“People don’t slip. Time catches up with them.” Nat King Cole
No one looks forward to leaving our profession or to having to tell someone they should leave. It’s a tough time everyone will face, sooner or later; we all just hope it will be much later. Today’s Choral Ethics Blog will look at three different situations where leaving the choral profession has been an issue. Naomi*, Eddie* and Jessie* all have had to look, really look, at the kindest most ethical way to handle things.
Naomi has directed a wonderful church choir for about fifteen years. To say it’s been a “dream job” is an understatement. The person who has helped her most is Nancy Jo*, her choir’s president. When Naomi went into labor during a choir practice, Nancy Jo drove her to the hospital and called her husband. For Staff Appreciation Sunday, Nancy Jo makes sure Naomi is remember by her favorite flowers and a small and “perfect” gift. Music is filed, choir robes are cleaned and the Sunshine Fund always has money in it due to Nancy Jo’s diligence.
Unfortunately, in the last few years, Nancy Jo’s voice has been deteriorating. Nancy Jo has a wobble and a vibrato so wide, its three pitches. Naomi has gotten complaints about the choir’s sound lately, with comments about them “not being as good as they used to be.” She knows why but didn’t feel she should say anything and was not sure what to do.
I suggested she to speak to clergy; church choirs tend to be volunteers, with any and all who would like to sing, hypothetically, being welcomed. He told her to ask Nancy Jo what she would like to do, and so Naomi did. Nancy Jo has realized, due to some recent health problems, her voice wasn’t the same. Both decided, together, Nancy Jo would continue as choir president and occasionally sing anthems she loves but anything new, she would sit out. Not a perfect solution but a kind, and ethical, solution.
Eddie was the accompanist for a community chorus. The director, Andrew*, had been failing for at least a year. He couldn’t remember the page they were on or what Eddie’s name was. He was indignant when the chorus kept asking the page or measure number, after he “thought” he had told them. He often seemed confused where he was or who he was (there were times he thought he was singing, not directing). It was so sad and Eddie covered for him more and more.
Finally, Eddie approached the president of the board, but she would have none of it. Eventho it was obvious there was something terribly wrong with Andrew, she did not want to embarrass him by calling his abilities into question. Eddie wanted to speak with Andrew personally but fate took that option away from him; last spring, Andrew had a debilitating stroke. Now in rehab, Andrew is making progress but it’s slow.
Eddie contacted me earlier this fall to ask what he should have done. I told him I thought his instincts were spot on about approaching him, personally. My only other thought was, instead of speaking with the president of the board, he should have spoken with Andrew first. I also told him I admired him for wanting to spare Andrew any embarrassment. Life happens and this is one of those cases no one could have anticipated.
Jessie wants to quit his church job. He’s tired of the congregation and his choir. They have had a series of interims while the congregation shops around for the “perfect pastor.” As a result, no one is minding the store. Things fall between the cracks, and if those things have anything to do with the choir or Jessie’s playing, he is blamed. They no longer have a regular church secretary, so even if he gets his hymn and anthem selections in in a timely fashion, they often don’t show up in Sunday’s bulletin and he’s the fall guy.
Eddie feels his congregation has unrealistic views of what is best for them, so the interims keep coming and the transition is getting longer and longer. When there was confusion about his vacation (he asked for permission from whichever interim was there at the time he made plans, arranged for a substitute AND made sure the correct music and hymns were turned in to whoever was doing the bulletins for that week) and he was scolded, that was it.
When asked what he should do, I told him to look for another position. I understand his point of view, because until they get their act together, it will continue to be a mess and it will be draining. But I also told him to not leave, if he can help it, until after Advent and Christmas. To leave them in the lurch before the holidays would reflect badly on HIM and could cause him problems later on.
Our series continues next Thursday with a little bit of hope; Using Music For Good.