“As a child I loved ghost stories.” Rebecca Hall
The Choral Ethics Cyber-Mailbag is filled to overflowing. Sit back for the first blog in a long series of Choral Ethics blogs about all sorts of problems. This fall, we deal with some newish Choral Ethics concerns as well as some familiar to everyone. Today’s Choral Ethics dilemma is perfect for a mid-October day.
Jacob* contacted me with what he thought was an unusual problem. In fact, it was so unusual; he didn’t have a name for it. I happened to know exactly what he was talking about because I had had a similar problem a few years ago. And, thanks to my millennial sons, I even have a name for it.
What is Jacob’s unusual problem? It’s a bit complicated. He has been organist/choirmaster at a large Roman Catholic parish for about ten years. It’s a wealthy parish, downtown in a mid-sized Midwestern city. He directs all of the adult choral organizations, including an elite one, which sings Sunday morning and at all the significant Masses. His Elite Choir has a quartet of staff singers and the volunteers are highly auditioned. The quartet is SATB but he also has fine volunteer singers who occasionally sing with the quartet.
Five years ago, Julie*, a new congregant, approached him wanting to audition for Elite Choir*. She had a nice voice, but it was bit young sounding and under developed compared to his staff singers. She was an excellent musician but nothing outstanding. Julie told him she had a BA in music and wanted to use her degree but wasn’t sure how.
The first year she sang with him, she was agreeable. But the second year, she asked if she could sing Soprano Two when he did five part music with the quartet. He agreed that first time because his usual volunteer was out for maternity leave. Julie did fine but seemed impressed with herself; Jacob was not. He decided until his regular came back, he would give her a chance.
The middle of the second year, a job came across his desk he thought she would be perfect for; a teacher for a “Mom and Me” music class through the park district. Julie had been working in retail and was delighted for the chance to teach music. She applied and got the job.
That’s when things got strange. Julie began not attending rehearsals regularly. He would email her or IM her to find out if she would be singing that Sunday. Sometimes she would respond and sometimes she wouldn’t, but then would show up on Sunday as if nothing happened.
Once, she was supposed to sing in a quintet for a wedding but didn’t show for rehearsal. Jacob texted her and told her she couldn’t sing for the wedding if she didn’t rehearse. Julie told him it wasted her time coming to “all these rehearsals” when she was a better musician than the paid staff singers. She did come to the final rehearsal for that wedding but only when he told her he would replace her. At this point, Julie began not showing up for rehearsals on a regular basis. Jacob had attendance rules for Elite Choir volunteers and Julie was breaking all of them.
Two years ago, he emailed her in August, asking if she was planning to sing with Elite Choir for the coming choir year. If she was, she would need to follow Elite Choir’s attendance rules. He explained it was not fair to the rest of the choir if she didn’t attend rehearsals when the rest of them worked hard every week. And, as he was planning for Advent, Christmas and other Holy Days in the fall and winter, wanted to know if he could count on her. No reply. He emailed AND IM-ed her with the same sentiment a week later; NO REPLY. The following week, he texted her and NO REPLY. She seemed to be avoiding him because he knew she still had her park district job. She was attending Saturday evening Mass and of course, she no longer came to rehearsal or to Sunday Mass.
After he explained all that, I told him there was a name for what she did by not replying to his repeated emails; Ghosting. I had also experienced something similar with one of my former singers which is why I knew what to call it.
Now to Jacob’s problem; Julie emailed Jacob the end of this June asking for a recommendation. She and her husband had moved to a small town outside of that mid-sized city in March and decided to start her own private lesson studio. She wanted something from him she could quote for PR material and a letter she could use for introduction when asked about experience.
Jacob wanted to know what he should do because he doesn’t want to be unethical. He also doesn’t want to give her a recommendation. I told him to do nothing and not to respond. It is not unethical. If he engages in any sort of dialogue, there is always the chance she’ll convince him to give her something. And that would not be what he wants. Would he be ghosting? Yes, but turnabout is fair play.