Choral Potpourri: The Opposite
Date: February 24, 2016
"The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth." Niles Bohr
In January, I wrote a ChoralBlog Choral Ethics piece called “Scorched Earth,” about choral directors leaving a disaster for their replacements. Leo* contacted me soon after wanting to share his story. It isn’t the kind of story you think it will be; he was the one who left.
Leo directed a choral program at a high school district for twenty-five years. Located in a suburb in the Upper Midwest where winters are harsh, Leo and his wife raised their family there. About five years before he retired, his wife began to have health issues. After many tests and various diagnoses, they were finally told a change in climate would help. It was easy to decide where to move; Arizona, where two of their three children had moved. His wife’s health and being close to their children and grandchildren were the main factors in his decision to retire a bit early.
He gave the district two years notice and agreed to help screen and interview candidates for his position. During the first year, the school’s principal and school board president began to formulate a job description with input from Leo. Leo and his wife readied their home to be put on the market and looked at condos in Arizona. As per his agreement with the district, it was not announced until after his last concert of that year he would be retiring. There was a bit of an uproar but everyone understood. At least, they seemed to understand. During the summer, Leo and his wife found a condo near their children, put down earnest money to hold it and began to downsize their possessions. Their third child decided to move to Arizona as well.
Everything went smoothly until school began. Leo’s wife wasn’t doing well, so the family decided she should move to Arizona ahead of schedule. Leo would stay until their home sold, then rent an apartment until the end of the school year. As soon as he wife left, he began to slowly clean out his office every day after school. He wanted to be able to leave as soon as possible after the school year was over and thought going through all of the miscellaneous *stuff* collected over the course of his 25 year career at that school would help. Cleaning out his office was wrong, according to a member of the Music Boosters, and showed disloyalty. Nasty comments were made about it; Leo felt sad but continued cleaning.
The search for his replacement went well. They had lots of applicants, since the choral program he built from almost nothing was respected. The person they finally chose was Janice*, a former student teacher of his, who taught in a neighboring elementary district. Janice was excited and dropped in occasionally after her school day to talk. Leo invited her to Music Booster meetings, helped her choose repertoire for the coming school year, explained traditions and how the music library was organized and introduced her to the helpful custodians. In other words, he did EVERYTHING possible to help ease the transition. The problem was the Music Boosters, led by several of his former students, who just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) move on. They poisoned the minds of parents and inferred if they signed a petition, he would stay.
At the end of the school year, Leo moved to Arizona and left Janice with a mess not of his making. He felt terrible. He would get an occasional email from Janice, detailing the demise of his choral program and regular emails from students, former students and colleagues tattling on each other.
Leo wants you to know, he never, never gave the impression to anyone he was the only choral director in the world. He never told any of his singers to disregard others opinions on music or vocal technique or to drop out of choir when he left. He never said anything to undermine Janice since Janice, as one of his former student teachers, was part of his legacy too. Others lit the fire to scorch the earth.