“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.” Potter Stewart
There have been two music/choral ethics incidents in the news in the last week or so. I will not name names or places but you can probably figure out who is who from the details. And I am not going to try to disguise details because I want your opinions.
In all candor, the first incident happened in my own hometown at a repeat of a concert I actually attended the day before. It was a choral and vocal concert, performed by our world-class symphony and chorus, outstanding soloists with our wonderful music director. He seems like a wonderful man but I guess even he has his limits because he stopped the concert. Why? Because an audience member started coughing LOUDLY. The Maestro had had enough and behaved badly, is my understanding. It is difficult to discern how badly since everyone (columnists in our newspapers and others) has given their opinion but none of the rest of us were there so how are we to know.
I do know the place where the patron supposedly coughed was a bad place to cough. I wonder if he (it was a deep cough so it would make sense) could have stifled it. I always worry when I attend a concert, with my allergies flaring up, because I never want to distract others. I swallow, squeeze my eyes shut until tears run down my face and try to breathe through the irritation but sometimes, you just have to cough. However, there are some people who don’t think the way I do at concerts and let ‘er rip; many of them sitting next to ME!
I do see the Maestro’s point about the music and I do see the patron’s point if he truly had to cough. So what should he (either one) have done? Should the Maestro have ignored it? Or was it too loud to ignore? Should the audience member have at least tried to stifle it? Did he try? Or did he just not care? What would you have done, either as the conductor or the audience member?
The second incident concerns the choral director of a symphony chorus which also sings with the symphony at their summer venue. This is a highly auditioned chorus and they are not paid, but are extremely loyal, many of them coming from out of state and planning their vacations around concert schedules. The director has only been with the chorus for about 18 months, and was hired as the chorus’s founding director replacement. The founding director retired due to severe health problems and recently died.
The symphony chorus director recently announced every chorus member would have to re-audition for him. Since the ensemble is over 100 singers, auditions would be in shifts. The first shift was announced as well as what would be required of them in the audition. They were given four weeks to practice. Many members were outraged, especially those who had been singing with the chorus since their founding in 1971. The director wanted to get to know the chorus and who he had to work with before he did anything, which is certainly to his credit.
After the first shift auditioned, it was a bloodbath. Many claimed they were not given enough time to practice or, because their long time director had passed away during their practice time, were too distraught to sing well. Sounds very whiny to me, and you know who I hate whiners! But then, in an article describing what had occurred, one singer complained about how he was treated during his audition. He was asked to sing a certain section of a work the chorus had recently sung and he did. After, the chorus director dissected what he had sung and not in a complimentary fashion. The singer remarked not only did he not win the audition, being informed by form letter, but felt humiliated and battered. Many singers, who are to be auditioned in later shifts, have resigned due to that incident.
It is my opinion the chorus director is within his rights to re-audition the whole chorus. It is also my opinion the chorus director can keep or let go any chorus member he chooses to. But, I have to wonder WHY he would critique someone so harshly if he is not going to keep him, because what’s the point? Your thoughts?