Is it time to dismiss this choir?
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    I was recently asked by our pastor to take over the 25-member, main choir in our large RC church. This choir has a long history of being impossible to manage and improve due to several strong-willed members who work hard to keep the status quo: "Us (the choir) against Them (the clergy, MD, liturgist)." In short, they're bullies. A succession of directors have tried over the years and failed. It is a social club and not a choir. Typical problems: Arriving late/skipping rehearsals/mass; talking incessantly during rehearsals/mass; reading the bulletin during the homily; chewing gum and/or eating food during rehearsals/mass; not listening to and/or are annoyed by instructions; don't believe any director really matters-they come and they go; most don't read music; several are tone deaf and cannot sing on key; choir members recruit friends to join regardless of musical ability (most have little); showing open disgust for the choir director if they don't like the song, direction, etc.; the list goes on and on... This choir is locked in mediocrity. There are few singers in this choir who possess adequate musical abilities to be in any choir. They sing out of key, can't keep time, don't follow instructions, etc. Good singers join but leave after a short while. The congregation expresses open disapproval for the choir because they sound terrible and look bad during mass (heads buried in music, look lost or disinterested). The pastor took the choir microphones away because he doesn't want to hear the choir during mass. However, despite all of this (and more), this choir genuinely believes they are a very good choir!

    I recently implemented a list of basic guidelines: Attend rehearsals; arrive for rehearsals/mass on time; limit talking during rehearsals; practice music between the rehearsal and mass, no food or gum during rehearsals/mass; etc. I have no problem controlling rehearsals or confronting members who act out, etc. Their reaction? Open hostility as a group towards me (I'm not surprised). They stare me down during rehearsals and mass, throw fits, refuse to comply, etc. In short, this choir isn't interested in improving and wants the status quo to continue despite how poor performing they are. However, again, they truly believe they are a good choir.

    Question: Is it time to dismiss this choir? The pastor and assistant pastor think the time has come. I'm concerned about what the ripple affect will be through the MM and the greater worshipping community. Any input?
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    Probably.
    Thanked by 2JanDen Gavin
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Time to dust off your sandals, IMHO.
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,938
    Question: Is it time to dismiss this choir?
    In a word: YES!!

    The pastor and assistant pastor seem to agree. And it sounds as if this "choir" is an adult(?) version of the playground bullies at recess in elementary school; indeed, they seem to act like spoiled rotten, irresponsible children. They should be called to account for their recalcitrance and graceless unwillingness to submit to the good of the parish.

    That said, their dismissal should be done with the authority and backing of your pastor. Any of the dismissed members who want to join a new choir should be required to pass an audition and agree (preferably in writing) to a code of behavior. They are not to be there to be bullies, flaunt authority and cause problems for the whole parish; rather, they are there to serve God and their parish family ... humbly, not haughtily.
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,066
    Can you call out the few to form a new small group that does at least some rehearsal separately (eg before or after), start to give that group the more interesting work, and slowly steadily relegate the rest to hymn sing-along? This could cause less ripple and you would have to do something like that anyway.
  • Jani
    Posts: 432
    Perfect, Mr. Giffen! My thoughts exactly.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    Absolutely time to let them go. If they are acting like 5 year olds, treat them like it and tell them only adults are to be in the loft, and be done with them.
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Andrew, yes, I'm considering culling the better singers (not the bullies) by having a one-on-one "voice check" with each member and hear who has the better voices. I'm going to do this before the pastor pulls the plug. Then, I'd like to form a group who will likely be the seed for a new choir. I'm not sure how this will work though. The choir members are all friends and this will challenge their loyalties.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    I'd be less worried about voices and more worried about attitudes. You can fix voices if attitudes are good. You can't use good voices if attitudes are bad.
  • Yes, a resounding 'yes'.
    And, when you dismiss them, have your pastor standing by your side.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,138
    Furthermore, throw them out of the choir gallery the long way.

    Short term pain for long term gain. I have done this with a choir, albeit with the support of the pastor.
    Thanked by 2JanDen CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,603
    Are there any credible complaints or defenses that the choir may lodge?
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Liam, I'm not sure there are. The only thing they defiantly state is their choir tenure, "I've been in this choir for 30 years!" Other than that, I don't know of any complaints or defenses they could claim. The bad behaviors reside in the choir members and not the different leaders who've tried to get them to comply.
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 756
    Restart the choir with a limited number of auditioned places. Minimum requirements including reading music or being willing to attend extra time to learn to sight read.
    I suggest that you also pay attention to the spiritual needs of your choir members - do you pray together at start /end of practice? Retreat day annually? Input from the pastor? Times of adoration? If the choir are ministers, then they need spiritual formation as well as musical formation. Sounds like they have got neither over the years.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,603
    Well,if I were you, I'd be sure before I proceeded or encouraged the pastor to proceed.

    The reason I ask is that, in a situation of this sort, you only need one of of those that can make you and the pastor look very bad - even if, overall, the decision is eminently reasonable. It is a generally prudent thing (but often most honored in the breach) to know and understand that reasonable arguments of one's opponents better than they themselves do. This is especially true if you make the change about them and their behavior, rather than something larger.
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Liam, this is one of the reasons I'm concerned about this decision. I don't know if I support it 100% because it seems drastic and there could be far-reaching complications for the church. These people are bullies, and not just in this choir; They bully in other areas of the church as well.
    Thanked by 2Gavin bonniebede
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    bonniebede, you reminded me that the choir loft area has limited seating. I could audition and carefully choose new members who qualify. I agree about their MM spiritual formation: its missing as far as I can discern. I pray at each rehearsal and before mass but I don't know how many are participating in the prayer (I've thought of opening my eyes and looking up at them to see who is/isn't praying with me). They've lost focus on why they're in a choir but are defiant so I don't know if their spiritual focus could be re-sighted.
    Thanked by 1bonniebede
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,481
    Is your pastor willing to throw money at the situation, at least for a while? I would consider HIRING (yes, I know) an SATB quartet for at least a year and "firing" everyone else, regardless of ability and steering the quartet in a whole new direction. (You could explain what is happening to those who are sympathetic to your cause as long as you are confident they will not gossip.) Then, maybe, just before Christmas, when you need extra help for Masses, have an audition and carefully pick who you want to join and let them stay. Begin your new choir with a prayer before and after rehearsal. Make it a whole new entity and spirituality. This is something a colleague of mine did. Yes, there was upheaval, but it's quite good now. Prayers!
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    When you restart, I'd highly suggest auditions for any entry. Did it for one schola of mine, and I'm glad I did. You can set the bar as high or as low as you want in your own minds, but it will send a clear message that you are in charge and have standards.
  • kenstb
    Posts: 364
    I am curious about how long you have been with this group. If your pastor has lost patience with them and is willing to back you up, then you should move forward and make the decision. Choirs and other musical ensembles are not democracies. If your choir can't be disciplined, you must let them go. Someone has to lead. You have chosen to do so. Jesus Christ and the people who gather in your parish to worship deserve the very best that you can offer. It isn't any fun to remove poor singers, but it is your responsibility to make difficult decisions.
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,603
    It can be a both/and situation: there may be bullies AND genuine grievances (worse still, bullies themselves can have genuine grievances). Bullying behaviors need to be deprived of oxygen, but ignoring genuine grievances is not a formula for success. I would add that the monarchical nature of church governance tends to invite bullying behavior as one of the only ways (the other classic Catholic way is obdurate passive aggression) to get genuine grievances responded to (even if the grievances are not of the current leadership's making) - rooting it out can be difficult if people feel they are left with no way to have grievances effectively engaged. (None of which is to justify bulling behavior, but if it is more of a symptom than cause, at least at the start, you need to understand it's not so simple).

    I am not idealizing community governance - far from it. But Catholics are so used to dealing with leaders like children because leaders treat them like children that communities can get really stuck. Which means: breath deeply, proceed prudently and carefully. No magic wands. (Oh, and before someone invokes When Sheep Attack - be very careful about adopting a victim stance vis a vis the choir as *a group* - as both a spiritual and practical matter, do not let bilateral wrongs ooze into being felt as a mass of multilateral wrongs. It's the exact same advice I'd give to sheep who are feeling victimized, btw.It works both ways.)
  • vansensei
    Posts: 191
    Kick out the choir and restart with an auditioned group - the requirements maybe being sight-reading, good tone and discipline. Discipline will get you so far. If they can behave like adults and not petulant schoolchildren, then there is progress to be made.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen JanDen
  • Carl DCarl D
    Posts: 992
    I'm not sure I have much new to add, just to agree:
    * Make sure you have the priest SOLIDLY endorsing what you're doing
    * Start a new choir from scratch that has a whole different standard
    * Enforce it

    When you start up a new choir, you have the chance to focus on different music, a higher standard (auditioned) for singing and reading music, and a new way of running rehearsals and Mass.

    In our parish, we have a range of different choirs run by various people - there is no MD at all. Different singers are attracted to different groups, and that ends up being a good thing. The serious schola can stay serious and not get distracted by the other groups.

    With a single MD, you can still have multiple groups, and let them go different directions. If that means that the current choir falls into disuse in 6 or 12 months, that's fine. Perhaps all the good singers and serious people will move to the new choir if given the chance. And very likely, you'll attract new serious people because they saw what was going on in the old choir and just didn't want to deal with it.
  • williamjm
    Posts: 19
    The purpose of a choir is to sing for the glory of God. If it is not achieving its purpose, there seems little reason to keep it going. It sounds like this choir is taking away from the glory of God.

    I may be oversimplifying the matter. I am not very experienced in these affairs.
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 1,066
    What does the rest of the parish think, by the way? Will the community support a sudden move to "a new way of running Mass"? Even with a supportive pastor, you could be in for a long period of radioactive decay if you invoke the nuclear option proposed above. And it's from the rest of the parish that you'll have to draw the new choir, eh?
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Andrew, the parish has had enough of the choir. The pastor is tired of hearing complaints from the congregation. They would likely welcome a new choir or new approach. Yes, I'd have to draw from the rest of the parish for a new choir.
    Thanked by 1Casavant Organist
  • Keep going to the end of the choir year, and take careful notes on who you would like to work with in the future. In the fall, when you start out again, draft two form letters to be signed by you and the priest(s). Letter 1: Thank you for your past service etc., we are moving in a new direction with the parish choir this year (maybe list reasons diplomatically - I like the phrases "unhealthy environment," "worrisome tensions", "fresh start" rather than any kind of impugning of musical skill), although you are not part of the new choir, we thank you for your service.

    Letter 2: Thank you for your hard work and support during the past year of transition. We hope you will come back this year, as we get the parish choir off to a fresh start. You are a valued part of the ensemble, and I look forward to working with you again.

    In other words, don't dismiss the choir: just make it clear in the fall who is coming back and who is not. You will absolutely have some touchy meetings when some of those people get their letter! But some of the troublemakers may very well come back with hat in hand, unwilling to be left out of the club - some of those may be worth having back, on a provisional basis.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,091
    I would dismiss them. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,678
    I would dismiss them. You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.


    OH YEAH? IS THAT A CHALLENGE?
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,091
    Processed eggs & egg-substitutes in a carton do not count.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    An omelet, by any other name, is still an omelet.
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,938
    Except when it's an omelette.
  • 'An omlet, by any other name....'

    No, no, Charles, you are mistaken. I regret (actually, I don't regret it at all) telling you that an 'omelet' made with egg substitutes is not really an omelette - it is a simulacrum.
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 756
    Eggstraordinary tangents....
    Thanked by 2Salieri JanDen
  • Jani
    Posts: 432
    eggregious use of the forum....
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,938
    The 'seniors' special' at a restaurant was two eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast for $2.99.

    'Sounds good,' the wife said. 'But I don't want the eggs.'

    'Then, I'll have to charge you $3.49 because you're ordering a la carte,' the waitress warned her.

    'You mean I'd have to pay for not taking the eggs?' the wife asked incredulously.

    'YES!' stated the waitress.

    'I'll take the special then,' said the wife.

    'How do you want your eggs?' the waitress asked.

    'Raw and in the shell,' replied the wife. She took the two eggs home and baked a cake.
  • It would seem that the time is long past at which these eggstraneous members should be eggstracted from JanDen's choir. The pastor, though, should definitely be consulted on the eggsact dismissary proceedure.
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs. rotten eggs.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Jackson, you have eggstrapolated the truth that eggsactly eggsibited your eggsquisite mastery of gastronomique-a-dique-a-dique; (oops, wrong Singing Nun reference.) Thank you for unscrambling this par-boiled mind and eggstracting the yoke that held me bound to the sulfurous odor of eggnorance!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,938
    If it was only flute & melon, we could scramble them together and get melofluent, the real eggspert here.
    Thanked by 2JanDen Mary Ann
  • EMH
    Posts: 44
    How does one turn musical eggs into an omelet?
    image
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,576
    JanDen: Their reaction? Open hostility as a group towards me

    (a little bit purple bold)
    Time to review history of 1400s in France as captured on video
    (timestamp 0:01:50 thru 0:03:54)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq7E8kFycOc
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    Thank you for the smile, everyone!
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 756
    When is choir like a soufflé? When they get puffed up with their own importnace.
    When is a choir like an omelette? When they sing flat.
  • StimsonInRehabStimsonInRehab
    Posts: 1,821
    When are the antics of a choir like haggis? When you realize you don't have the stomach for it.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,912
    Yes, my preferred move if that was my situation would be to dismiss the choir: they can't behave themselves properly, nor do they take instruction, nor do they respect you as the duly appointed authority over them by the Pastor; so it's time for them to go. You could also do as was suggested a few times above and relegate this "choir" to sing-along duties only, form a new choir which sings at the principal Mass, and schedule this group for some obscure Mass that really nobody goes to. Since your Pastor and Associate Pastor are on board with that move, you'd be fine in doing so.
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    I spoke with the Pastor yesterday and he gave me permission to boot anyone out of this choir who is acting up and won't follow my guidelines (which are basic to any choir). I have no problem addressing troublemakers. I may be left with about 5 people but at least we could productively get through rehearsals!

    I like the idea of culling a smaller group from the larger choir and asking them to sing in the forefront, as it were, and put the rest in the back as sing-alongs.

    Thank you so much for you input!
    Thanked by 1janetgorbitz
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,428
    What happens when you tell people they are out of the choir and they show up to sing at Mass anyway?
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • JulieCollJulieColl
    Posts: 2,465
    Call the "missionaries of mercy" SWAT team. LOL.
    Thanked by 1JanDen
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,115
    What happens when you tell people they are out of the choir and they show up to sing at Mass anyway?


    image
  • JanDen
    Posts: 23
    If they show up at mass anyway, I'd not make a scene but speak to them afterwards. If the problem continues, I'd escalate it to the Pastor who has assured me he will deal with them appropriately.