“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. “Mahatma Gandhi
Today we have two more stories from the Choral Ethics mailbag. Both seem pretty topical. One is from a male singer. The other is about three different church musicians who experienced the same thing, on the same day.
The Culture of Your Choir
I have written several Blogs here on ChoralNet about what I call the culture of choir. In those blogs, I speak of how the behavior of your choir—to each other, to you as director, to other musicians—help define your culture. When there is trouble with recruiting or retaining singers, it is often in direct response to the choir’s culture.
Our first story concerns Carl* who began singing in his church choir last fall and is now quitting. Carl loves to sing and sang in his high school and college choirs. He was a member of his college’s male a Capella group and says those experiences helped define him as a person.
After graduation, things got in the way of his singing in a choir. First his job, then marriage and parenthood; you know, LIFE! Finally last fall their youngest child began high school and Carl’s wife encouraged him to start singing again. He liked the music at their family’s church so decided to sing with the church choir
He likes the choir director, her choice of music and her directing style. But he cannot STAND the petty games the women singers play. Everything is an opportunity to gossip. Every soloist is “no better than they should be.” Every service holds some anthem or hymn which is “impossible” to sing or some announcement which riles someone up. Carl used to try to get to rehearsal five or ten minutes early to visit and get to know his fellow members. Now, he arrives as close to the downbeat as possible just so he can sing and not listen to their malarkey. He wanted to quit at Christmas but then decided to continue until the end of the choir year, which was last Sunday. Carl contacted me to help figure out the best way to quit.
Since the choir year has just ended, he probably doesn’t need to do anything if he doesn’t want to. Besides, choir practice doesn’t start again until after Labor Day and he could decide he wants to go back. Then there is always the path of least resistance which is to just not go. If asked why he’s not coming, he can always say his job (parent, child, or home renovation) is going to take more time than he realized and won’t be able to sing. Or, he could just tell the truth.
Why tell the truth? Because that choir director has a right to know. She probably knows what’s going on with the women but may not realize their behavior is causing the choir to lose singers. Losing a male singer is BAD! Maybe she’s spoken with them; maybe she’s spoken to clergy about them, maybe she’s had other complaints but she should know why she is losing a singer. The culture of Carl’s choir has gotten to a place where something has to be done. And his director needs to step up, be a leader and do it.
Not patriotic enough
On Memorial Day Monday I received three emails from three different church musicians from three different regions of the country. Each told me the same basis story which happened Sunday, the day before.
Jess* was chased to her car in the church parking by an irate parishioner who was furious they didn’t sing “God Bless America” during the service. They had sung “Almighty Father, Strong to Save,” (The Navy Hymn) because she and the pastor felt it was appropriate for Memorial Day, which is a secular patriotic holiday, not a sacred holiday.
Darrin* says he was ambushed at coffee hour, with the pastor joining in the screaming match, by two Church Ladies who thought they would sing “God Bless the USA” (I think it’s by Lee Greenwood). When they didn’t sing it during Worship, Church Ladies lost it serving the coffee!
Mario* tells me their congregation lost three members in the weeks leading up to Memorial Day weekend. He, in consultation with the pastor, had a soloist sing “Pie Jesu” from the Faure “Requiem” as a way of acknowledging their recent losses and remembering those who lost their lives in service. Just before the pastor began the benediction, a lady interrupted him with “can we sing ‘God Bless America’ to honor those in service who lost their lives?” The pastor told her maybe another time. As the postlude was being played, she kept asking loudly, “Aren’t we going to sing it?” She stepped over to Mario at the piano and he told her if it was in the hymnbook, he would play it for her. Of course, it wasn’t in their hymnbook!
July 4 is coming soon and the Sunday before is July 2. If you and your clergy haven’t discussed what to do, think about talking about it. If your clergy is fine with secular pieces like “God Bless America,” then there is one battle you won’t have to fight.