“If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.” Abraham Lincoln
I don’t know what it is but there is something strange going on this spring. I have had more than my usual number of emails about People Behaving Badly as well as Conductors Being Insecure, having been contacted for my help and advice from folks across the Choral Spectrum. Today, we’ll tackle two musicians in the church music world. Pour yourself some coffee; this might take a while.
Move On and Get Over It
Jared* has been choirmaster for a very nice congregation in a very nice Mainline Protestant Denomination for about five years but is a worrier. Every time his choir has a bad day or misses an entrance or flubs something, he immediately thinks he is going to be fired. Volunteer church choirs often miss entrances or flub something so Jared thinks he’s going to be fired about once a month. Not a good use of his time or energy, in my humble opinion.
He contacted me a few days ago, petrified this time he really is going to be fired. Why? Because The Bishop was at Sunday’s service and his choir muffed two entrances—two! Usually, The Bishop compliments him and the choir. But Jared tells me he did not say anything about the choir so of course that means Jared is going to be fired. Sigh; it does not, kiddo, it just means The Bishop didn’t compliment you. My guess is The Bishop was busy shaking hands and doing Bishop Things and didn’t have time to talk. Period.
Jared and I have been going back and forth since he first contacted me. He maintains because the choir was not perfect, his job is on the line. I asked him several pointed questions; in his annual review, does anyone criticize his handling of the choir? No, he tells me, his supervisor and clergy seem to be pleased. So why would he think he would be fired for a volunteer choir behaving like amateurs? He thinks they should be perfect all the time. I told him it is unrealistic; his choir will do well and then NOT do well. Unless someone is sitting with their anthem’s octavo in front of them and can read music, they will not know if his singers have made a mistake. And if they do, so what?
I am not advocating not doing your best; I’m advocating not making it a tragedy if it’s less than perfect. I told Jared to do the best he can to prepare his choir for Sunday services. He obviously cares; tells me he likes his choir and they like him. So the next time his choir makes a mistake, he should accept what happened, move on and get over it. He’ll be happier and so will his choir.
It’s Not You, It’s Them. No, REALLY!
Betsy* was fired from her fairly large job as organist/choir master at a fairly large church. Why was she fired? For a very convoluted reason I am sure is not the real reason; she didn’t play “This Little Light of Mine” peppy enough for a Candlemas service. But she was not fired right after the February 2 service; they waited until three weeks after Easter, which confuses her.
Lent and Easter went well, or so she thought, and then took two weeks off. In her contract, it states she may take four Sundays off a year but not Easter or any festival Sunday and must inform clergy six weeks before if possible. She usually doesn’t take all four of the Sundays she is entitled to but only two in the summer. This year was different. She was married the Saturday after Easter in her hometown, across the country. Betsy took the week after Easter off for her pre-wedding preparations and the following week, for her Honeymoon. Last September, Betsy informed everyone concerned; it was noted, all agreeing this was more than adequate notice.
After her Honeymoon when she arrived for the regular Tuesday staff meeting, the Sexton wouldn’t look her in the eye. She knocked on the Pastor’s study to find not just the Pastor but the chair of the Staff Committee and none of the other staff. What followed is a lesson in how NOT to fire someone.
They told her they decided right after Candlemas she would be let go but waited to inform her until after Easter because they didn’t want an interim during the time between. They were also a bit concerned with her taking two weeks off right after Easter. They wanted her gone right then and there, agreeing to pay her until the beginning of August since they didn’t give her proper notice. She was not allowed to go to the choir room or organ loft to pick up music and other personal items. The Staff Committee chair took her keys and escorted her to her car, promising someone would gather up her things. They would be sent since she would not be allowed on church property again.
Her choir was informed AFTER she was fired; they weren’t consulted and didn’t know until choir practice. One of her choir members called to say her coffee mugs and pictures were in the trash. She pulled them out and took it upon herself to get Betsy’s things together. They met last week, both crying, as she delivered Betsy’s belongings.
I told Betsy it is important to have as little future contact with her choir as possible. Explain to them they need to concentrate on their new reality. It is not good for Betsy and could be used against her if clergy or staff committee decided she was inappropriate. It is also important to tell any prospective employers that this position was no longer a “good fit” and if asked details, to be vague since not playing something peppy or taking two weeks off for your wedding is not a good reason to fire someone.
Betsy wonders what she could have done differently. Nothing, I told her, NOTHING. Someone, either clergy or the Staff Committee, decided she was no longer a “good fit” for their congregation and nothing she did or didn’t do would have mattered. There is some good in this situation; she will be paid while she is looking for a new job. It’s not you, Betsy, it’s them. REALLY!