none is offering, then walk.  As someone else posted, I'm sure there are plenty of other places to sing that would be glad to welcome a new singer in their ranks.
I understand that what you're trying to avoid is condemnation without fact; but we also have to admit to the appalling frequency of this kind of behavior, not just in choir directors, but in others in positions of authority who, from whatever motivation, think that they have to constantly belittle others to build themselves up.  They have to be called on it.  I know you have; I have too.  And it's hurtful, and it should be unnecessary, and it too frequently is needed.
Dominus vobiscum!
on December 23, 2011 11:46am
Hello, All,
  Thank you for another interesting discussion.
  I'm intrigued by the inability to identify 'hog' as 'pork'.
  Tom, this is not your issue.  It is the issue of your nameless girlfriend.  I think I can appreciate your listening to her stories and the very fact of your listening to stories that have noting to do with you is a major part of the issue for me.
  Thanks to years of living, I've learned thatany information that comes from a source other than the original as 'gossip'.  All gossip is potentially dangerous. 
  Tip toeing around the fact (listening to 'gossip') is couched in the vernacular of 'sensitive', 'compassionate', even 'Christian' when what it really is is lily livered.  
  Confrontation is uncomfortable.  So what!  It's part of the reality of living the lives we live and doing the work we do.  It has little to do with being popular.  Life is not a popularity contest.  I've communicated that same message to politicians.  And we live in a world that is rife with its attempts to convince each of us of the importance of being popular and maintaining popularity at almost any cost.  Amost nowhere, interestingly enough, is there a mention of the importance of being respected.
  I have zero tolerance for abuse ('calling someone out' amounts to bullying).  Noone has the right to bully unless that right is tacitly given.  What is interesting to me is reading the submissions of those who seem unable to call hog pork.  Identifying one as Christian is a cop out. 
  If the director has no idea he's degrading, then (HELLO!?), let's all be warm and sensitive and permit that behaviour to continue?  I say No!
  I want to support having the courage to identify the issue, nip it in the bud or risk its becoming its own art form.  
  Would you stay with an abusive partner? Would you counsel a friend to stay with that abusive partner?
  At some point someone is going to have to look the director (and any other who behaves similarly) in the eye and tell him that his behaviour is desrespectful  and, therefore, unacceptable.  Stop hopping from foot to foot when you know the 'jig' is up.  Risk being respected.
on March 27, 2012 7:00pm
Hi Tom,
I remembered reading your post today after I'd written my latest blog offering - 'Director Snits'
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