“Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.” D. H. Lawrence
Last week, I mentioned getting over 30 emails about one choral conductor during the last few years. My contacts were from past and present singers and even one of his former accompanists. There have been several from his colleagues. All have shared a variation of the stories I include in today’s Blog. I have included some of the stories about Guy* during the past few years, usually part of a column which includes more than one Choral Ethics Dilemma. I promise those who contact me I will change location and details but try to keep the gist of the problem and I have, for the most part concerning Guy’s behavior. I have been informed Guy is retiring this May and one person in particular asked me to write a Choral Ethics blog about him. Sally*, this one’s for you!
Guy is the Director of Choral Studies at a medium sized university in a semi-suburban area. He also directs a large community chorus associated with the university. He has been with the university for 25 years and the community chorus for 20 years. How he came to be the director of the community chorus could be a whole Choral Ethics column by itself, which his former accompanist, Lucy*, told me in excruciating detail several years ago. Let’s just say Guy spread malicious gossip and planted seeds of distrust and leave it at that. Lucy also shared concerns he was an egomaniac who belittled his singers rather than help them grow. He was disrespectful and manipulative with her from the beginning and she feels he is truly a small person.
Always one with the clever, cutting comment, Guy’s students and singers never know what to expect. He’s a perfectly charming gentleman for months in rehearsal, and then turns into a nasty, hurtful and snarky jerk. Gerry* told me he never believed the rumors about how difficult Guy was to work with until just before the winter concert his Freshman year when he became hateful to HIM for no apparent reason. Then he understood. He did what he could to keep his head down from then on out until he no longer had to be in Guy’s choruses. Gerry felt he did learn from him but thinks his ego clearly shows and doesn’t treat his students with respect. He thinks Guy is petty, insecure, conniving and crosses the boundary of what is professional. When he graduated, Gerry sent a detailed letter to the music department chair describing the abuse heaped on him as well as what he observed happening to others. A reply came back; we know, he has tenure and there is nothing we can do about it. Gerry says there are pockets of his former students all over the country. Some love him and swear allegiance to his ways, but most are battle weary, bitter for their experience, and hate him.
When she first contacted me, Sally had just begun graduate school and was having a totally different experience from the undergrad education she had with Guy. She wanted to know if it was normal to be listened to and not belittled. She felt strange, she told me, because now she looked forward to every day instead of being petrified what would happen if she wasn’t prepared the way Guy thought she should be. She always chalked it up to Guy being such a talented perfectionist and now knows he was just a jerk!
Sally tells me she believes Guy is a sharp fellow, but not the god he thinks he is. He indulges in sick politics, email wars, instigates character assassinations on a daily basis and is a deeply narcissistic personality who used his various positions to gain greater glory and power for himself, a walking cliché of the ego maniacal conductor. He manipulates situations to his best advantage, lies, cheats when he can and never said anything nice about anyone if he could say something nasty. For some reason some idiot thought it would be a good idea to put him in charge of the training and careers of young choral musicians and conductors. He uses his knowledge of psychology to manipulate and intimidate students and colleagues alike and shamelessly plays favorites with those in his choruses. Those who don’t choose to brown-nose are permanently out of his ‘in-crowd.’ Sally would love to call him out in some forum, as well as the department who has protected him for heaven knows how long, but fears she might need a letter of recommendation from them someday.
There are no answers for me to share with you, nothing in particular I could suggest to endure someone like Guy. I am relived for those who have to deal with him that the end is near; he will be retiring in May. But I will share something my favorite ballet teacher used to say: “Everyone is good for something, if only to be a bad example.” I think that can be said about Guy.