Director thinks she can dictate my choice of organ registration
  • *insert angry red or other appropriate text color here*

    Because of course, she thinks she controls the entire universe. The ironic part of this little scene? I worked out everything with my organ teacher, as I always do, who of course was the previous organist and someone the director adores and highly respects. But I didn't tell her that. Yet.

    "Can you make it more..."rich" sounding? I don't know it just isn't "enough"...and onward rambling attempts to explain what it is I'm not doing right for her, because the director is NOT a trained musician and doesn't know what the hell she wants. I threw on an extra flute,gave the expression pedal an unnecessary push, destroyed the beautiful setting I practiced all week, and that appeased her uneducated little self. An untrained singer, dictating what a trained instrumentalist does. Do I tell her how to sing? Maybe I should... >:-(

    I don't take to this well. At. All. I may be new to this particular instrument, but I have two degrees and a lifetime of performance experience behind them, and a great deal of time and energy was spent studying registration for my Master's thesis. And, as I said before, I go over the weekly hymns with the teacher/previous organist and nothing I've ever done thus far has been without her supervision and expertise.

    Directors who are not also accompanists, do you do this? Maybe you do but you're not total idiots and make educated suggestions and you are respectful to your accompanists.

    I don't need someone to tell me what to do, not in this situation, and definitely not this particular person.

    Grr. >:-(
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193
    Is the "director" a choir director, or a music director? Does she have overall professional responsibility for the entire program? Or just for the singing?
  • I am an organist, a highly capable one. I am also a highly experienced choirmaster. Still, I would have to say that if the choirmaster envisions a certain timbre from the organ it is his or her prerogative to ask for it, and the organist's duty to accomodate. This, though, does not address what would be the ideal situation, namely, that you and the choirmaster meet regularly to share ideas about the interpretation of the piece and arrive at a mutually respectful conclusion. The final word, though, does belong to the choirmaster, who, ideally, knows the organ and is working with someone whom he or she genuinely respects. Lacking this respect, both parties are in an inherently volatile relationship.

    What is the organist's prerogative, though, is the registration and leadership of the hymns. Hymns should never, ever, be 'directed'. The people should follow the choir and the organ.

    You really do have my sympathy if your assessment of this lady is anywhere near spot on. There are few things more onerous than being 'under' someone who is incompetent to be 'over' you.
  • Fidem,

    I'm a singer who plays the organ -- I don't have a degree in Organ performance, for example, and I'm not a conservatory graduate.

    What Jackson says has merit, to a point. (What your teacher says does, I suspect, have merit, but only to a point.

    Here's the nub of the matter:

    that you and the choirmaster meet regularly to share ideas about the interpretation of the piece and arrive at a mutually respectful conclusion

    This should be done outside of choir rehearsal time, because doing it with the choir in place wastes everyone's time, embarrasses you, and makes the director look incompetent.

    If the choir director can't explain what kind of richness she wants, you're going to have trouble producing it. Does "rich" mean 4-foot flutes; 8-foot celestes; mixtures; crescendo pedal all the way to the floor?

    Posts: 175
    It is the conductor's prerogative to ask for the sound he or she wants and expect the instrumentalist to try to make it happen.

    While all vague directions in the course of a rehearsal are counterproductive, it is often necessary for balance and color to be adjusted with the choir present. To do this efficiently, the conductor must have a clearly formed aural image of the music and excellent communication skills. The organist must be enough in command to make quick changes. Efficient registration change during a rehearsal is a trick with a very high degree of difficulty!

    If the conductor's ignorance of one's instrument is a severe trial, then the instrumentalist has the choice not to work with that conductor. Yes, this is particularly difficult when long term relationships are in the picture-as in church work. However, the principal still holds.

    If pre rehearsal meetings and a sincere attempt to bring an ignorant conductor up to speed do not ameliorate the situation, then I guess more dust is going to have to come off more sandals.

    I would hesitate to call Robert Shaw ignorant, but, evidently, electronic instruments from the 50s and 60s sounded fine to him as he used them on more than one recording. (To horrific effect, in my opinion - cf his Rejoice in the Lamb) If I had been asked to play for his chorale, it would have been very difficult for me, as one who loves a good organ sound. I probably would not have played for him - or, at least I tell myself that I have that level of integrity.
  • ...would hesitate...

    I wouldn't hesitate at all!
    Selective myopia can and does afflict anyone, high or low.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,528
    A good argument for doing both jobs yourself. As for your director, I only see two possibilities.

    1. Poison
    2. Leave.

    Is this a paid position that you are tied to, or something you do as a volunteer.
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  • I would ask for a more specific explanation of what she wants in these cases, especially if you feel like she doesn't really know what she's doing: i.e. she's not even competent to be a choir master, if that's what her position is. When she says, "...make it more 'rich' sounding..." ask her what "rich" means. Guarantee she can't even explain it beyond that term, which she probably heard from someone else and decided to give it a try, just to make herself sound intelligent. I'm not sure how I would even respond to that, and as a trained conductor and music educator, I would never use that term as something I ask for from an orchestra, band, or chorus. To me, it would mean thickening the texture, which if I were to ask for that from an organist, I would say just that: "Could you please thicken the texture?" I would then leave it to you as the organist to decide how.

    Now to play devil's advocate here, I will say that the choir director just has a specific sound in mind that she wants, but she doesn't understand how to get it. The term "rich" may not even describe what she really wants. Untrained musicians, especially those that are not particularly competent musicians, are full of ideas and imagination, but do not have the technical backing to get them there. Some of these ideas are good and tasteful, and some of them are completely off the wall and don't make any musical sense whatsoever. The problem is that the untrained, incompetent musician in this case can't tell the difference between the two: they're all good ideas because they came up with them.

    As a choir master, my main concern between the organ and the choir would be balance. Aside from that, I would leave the artistic selection of registration to the organist, even though I am an experienced, albeit self-trained organist (which means I can play adequately and I understand most of the fundamentals of organ playing, but I'm not a polished performer by any means) and could easily direct the organist to an artistic interpretation of my choosing. In short, I would probably only be asking for louder or softer depending on the needs of balance.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,455
    I'm in a similar position to yours, except that I am the choir director and I am blessed to have an organist. That is the way I look at it: I am blessed. This is because, frankly, I don't want to do all the practicing involved in the playing of the organ.

    I try to be very congenial and thoughtful of my organist. I don't want him to leave for anything. That being said, there are times when I ask him to play louder or softer (more often softer and sometimes slower) as CK noted above. Sometimes, if one isn't an organist, one doesn't really understand the limitations of the instrument. "Richer" may not be even possible on your instrument.

    I think you need to have a "sit-down" with your choir director outside of rehearsal and explain your concerns. She may not even be aware that she is getting under your skin. Prayers.
  • This is my paid position. This person doesn't even have a college degree in anything let alone one in music. She's never played organ and barely reads music.

    As much as it makes me want to throw up in my mouth to take any orders from her I do it all the time. This is reaching the extreme outer limits of my tolerance.


    "They're all good ideas because they came up with them." That's exactly what this person thinks and how they operate every day of their life. Again, I stress to you, this has nothing to do with music and everything to do with being a micromanaging control freak.


    And everyone else who suggested I have a meeting with this person. She knows she pisses me off and doesn't care. She treats everyone like this, so I'm not sure what effect a meeting would have other than me
    finally telling her off.

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193
    Are you angry in a way you can get past, or are you planning to disrespect the director permanently?

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  • @Kathy:

    I haven't disrespected anyone. I did exactly as I was asked. I'm not required by anyone or anything to be happy about it.

    I usually end up saying nothing, precisely because I don't intend to come across as "disrespectful".
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193
    I believe that you haven't shown disrespect, but I gather you do disrespect her. You don't think much of her abilities or character, correct?
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  • I don't think well of her professional abilities, no. I respect her as a fellow human being with quirks and flaws, and recognize that this is someone who, most of the time, is likely clueless at how crass, rude, and even snobbish she comes off to people sometimes. It's total compensation and insecurity that drives her madness. I've been given all kinds of explanations and stories from other people as to why she is the way she is, and it is because of this knowledge I usually stay silent even when I am burning up and have a right to say something. I am hard pressed to find another person I've respected more in my
    entire life...
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193
    I should clarify that I'm not trying to interrogate you. It's just that you are displaying a lot of frustration, and it's not clear that it's something you are going to get past. It bothers you to take orders from her, you think she enjoys pissing you off--not a fun situation for anyone involved.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193
    I think that if you tried Jackson's good advice, you might end up thinking differently about her. Meet and talk, try to exchange ideas. In your case you have a mutually respected person, your organ teacher. This is a natural setup for a reconciliation--if that's what you want.

    One of the things that seems "off" here is that the original complaint, that she wants a "richer" tone, is not that hard to understand. If a pastor asked for that, I would know what he meant.

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  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,333
    OK, Kathy, I'd like a richer tone from the choir.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • As an organist myself, I've worked hard on a piece with a particular registration only to find that the director wanted something else. Since I'm not the director myself, it behooves me follow her lead. I don't tell the director how to rum the rehearsal or which pieces to choose - since I'm not the director.

    I don't know your particular situation, but it strikes me that if you might be better off as a director rather than an accompanist. I once knew a school administrator who was forever challenging the principal and implementing his own policies regardless of what the rest of the faculty wanted. He's now a principal himself, and everyone is much happier. I always wondered why he wanted the other job in the first place.
  • I made changes and she liked them. It's no different than any other time we work together on something, but again my patience gets worn thin when things she asks for seem unnecessary, or to come from a place that has nothing to do with the music. I should add that yesterday she was upset because we had a guest instrumentalist coming and they were running late. She frequently goes into micro-manage mode when things aren't going perfectly. If it was any normal day I doubt she'd have said anything to me.

    Perhaps a meeting is in order.
    Thanked by 2Kathy canadash
  • @rich_enough:

    Right you are. But this is where I am for now, and 99.5% of the time I love my job and the people I work with, even the director. You know what's funny? She trusts me enough to BE the director when she's on vacation or away for whatever reason!! I look for jobs every day, and a director position did come up in my area a while back but I didn't take it because I don't want to quit playing too. Most of these jobs are either/or, I'd prefer to be both.
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  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193
    Aside to Chonak,

    All right, we will do a vocal training session for the next few weeks, work on the covered tones in the altos, bring out the volume in the basses, warm up the high registrations more thoroughly before Mass, and work on smooth motion in the tenor line. Let's see how that goes, and let me know what you think in a couple of weeks, if it's improving.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,333
    That's not it.

    Fidem, it might not be a bad thing to tell her you're "going to" get advice from the previous organist. Then you can give him credit for the registrations and the director can imagine that she's contributed to the organ sound.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,193

    Perhaps you could show me with your voice what you mean by rich and not rich.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,528
    This person doesn't even have a college degree in anything let alone one in music. She's never played organ and barely reads music.

    Only in the Catholic Church could this happen.

    OK, Kathy, I'd like a richer tone from the choir.

    I would like a richer tone from the choir. I would also like to be richer. Rich is good!

  • Hi @Chonak:

    I mentioned that in my original post, of course in the moment you never think to stop and say "hey, teacher and I went over this and this is what she chose." Maybe I will just mention it to her and it will put her mind at ease.

    I can never tell if she's trying to lift me up or tear me down sometimes. She says she wants and needs help from me, but then she gets all self conscious and that inferiority complex ruins her good intentions. I wish I could help that situation. We would have a much better working relationship.
  • @CharlesW: I work in a Presbyterian church...
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,528
    Interesting. The Presbyterians here only hire the most highly credentialed and capable people, and pay them well. Of course, they have a college with a great music department just a few miles away.
  • this has nothing to do with music and everything to do with being a micromanaging control freak.

    Yeah, I kinda suspected it might be something like that. I've found in my experience that people of that persuasion, especially when surrounded by people who have credentials and qualifications will often pull the "boss card" just to make themselves feel better. It may not even be about you, but that this person just needs to feel like they are in control, so they bully with their authority.

    There really isn't a good way to get around the "boss card." The most professional thing to do would be to comply at first, and then have the discussion in private where you indicate your disapproval of methods, etc., but eventually you have to stand up for yourself and let her know how you feel. Doing it professionally will protect you somewhat, because you're not being rude about it, you're not calling her out in front of everyone else, not throwing her under the bus, etc., and you're allowing her the chance to work with you. If she refuses to work with you, and continues to just pull rank, you would then go to the pastor, for whatever good that may do you: it would depend completely on this person's relationship with the pastor. If the pastor isn't doing anything about it, and it really means that much to you, then you would shake the dust from your sandals and seek other employment. Should you leave under these circumstances, be honest with the pastor: let him know that the attitude of the choir master has made it so that you and she cannot have a productive working relationship, and that you have tried to compromise and create such a relationship, and also that his inaction has made it necessary for you to seek other employment (this is all after you have secured your new position: exit interview typed stuff if it ever gets that far). However, continue to do your job professionally the entire time and nobody should be able to justly impugn you.

    There may be others on this forum who will heavily disagree with what I have just told you, but you have to be honest. Nobody likes confrontation, especially if it may turn into conflict, but sometimes it is necessary. You have to make your feelings known, otherwise nobody can help you.
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  • I'm the second most credentialed person in this place, next to the pastor who went to Princeton LOL! I often wonder why they hired me, but I'm glad they did. It's been over two years now, and will likely be several more before I have a chance to or am able to leave. The pay is low but the church has been beyond generous in ways that are far more valuable to me than money, so I guess they really want me to be there...Everyone has to start somewhere...
  • And to all who took time to comment, and those who wanted to but refrained for whatever reason, I do appreciate your advice. I try to see the good in all situations and all people, and if I can see any good in my current one, it's that this experience has taught me much about dealing with difficult people and restraining my own temper and pride. I may be getting blisters on my tongue from biting it so often, but it's been good for me. I think. Not good for my blood pressure, but good for my
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • I would also like to be richer

    Me too.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,648
    “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,528
    You have to say the magic words to get into heaven - BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY. I think I will buy some more! LOL.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,354
    I have a degree in theatre, and a ton of experience as a designer and director. I have worked as a designer for a number directors who were nowhere near my competence level.

    My senior year of college, I designed a local HS production of Brigadoon, with the (idiot) drama teacher directing. I spent a lot of time arguing with her.

    Then, one day I stopped.

    I spent a bunch of time designing a sunrise lighting sequence near the top of the show. The director had some notes about it that didn't make any sense. I said the ideas sounded good and I would try to work them in.

    After the next time we ran it, I told her I had adjusted some things and if it was more like what she was thinking. She said it was much better and thanked me for my hard work.

    I changed nothing.

    Some people just want to feel like they are being useful.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 873
    Except for telling the person something that's not true, I completely agree with the above.
    I like to find other ways of not going out of my way to "lie" in order to get someone off my back.

    Them: have you find a way to do what I wanted?
    Me: after talking to you and thinking about it, do you think this looks better?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,528
    There is a difference between telling lies, and directing the focus elsewhere.
    Posts: 175
    it's that this experience has taught me much about dealing with difficult people and restraining my own temper and pride.

    Been there; tried to do that. To the extent I have been successful, I have been happier with my life. Actually, the more I do that, the more effective I have been as a musician and one who minsters through music.

    F in F, hang in there, it sounds like you are on the right path.
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  • BruceL
    Posts: 1,032
    FIF: my assistant and I have identical credentials...BMus and MMus in organ/sacred music. He has more experience than me. I trust his judgment and ask for it in the private time we use to set up choral pieces at the organ. However...

    You are fooling yourself if you think the director can't/shouldn't tell you what to do. It's their job: your recourse is that, when someone complains about your playing or registrations, you refer it up the chain to the director!

    I have been in your shoes, too: trust me, if you are open to it, you can still learn a great deal (good or bad) from such a setup and will also be building up treasures in heaven, as it were.

    Your bank account will likely appreciate this approach as well!
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  • You have no respect for the director.

    Stop playing for the director and let someone else earn the money.

    destroyed the beautiful setting I practiced all week,
    in the empty room without the group you were to accompany and without the congregation sucking up sound.

    Organists, unlike string players, have to adjust continually, especially when accompanying.

    When you did your string recitals, did the pianist have the lid up, on the short stick or closed? You, as the soloist had the authority to make that decision.

    As an organist accompanying a choir your attitude just be totally subservient. It's pretty clear in what you have written that you may not be able to make that adjustment.
  • Adam Wood for the win.

    As an organist accompanying a choir your attitude just be totally subservient. You may not be able to make that adjustment.

    Noel actually has a point here: one I forgot when commenting earlier. Having a good working relationship based on mutual respect is key to accomplishing anything, but the point is that as the accompanying instrument, you really are subservient to the singing, as much as it may pain you to hear that. If a singer asks a pianist to transpose because they can't sing the song in the original key, the pianist must oblige or the song cannot be sung at all (unless of course the pianist has the authority to replace the singer with one who actually can sing the song in the original key, but that is not likely to be the case). I was reviewing situations from my past where I've had similar experiences, such as (if you all remember) the case of a cantor constantly demanding transposition when it wasn't seemingly necessary. I remember transposing anyway being the only viable solution unless I wanted to fire the cantor and replace her, which I did not: she was a good singer, although often frustrating to work with. The other idea of that was that she was the only one who requested any type of transposition at all, so it was small potatoes.

    I will, however, agree that the manner in which those requests are made makes a big difference: semantics matter. If they are coming to you as curt demands, and being directed toward you in a disrespectful manner, that's one thing, but if they are polite requests, that's a totally different story. Handling your differences in private before rehearsal would probably be the best way to handle this sort of thing, and also try to inform the person to the best of your ability: even inform her that you will be trying to help her learn. You have the training and experience that this person clearly doesn't, and it would be good if you could share some of that with her. Of course, she has to be docile enough to accept your offer, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Remember the parable, "...Reconcile quickly with your adversary, while you are still on the way to court. Otherwise he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison."
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  • While it is, indeed, always the choirmaster's prerogative to have the say in all matters pertaining to the choir and its liturgical repertory, I think that some here are a little unkind to Fidemin. Yes, she must accept that she is under the authority of this particular choirmistress, but her frustration which rises from the disparity between their qualifications is entirely understandable, not at all unique, and not a mere matter of not having respect. It is extremely difficult, as I said above, to serve under someone who is incompetent to be over one! However, this is a dynamic to which Fidemin needs to adjust if she is to remain in this relationship. But don't fault her for quite justified frustration and accuse her of being disrespectful. That said, she needs to pursue every effort to develop a respectable professional relationship with this lady, or seek a peer relationship a position in which her talents are appreciated. Scolding her is not appropriate. Empathy and wise counsel are called for. As someone remarked above, it could happen only in the Catholic Church that a total musical non-entity could be placed in a position of authority over music. (Sometimes this also happens with ill-suited clergy and prelates!) Placing incompetent persons in positions of authority is rife in our Church, and those of superior qualifications who must serve under them deserve our sympathy and encouragement - and prayers.

    Also, faulting Fidemin for working out a registration in an empty church without the choir and people present to make their inevitable acoustical modifications is rather off. All of us who are organists are quite capable of planning our registrations in an empty church because we are competent to take all these factors into consideration. Again: scolding this person is rather officious and snotty.

    Now then: Fidemin! Pray. Attempt with genuine respect and earnest motives to forge a fruitful relationship with this choirmistress. She may, if she feels respected, come to value your knowledge. If this doesn't happen, look for a better post.
  • @M. Jackson Osborn:

    I'm actually a "she" :-)
    Thanks for your kind words.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,528
    If you do away with the director, hide the body well, very well. lol. Did you ever see "Arsenic and Old Lace" by any chance? You can say she went to Panama.
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  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,354
    Adam Wood for the win.

    When I'm elected President of the Internet, we'll have so much winning you're going to get bored with winning.
  • When....

    Um, 'winning', or 'whining'?
  • Humility. If, over the course of time, you are constantly unhappy with the direction she gives you (however vague,) then perhaps you can find a new assignment. We all want to be the boss, but let it go. Carrying that burden with you is a dangerous game to your health, and in the end, 'Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam', right?

    Two quotes come to mind:
    "You don't lose your light by letting somebody else's shine."
    and...supposedly Einstein said:
    "To punish me for my contempt of authority, fate has determined to make me an authority myself."

    Someday, as a law of nature, the tides will turn, and you will be forced to take the opposite role. I guess a third quote is in order. From our Blessed Lord Himself: "...and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you." (Matthew 7:2)
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    When I'm elected President of the Internet, we'll have so much winning you're going to get bored with winning.

    I think it's time for Adam to make the internet great again.
  • ryandryand
    Posts: 1,640
    Your organ registration is gonna be HUGE
  • @JIF: Thank you. You are right that this is something that can destroy your health. Although it is no justification, but as difficult as this director is to work with sometimes, I have other people in my life that are far worse, causing far more mental and spiritual damage than I ever could have imagined. People who seek to destroy my family's entire way of life, who pretend to preach Catholic values of charity and humility but aim their daggers at us whenever they feel like it. If they succeed, which they sadly may because we do not have the means or clout to do battle with them, we may be forced to sell our home, relocate, and take our children out of the only school they know and love. So when someone wants to nitpick about things like my choice of registration, well, you see. Music has always been my respite from sin and evil (cue raucous laughter)...Keeping your thoughts in mind, though, I am reminded of that now, and I should do more to protect it and not allow outside forces to enter into the last remaining "safe place" I have in life.
  • @FideminFidebus: No problem. Seriously, I have struggled the 'good fight' for years: "If only they would let me do this," "I can save them from themselves," "They need me..." I wish, wish, wish I would have just said, "Forget it." I have a major health issue I'm struggling with now as a result of the great stress I put myself through trying to get through to them, and it's just not worth it. I decided to get involved with the TLM and am loving it. People are people, and no where is perfect, but at least for me, this constant piddling around, trying to be orthodox, competent, and an agent of beauty has not been a problem at my new parish. I would not be the music director at a N.O. parish again, with few exceptions. I would rather retire my organ playing hands for good and go work at a grocery store or a bowling alley. I am only 34, but this has been the biggest lesson I've probably ever learned in my life.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,528
    If I were not in the parish where I work, I would not work in a Catholic parish, period.
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