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Choral Ethics

Hello Fellow Community Choir Directors,
 
As we begin another academic and concert cycle year, perhaps it would be a good time to ask you all to help me on a project I began about ten months ago.  I am writing a book on Choral Ethics as a result of not finding anything about the ethics of conductors (perhaps we're not supposed to have any!).  I have searched ACDA's website, I have searched the internet and other sources to come up with plenty of Codes of Ethics for choirs and of course, religous denominations code of ethics for their musicians, but nothing of a more general nature. 
 
Since I conduct in a community setting, there isn't anything specific for my situation.  I've spoken with a number of people in my situation, and they've all told me they'd be interested in reading what I'm proposing. I will try to explain what I mean by Choral Ethics......and should it really be called "choral ethics?"
 
It has only been in the last ten years I really have come to understand what choral ethics means to me.  It isn’t obvious.  There are things we should not be doing, of course, and we all  think we know what they are.  As far as other things are concerned, it is subtle.  Since the choral instrument is people, we must be concerned with people—our people—and that’s where the subtly comes in.
 
Physicians take an oath—the Hippocratic Oath--as they graduate from medical school and are awarded their M.D.s. They swear to “do no harm.”  I wonder if we should be required to do the same.  We must do no harm to our singers, both physically and emotionally, by using our knowledge of the human voice to prevent injury and by not emotionally abusing them by our behavior in rehearsals and out.  We must do no harm to our colleagues by not bad mouthing or undermining them in public to singers or audience members or the community at large. We must do no harm to our profession as a whole by upholding ourselves to as high a musical standard as possible within our scope of expertise and by respecting the rights of the composers we perform.
 
I made vows about my own choral ethics ten years ago and have been mostly able to keep them.  I vowed to treat my singers and accompanists as I would want to be treated.  I vowed to always say something good about my colleagues if at all possible and if I am not able, to keep my mouth shut. And I vowed to keep my own skills as good as in my capability.
 
Treating my singers and accompanists as I would want to be treated is simple—when I audition anyone, I always get back to them when I say I will with an answer one way or another.  I think it not kind to keep anyone hanging. Better to know you didn’t get a part then to wonder and it doesn't speak well for your ensemble in the long run.  I always correct the section, not single anyone out and I always try to say something good during  rehearsal—even rehearsals when there doesn’t seem to be anything good! Since one of my sons is a pianist, I treat my accompanists the way I would want him treated by getting music to them as soon as I can, letting them know what we will be working on in rehearsal and I never correct them in a unkind way in front of my choirs.
 
Since I conduct a community chamber choir and am in a community setting, there are other organizations in subtle competition with my ensemble.  I try to be a booster of their groups, going so far as to organize a consortium of sorts of all of our groups last year.  I try to always say something nice about the others since we are all different groups, with different types of singers with different interests but probably the same general audience. When asked to engage in gossip about other choral organizations or conductors, I remain silent and I am sure some think I'm not aware of what they are hinting at.......but I keep my mouth shut! The one time, about 18 years ago, I didn’t say something nice has haunted me and is one of the reasons I began looking at choral ethic models.
 
It is important we stay as current as possible in our profession.  Being a ChoralNet User—whether actively participating or *just* reading--is a good start. Joining professional organizations like ACDA as well as attending workshops, reading sessions and conferences keeps us on top of new trends and ideas about what we do.  Of course, I am active here at ChoralNet but do try to attend a workshop or conference every other year if possible. I look at new music on a regular basis, whether it’s appropriate for my current ensembles or not, try to keep my singers interested by new and different repertoire and stretching their musicianship.  I still study voice, with one lesson every week, year round. And I practice—I don’t *phone it in*--and I feel good about my musicianship.
 
Many feel it is important to choose repertoire not in conflict with their own belief system, whether a composer’s behavior or the composition’s message.  That also may be part of conductor’s personal code of ethics.
 
Are there other things I should include ?  I've tried to keep it simple, with only three main points of behavior but are there more in your mind?
 
Thank you in advance for any suggestions you may have for me.
 
Marie
 
 
Replies (4): Threaded | Chronological
on August 14, 2013 10:54am
Marie,
 
Patterned after the ethics document utilized by the Barbershop Harmony Society, the Nashville Singers Code of Ethics document looks like this:
 
Code of Ethics

Nashville SingersSM members hold themselves to high standards of conduct in the affairs of the chorus. Nashville SingersSM aspires to preserve for its members and for all future generations of prospective members the sacred right of men to seek haven from the burden of their daily cares through the enjoyment of singing and to that end we do hereby pledge ourselves to abide by the precepts of this Code of Ethics:

1. We shall do everything in our power to perpetuate Nashville SingersSM.

2. We shall deport ourselves and conduct Nashville SingersSM functions in such a manner as to reflect credit upon Nashville SingersSM and its membership.

3. We shall conform in all respects to the bylaws of Nashville SingersSM and the policies from time to time promulgated by its board of directors.

4. We shall accept for membership only congenial men of good character who love harmony and can meet the musical standards of the organization.

5. We shall exhibit a spirit of good fellowship toward all members, and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, economic status, sexual orientation, national origin, age, ethnic background, or disability in any of our policies, procedures, or practices.

6. We shall refrain from forcing our songs upon unsympathetic ears.

7. We shall not use our membership in Nashville SingersSM for personal gain. An example of "personal gain" would be an insurance salesman joining Nashville SingersSM and poaching the member roster looking for new customers.

8. We shall not permit the introduction of political, religious or other similar controversial issues into the affairs of Nashville SingersSM.

9. We shall endeavor to spread the spirit of harmony throughout the world.

10. We shall render all possible altruistic service through the medium of singing.
 
I hope this helps.
 
TODD WILSON
Executive Director
Director of Music
Nashville Singers, Inc.
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on August 14, 2013 11:34am
This is similar--in fact, I know I looked at the Barbershop Harmony code of ethics--to many such codes I have found.  I especially love 6. We shall refrain from forcing our songs upon unsympathetic ears. Made me smile :)
 
Your code is quite, quite similar to the By-laws we have for my ensemble.
 
Forgive if me if I have not been clear, but I am looking for a code for conductors, not singers.  And there is my problem......there is nothing as far as I have been able to find.  I am calling it *choral ethics* but perhaps it should be called something else.  I don't want to invent the wheel but I do want to see what else is out there.
 
Thank you Todd for your comments here. I do know you've done some good in my former town of Nashville as I get the Middle Tennessee Autism Society newletter on line  and know of your altruistic service...thank you for living your code!
 
Marie
on August 14, 2013 1:47pm
This code applies to all members including the directors.
 
Todd
on August 14, 2013 9:48pm
Good to know.  Many of the codes of ethics I have found apply only to the singers......and not to the conductors/directors.  One of the reasons I am looking for some sort of model....if we expect our singers to behave in a certain way, shouldn't WE be expected to behave in a similar fashion?
 
Thank you for the clarification, Todd!
 
Marie
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