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Problems with choir committees - power struggles - Choral leader needs advice :(

Dear Choralnet,
 
I am an MD of a very large community choir which resides in a prestigious venue in the UK. The choir have a committee of ten people. Aside from the chairman and two others, the remaining committee members are obstructive, unsupportive and fight my every input as musical director. I do not feel these members act on behalf of the choir members but on behalf of themselves and they negative behaviour is starting to effect the choir. Recently the committee have started to make decisions about repertoire and performances the choir are taking part in without first consulting me. 
 
I do not currently attend the monthly committee meeting as I am not invited. I am not on the committee and do not have a vote. Some members of the committee feel that as they are paying me, they should dictate to me what the choir would like to sing. Others agree that as MD I should exercise my judgement on what repertoire the choir are capable of performing (which does include taking on board what the choir enjoy to sing) and what performances we are capable of committing to annually. I feel that we should work together and that on matters concerning music and performances, I should have final say. This is, after all, what they are paying me for. I should just mention that this committee are inexperienced, are not musicians themselves, and have not led a choral committee before. 
 
In 2013 we agreed a schedule of four performances for 2014. But the choir are popular and often receive requests for performances. Each time a request comes through certain committee members push for us to take part - even at short notice. After their last meeting I received an email saying the choir were going to take part in two additional events in the very near future which would result in six weeks of valuable rehearsal time being lost. When I stated that I could not lead these activites due to a lack of time to prepare, the committee said that a choir member would lead in my place and that they would utilise my rehearsal time to do so. I have told the committe how I feel and I have explained that when I say 'no' to a performance opportunity, it is because I don't feel we have time to prepare for it and not because I am being difficult. But they do not listen to me. 
 
I have also experienced ageism and verbally agressive behaviour from committee members. I was once told to stop asking people to stop talking during rehearsals because they were 'old enough to be my grandparents'. A month ago another committee member shouted at me about something quite petty which caused me humiliation in front of the choir.
 
I have lead this choir for nearly five years and I am an experienced musical director. The choir have grown 200% in number, have gained a good reputation under my leadership and members are happy and focused in rehearsals. I am happy to, and often make compromises with the committee and have suggested that as the choir is so large, a smaller group is formed for members who would like to take part in extra activities - and suggested that they rehearse separately to the main choir.
 
I feel as though the committee undermine and disrespect me. The choir at large are not aware of the situation I am in and I do not want to involve them as we have a great rapport. I do not want to leave this choir. I have invested heavily in it, have worked extremely hard to develop it and love the members.
 
I would like the committee to work with me, to relax and to enjoy the choir. I feel a little as though it is a conduit for their everyday stresses, which come out through fighting me, being generally unsupportive and through making my job difficult. The annual meeting is in July and we could vote new members into the committee, but these people are a tour-de-force and other choir members are intimidated by them!
 
I am in the process of trying to arrange a meeting with them but at present I am struggling to find anything online from people who have experienced this type of issue. It would be great to take some printed documents with me to a meeting to explain more clearly what my job is or what is to be expected of the choir committee (which I thought dealt with membership, accounts, insurance, purchases and social events?).
 
Sorry for the length of this. Any advice? Tips? Suggestions of where I can look further?
 
 
on March 4, 2014 2:51am
I suggest you have to talk to the person you are directly responsiblt to. I think you should have job description. Does what you are trying to do fit in and well spelt out in your JD? Be prayerful as well.
on March 4, 2014 2:58am
Oh how awful.   To be MD and not have the final say in repertoire is pretty serious, let alone being told to perform additional concerts.  It really means that you aren't the MD at all - a committee is.    There have been discussions about this before on choralnet.  If you search "committee" in the search bar above a few come up.     
 
The solution to such a chasm between a committee and conductor is to have everything, every large and small detail, in writing.   You need to get the chairman on board with drafting up an agreement, pronto.
 
Be aware that if anyone googles your name, this post will come up - so take care in what you discuss in this open forum .
All best,
Jane
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on March 4, 2014 3:28am
 
Greeting Em, 
 
I have experienced the same kind of issues. My advise is simple:
 
1) Is there a "choir chart" (some sort of "constitution"), meaning THE LAW of the choir? If not, the board should make one and have it voted by THE PEOPLE in a general assembly.
2) Since you are british you will understand this wery well: A choir is a MONARCHY, the PRESIDENT of the choir being the King and YOU the Prime Minister. The board is the Chamber. You must stress that the choirs functions like that, just like the British Government System, each one with its own functions. Instrusion in anyone else's function is unadmissible. 
3) Moreover, YOU ARE THE MUSICAL MONARCH, i.e., the choir is an administrative democracy but a musical monarchy. 
4) If things get tough, make a "political" move: Get the backing and support of THE PEOPLE and that will soften the board. Guaranteed. 
 
Good Luck
Carlos
 
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on March 4, 2014 3:49am
With regard to being thrown into extra events and rehearsal time being cut to do so, without your consent or even checking your availability - that's completely unacceptable. You are the musical director and should have the final say with regards to what the choir performs and when - anything relating to that HAS to be done only with your approval. That's an issue worth threatening resignation over if it doesn't improve.
 
Problems with individual members are a bit trickier. Anyone who thinks being on a committee lets them get away with things that other members of the choir can't do have to be challenged, privately or publicly.
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on March 5, 2014 6:38am
It seems to me, Em, that the board has absolutely NO idea what a musical director does - what he/she is responsible to prepare, to do, etc.  Might it be useful to approach your chairman and outline clearly what it is that you do in order to prepare for a concert?  Choosing repertoire, deciding rehearsal progress, etc., etc.?  Once you have him on board, have HIM invite you to the next meeting of this "committee" and invite you to outline your thoughts on your function.  It is also abundantly clear that there is no "job description" for you, so everyone assumes they know, too - despite a blinding lack of knowledge.
 
Ron
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on March 6, 2014 3:53am
Goodness, but I do feel for you.
 
I have had a bit of a browse for models of constitutions that cover some of these issues. E.g.:
 
 
It's quite interesting reading the variations actually. The male choir link does actually put the task for accepting engagements with the committee rather than MD, so it is possible that someone is acting on assumptions from past experience there. So as the other posters have said, if this kind of thing isn't clear in your constitution, it needs hammering out.
 
Thinking about it, there's quite a different dynamic in choirs that have a standing repertoire compared to choirs that prepare new music for each concert. In the former case, it is less unreasonable for decisions about gigs to be taken by someone other than the director. But when you've got your rehearsals all planned according to an agreed schedule and people just write over it...they are truly out of order...but may not have grasped quite why this is the case...
 
Having said that, it sounds like the problems your committee members have with you are about power rather than content. You have mentioned ageism; sexism is another one that drives people to obstruct a young woman in a position of authority. The fact that you have been successful is in this context probably adding fuel to the fire of their dysfunction. These prejudices lie deep, though, and the people who hold them would probably not acknowledge they hold them - they probably don't even realise it. I'm not sure there's much you can do about them in a context where you are trying to repair a working relationship except continue to occupy the moral high-ground relentlessly. But it can help you maintain your own sanity through difficult times to note that it's not necessarily you, but what you represent in their heads that they are reacting to.
 
And I don't suppose it's any comfort that being 'too young' self-corrects over time ;-)
 
The other thing that occurs to me is that you can sometimes turn these situations around by a strategy of 'divide and charm'. Talk to the individuals concerned separately, not about their behaviour, but about something they can legitimately give you advice about. Non-choir related is even better. Get them to talk about themselves or their experience in a subject where you would actually like to listen. If they feel that they have been of genuine use to you, they will like you more and may be less rude in choir-related contexts. 
 
Not a substitute for negotiating over constitutional roles, but may help grease the workings.
 
Good luck, and please let us know how you get on.
liz
 
 
on March 6, 2014 3:55am
P.S. Forgot to include a nice quote from the Liverpool Socialist Singers constitution: "No member of the committee shall exercise their right to power for the adverse affect of the choir."
 
You have to wonder what the story is that led to the inclusion of that sentence!
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