School is back in session. Rehearsals have begun. The Pumpkin-Spice-Maple delights are back in the coffee shops and bakeries; must be almost Autumn!
How was your summer? Did you accomplish everything you wanted to? Did you have a chance to relax, really relax, for a few days or even a week or two? Do you feel refreshed and ready to go back? Or did you get a new job and are eager to begin? New beginnings or new choir year; it’s exciting to be back!
Church choir practices are beginning all over the country this week, since it is after Labor Day. It is to those folks, all you church music professionals, to which I address this blog, especially those beginning a new position. Before your Choral Ethics emails start coming to me this year about the same reoccurring, typical, totally predictable problem, I thought I would blog about it first.
To those of you with new positions; it is certain you had a predecessor. Your predecessor might have been loved, a real Saint. Or might have been disliked, a real Sinner. But in any event, they are sure to have done things differently than you. And those differences are about to be presented to you, perhaps every time you have a rehearsal. How you react can help or hurt you, or at very least, make you irritated enough to write to me!
The structure of your rehearsal may be different from Former Director and the Choir Busy-Bodies (you will soon know who THEY are) will tell you so as soon as your rehearsal differs. Your choir members may tell you they like your warm-ups oh-so-much-better than Former Director. Or they may refuse to do them, since Former Director told them never to hum (true story: one of my sopranos in a church choir did exactly that since a Former told her never to hum!) anything or you don’t vocalize them high—or low–enough. Or they may say they’ve never warmed up at all and it’s wasting time, since that’s what Former Director said.
How should you handle it? You can be irritated or you can decide to deal with it directly. Tell them you are getting to know them and they are getting to know you. You do things the way you know how to do them and you’re still learning about them. If you feel a bit insecure about the whole thing, let me remind you; you wouldn’t have been hired if someone didn’t think you could do this job (but don’t tell the choir that!). Ask your choir to trust you for a bit.
The Choir may not say anything about your warm-ups but constantly tell you what anthems to schedule. They may want to sing only what they know, not anything new. It’s comforting for them during this transition, may even be a good idea for a few Sundays, so you can assess their capabilities. But you are the choir director and you decide, in consultation with clergy, what anthems will be presented. A combination of old favorites with new music may be the best way to go until you understand your new choir’s abilities. Let them know you are working with clergy as a worship team; that may defuse some of their “Request Line” attitudes.
Typically, the real issues with “we’ve never done it that way” syndrome occur right before you begin rehearsing music for Advent and Christmas. Are you doing “Advent Lessons and Carols” for the first time? Ho-boy, I can imagine the comments. Are you NOT doing “Advent Lessons and Carols” this year when they’ve “always” done it? DITTO! If you’ve always had a Midnight Christmas Eve service and this is the first year you are not, expect whining. It doesn’t matter if this is your first year or your tenth; if there is change of some sort, there will be belly-aching and “we’ve always/never done it that way” will be their favorite song. If you are planning with clergy, please let those choir members know and, if need be, refer to clergy. They are the clergy, they can handle it.
In time, your new church choir will get used to you and you will get used to them. There may still be times when they bring up the past but it won’t have the urgency of this first year.
As always, email your Choral Ethics questions and dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Choral Ethics” in the subject line. I’ll usually respond within a day and we can have a “conversation” about whatever is bothering you.
Now, where’s my Pumpkin-Spice Latte?