“Ring out the false, ring in the true.” Alfred Lord Tennyson
Today is the third in our January series here at Choral Potpourri/Choral Ethics discussing the Try Method. To refresh your memory; instead of New Year’s resolutions, I am trying various small, specific things to change my life for the better. This week it’s all about being genuine. Last week, we tried honesty/truthfulness and the last sentence of the blog—“But I will always, honestly, share my opinions when I LIKE something!”—dovetails with today’s Try.
Rather than answers, today’s blog will focus on questions I hope will get you to think. Being genuine, truly genuine, is a lot harder to justify in our lives than trying something new or trying to be honest or even saying something nice. It is up to each one of us to decide what is genuine for us. I hope these questions will spur you on!
How many times, both professionally and personally, have you said or done something you believed others expected of you, both positively and negatively? How many times, when you were expected to do something or say something, have you held back your opinions or instincts because you felt others would not understand? How many times have you NOT said something nice because you felt it wouldn’t be appreciated?
I am reminded of the old Music Ed wisdom not to crack a smile until Thanksgiving. The theory opines if you show your students (or choirs) you are human or able to be amused, they will take advantage or think you “weak.” The idea is to be perceived as tough, not willing to take any crap and enforce the notion you are a serious and strong person, right? But what happens when you thwart your own instincts; is it good for you or your students (choirs)? Would it really make a difference, one way or another, if you told them what you really felt? Do you ever listen to your instincts?
There is a culture of choral elitism, of highfalutin choral views, which can side-track our most genuine and raw choral instincts. Historically informed performances with no soul or the trendiest choral composer de jour with little to say other than they are hot, can make us feel we are doing our jobs, but not much else. We may NOT like the composer or the performances but are ashamed to admit we don’t, worried what others may think. There is something so delightful about hearing the Peter J. Wilhousky arrangement of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” (even now, the women reading this are trying not to sing, “Gloria,” while the men are tramping down their instincts to chant “truth is marching” under their breath). Yes it’s hackneyed but definitely part of our collective choral DNA; what’s wrong with that?
A few years ago, I was told by a long-time friend one of our mutual Ballet Masters had admired me; both my technique and artistry. Of course, our teacher had been dead for quite a while when my friend shared this with me. I had been lead to believe he did NOT feel that way about me but my friend insisted he did and explained our Ballet Master did not want me to get “full of myself!” I had always felt I was such a disappointment to him and had hoped one day he would be proud of me. Such a sense of sadness came over me at that point and I vowed, then and there, to always say something positive to my choirs when I believe it. Do you subscribe with the theory of not letting your students and singers get “full of themselves?” Forty years from now, will it matter if you tell them today they sound good?