Choral Potpourri: Choral Ethics and Being Mean
Date: March 16, 2016
“The world's a mean place. It's unfair, then it's fair. It's hateful, then it's loving. It's a very peculiar place on philosophical and metaphysical and religious levels.” Tim Allen
Letters (emails), I get letters (emails). Many tell me about a problem and then expect me to take their side. Some crab, some tattle, some complain, some tell me their story and some “inform” me this whole Choral Ethics thing is silly. Maybe it is, but since I’ve been collecting stories, I have heard things which both horrify and amaze me, sometimes at the same time!
Tara* teaches at a small private university and directs one of their choruses. She tells me she is probably one of those people I get unflattering emails about. She says she may appear to be mean but assures me, she is never mean for meanness sake. She says she is mean because she has no choice. The only way she seems to gets done what is needed is to be consistent and firm and that is interpreted as being mean.
Tara conducts the non-auditioned university chorus which consists of all underclassmen music majors, singers and non-singers alike, and members of the university community. It’s a large sometimes unwieldy ensemble but she loves working with all those different types of singers in one group. In order to work with that many people, she has a few rules she on which she will not budge. That has gotten her the reputation for being mean. Most of the community members have been singing with her for years and Tara trusts them. But with over half the group consisting of music majors who have never sung in a chorus, she needs to have every one of them at every rehearsal. Because of the vast differences in abilities, especially with the music majors, the music department decided long before Tara arrived that the university chorus grades would use absences and tardys for guidelines.
Tara’s chorus meets once a week, with rehearsal in the evening. The music majors are expected to come to all rehearsals, with none excused except illness (with a note from Student Health Services) or the occasional evening religious service. It goes without saying they are expected to be on time. With a group of over 100 singers, Tara keeps track of tardys and absences for the music majors. One of her music major singers recently complained to the Dean of Students about her grade being lowered by a whole grade. The joke was on the student; the Dean of Students has been singing in that chorus for ten years and knows perfectly well what Tara’s requirements are. The student was not pleased to learn she would not have her grade changed. She called Tara mean and a few names not to be repeated here.
There is resentment for having to attend every rehearsal and she hears regularly how unreasonable she is. She used to be nice about it, saying she understood how difficult it must be getting to an evening rehearsal right after dinner or interrupting practicing or needing to relax or having time to catch up with friends and family or having a bad cold. Now, she has had years of complaints, of being called names, of being accused of ruining GPAs and is immune to the sob stories. She tells them to get to rehearsal. She tells them to be on time. She tells them to get a note from the nurse if they are truly ill. She tells them she doesn’t care what their deal is; this is part of the curriculum. She has been known to tell them to complain to the Dean or their private teacher, but has yet to hear back from these august personages.