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Ethics Question (hiring the interim accompanist?)

Hello - I direct a community chorus whose accompanist retired after 18 seasons.  I chose a wonderful pianist to act as interim accompanist.  My personal set of ethics says we have an open search for a permanent pianist allowing the interim to apply.  The problem - everyone loves the interim accompanist and has satisfied what I want and more.  The question - is it unethical, unprofessional and/or bad form to just hire the interim outright without the public search?  The group is a tax-exempt non-profit.  The interim is very interested in the position.  And, this group has never looked for an accompanist before.  The Board is made up of singers, so they are taking my guidance.  So, what do you all think?
Replies (17): Threaded | Chronological
on March 28, 2012 11:20am
Joseph:  If you were in an organization with fixed requirements for hiring and firing (as we are in state univerisities), you would obviously have to follow the rules.  But you are not!  And legally OR ethically there is no difference between an accompanist and a secretary or file clerk (although the job requirements are rather different!). 
May I suggest readjusting your thinking from "interim" to "probationary," and your ethical problem disappears!
In our own case an interim faculty member is NOT legally or ethically considered on a fast track, and we have to go through the entire process of open applications and auditions/interviews (and are doing so right now for a Trumpet/Jazz position), BUT an interim can absolutely apply and will have either a huge advantage or a huge disadvantage, depending on how the job has been done.  In one case (and ONLY one that I can recall) an interim got a completely unanimous recommendation from our entire faculty, but there have been cases where a promising interim simply wasn't up to the job.
But don't decide before discussing it with your Board, and it might be well to have a (non-binding) vote of your members as well.  Hopefully the process is covered in your Bylaws or Operating Procedures.
All the best,
on March 28, 2012 11:36am
Joseph, what is the board's or organization's bylaw regarding hiring process? What is the role of executive, program, and personel directors regarding the process.
If nothing is decided or stated, I personally think it is not unethical or unprofessional to hire the interim without the public search. To me, it would be unethical to hold a public search with the decision makers already have someone in mind strongly.
on March 28, 2012 11:46am
Hi Joseph,
I have a few questions for you which I think will help. 
First, are you happy with this person?  Really happy?  Do you think you could work with this person for at least--18 years is too long to think about--the next few years?  Do you have a good relationship with this person right now?  If you conducted a search and you still decided this person was IT, do you think you could have as good a relationship? If you decided to have a search, how do you think your singers would feel, your "guidance" notwithstanding?  Is this postition considered to be a "plum" position? Does anyone know you have an "Interim" accompanist and have asked about the position? A search such as this is not a picnic, let me tell you.  And if the group has never done it and it's a harrowing, they may not be happy with you for not just hiring your interim to begin with!
In other words, is the hassle of going through the motions of a Search--with that capital 'S'--and listing the position and then interviewing and auditioning, worth it to appear ethical?  If everyone--you, the chorus and board, and the accompanist--is happy, why do it? If people aren't clamoring to audition, is there a real need to post the position any where?
If your interim wasn't working out or told you they were moving in the fall and wasn't interested or your singers and board didn't like them, I think  there would be no question as to what you should do BUT I have seen too many community choruses and other performing arts organizations muck things up by doing what they think is the "ethical" thing to do. There are factions who will never recover from this and loyalities and.....I'm very much a "don't upset the apple cart" kinda gal in these kinds of situations.  Put another way--will this be a GOOD THING for your organization?  If it is, then do it.  If it isn't, then DON'T!
on March 28, 2012 11:47am
My own feeling is that if this were a publicly funded position there might be an ethical reason to do a public search.  But as you are a private entity (albeit non-profit) it seems fine to hire the interim straightaway.
on March 28, 2012 11:57am
You don't mention the nature of your community -- -small town? large city? suburb? -- where availability might be a large issue.  HOWEVER, a fine accompanist is hard to find and a valuable commodity. Your comments tell me that you have found an excellent professional, that he/she is fulfilling all the needs of the chorus at the present time. Being a 501c3 does not require a public search. Assuming you have a Board, I would discuss your feelings with the Board and then do everything you can to make your interim your 'regular' accompanist.
Lee Kesselman
music director of 3 accompanied groups for at least 30 years.
on March 28, 2012 12:09pm
Consider yourself lucky!  Hire the interim, now!
on March 29, 2012 5:48am
The ultimate point of any search is to find a person who is extremely well-suited to the position. It seems that you have such a person already on board.
Unless you think there are even better candidates out there, and are willing to replace the interim as a result, having a search is illogical, and cruel to those applicants who think that they actually have a fair shot at being seriously considered. There's no ethics or professionalism in unnecessary cruelty.
on April 1, 2012 6:11am
I agree with James.  "Legal" and "ethical" are not always synonymous. Large organizations often are  legally bound to do open searches. But when an internal candidate is already doing a fine job and fits well into the organization, especially a small organization, an open search can lead to unnecessary conflict among search committee members; it places the internal candidate, who has already proven his or her ability to do the job, under undue stress and pressure; and it gives false hope to applicants who spend a great deal of time and effort preparing for the interview.  And of course the process can also be expensive.  Furthermore, looking for "perfection"  can result in many painful problems. For example, a very congenial external candidate with more impressive credentials than the internal candidate might apply.  But is hiring this person the most ethical thing to do? If the external candidate is hired,  but some members of the organization  are upset about not hiring the fully capable internal candidate, the external applicant will be faced with difficulties from the outset, and may never be fully accepted. So I think you can rest easy knowing that giving the interim the position is the most ethical thing you could do for everyone involved.  As far as certain organizations being legally bound to do open searches, I can understand that this protects against crony-ism and discrimination, at least theoretically. But I wonder how often it causes more damage than good. 
on March 29, 2012 6:10am
I agree with the others that say hire the interim as your regular accompanist.  Since you mention that your group "has never looked for an accompanist before" you are not bending any rules or going against a set precident.  In my group, one of the requirments of the Music Director (me) is find and hire a suitable accompanist.  Seems to me like you already found him/her...a good accompanist is hard to find...don't let this one go!
Eric Brown
on March 29, 2012 7:58am
Hire the interim if you like him/her as a person as well as a musician, there's not any ethical issue in that! 
on April 1, 2012 8:43am
A good accompanist is like gold.  A great accompanist is like more gold.  Hire the person if you are happy and don't look back!
on April 1, 2012 7:40pm
I basically agree with all the points here; especially that it is not ethical to put auditionees through a sham process.
However, from the standpoint of musicians "out there" looking for a job in a tight economy, this situation may be described as an "inside job".  Do you want the reputation of your organization to be that one has to have political clout?  Is it possible that there are others available that you might like even better?  What about future hirings, when this person's time with your group might end (due to family situation, health, etc.)  Is it possible that some good musicians will not take time from their busy schedule to apply...feeling that it will be, again, a sham?  Perhaps you will want the reputation of your organization to continue to be that it is transparent and fair, as I fully imagine it is now. 
I have known people to apply for jobs where they were told at the outset, "The interim person is also applying."  (I have interviwed in that type situation.  I have no problem with it, as the searchers are honest at the outset.)  You might even add, "We are seriously considering having this person continue, but we felt it was appropriate to advertise and interview. "
I do feel slightly compelled to share a scenario that happened recently: A committee was beginning a search process.  Before advertising/auditioning, someone in the committee mentioned that "Suzy Q. /John Doe is interested."  (Many on the committee knew Suzy/John, and were familiar with their work.  One important decision-maker responded with, "Well, who would be better than Suzy Q./John Doe?"  Since many knew them, no one mentioned/promoted other [better ?] candidates.  Suzy/John was hired; no one else was seriously considered.  Issues/questions came up subsequently, after several months ("post-honeymoon").  It was different, in that previously the whole choir had voted on directors, and generally keyboard artists as well.  When issues arise, the choir [or some of them] can say, "We didn't affirm this choice/have a vote."  And many knew that Suzy/John got the job based on previous demonstrations, but did not have to be considered against others.   How might that affect Susy/John's professional reputation?
Though initially a bit more time-consuming, here is what I recommend: Advertise, and when the candidates make the first call/contact, explain the situation.  The applying musicians can decide whether to continue and become a candidate.   (This will likely help to lower the number of  those you have to consider.)  Based on resumes/recommendations/your impression at first contact, narrow it to 2 (besides your current/interim.)  Ask him/her to remain familiar with the music, but to "sight tight/relax" for 2 - 4 weeks, while you audition the other 2. 
This will also help diffuse any issues later.  You say you "chose" a wonderful pianist - they like him/her will they feel in 2 years?  As long as things are good, you'll be praised.  If not, you may be blamed, and so will the lack of a 2nd-stage search process.
Whatever you decide -
 Best Wishes for a wonderful season!    :)   --Lucy 
on April 2, 2012 8:00am
I have to disagree with Lucy.  You can drive yourself crazy with a lot of "what-ifs" - and at the end, even with an extensive interview process, not only be no better off than you are now with the known quantity, but end up perhaps antagonizing the one you've got who's "plenty good news."  Someone in the choir will always bellyache about decisions made - that's the risk in any decision, is that someone won't be happy about it - tough.  As for the "Suzy Q/John Doe" scenario Lucy puts up, that isn't quite parallel here - because the interim is already a known factor and the choir can see/hear what the interim accompanist can do.  And if the interim has been sufficiently faithful with no promises being made, you can't buy that kind of loyalty, professional qualifications aside.   I also think that the stated concern for "Suzy Q's/John Doe's" later professional reputation if not put against others for a specific post is an over-concern, because the situation isn't likely to come up the next time "Suzy Q/John Doe" applies for a position.  Other search committees aren't going to be asking, "Well, how did you get THAT job?  Was it an 'inside job'?"  They'll look at the CV and base it from there; and if "rumor control" gets busy and puts out some word that this person got their job because "they knew someone who knew someone" it should be treated as the contemptible stuff that that is.
on April 3, 2012 6:23pm
Truly good points, Richard, and I do know the folks will often gripe, regardless.   I guess 2 things affect my thinking on this:
1. I have seen wonderful colleagues who really wanted a position never get an opportunity to interview, because that door was not opened.
2. The scenario I describe has happened several times in my metro area.  It can make both the searchers and the candidate wish they had used a different process.
on April 3, 2012 8:26pm
Lucy:  Not even an open call guarantees the opportunity to interview.  Professional auditioners often cut off a candidate after less than a minute if they don't hear or see exactly what they want in the first few seconds.  We receive dozens of applications for advertised faculty positions, but can only interview three unless we reject all three.
As I recall, the Town Council in Leipzig had an open call to replace Kuhnau as Kantor.  (Although they might actually have invited candidates, which often does happen.)  Their first choice for the job was Telemann, who didn't really WANT the job but used the offer to wangle concessions from the City Council in Hamburg.  (Professors and football coaches have been known to use the same ploy!!)  Their second choice was Graupner, who would have jumped at the job except that his patron would not release him.  So they were left with their third choice, a fellow who had only worked at a few rather small courts, by the name of J.S. Bach!
All the best,
on April 3, 2012 10:33am
I want to thank you all for responding.  It opened my eyes to some considerations I had not thought of.  With all said and done, we hired the interim accompanist.  Again, thank you all!!
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