Suddenly I got my 'own' choir(s)
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    For a couple of years I have been a regular reader of this forum, not so much of a writer yet.

    After ten years of singing in our parochial mixed choir and schola, I started a choir direction course for beginners last September. Shortly after, the position of choir director in another parish in our cluster became vacant. Strangely enough (or maybe not), the parish asked for someone who would help to improve church music, yet was not willing to pay for a professional...
    Our own church musician, who was member of the selection commitee, encouraged me to apply. I was hired only for the 'small' choir, which mainly sings in unison and in the vernacular, beginning by 4t Sunday of Advent. The 'big 'choir was assigned to their longstanding organist, who isn't professional either (nor has he much experience as a choir director), and who has lead the rehearsals after the sudden death of his predecessor.

    Everything started fine, and by the end of January, I was invited to a first evaluation meeting with the pastor and a delegation of the choirs. While I got nice feedback (obviously I was granted a beginner's bonus), there appeared to be issues with the 'big' choir; and the new director was found to be unavailable for Easter due to obligations in another parish.

    It was decided 'spontaneously' to ask me to direct the choir on Easter Sunday. The plan was that I drop by for a 'welcome rehearsal' soon, and start my actual guest-directing the week before Easter.

    Unfortunately, the director was quite uncooperative: First, I didn't get the sheet music in advance of the welcome rehearsal - only to find out that they were far behind schedule! - then my wish to get a few minutes for a try-out with one of the known pieces was rejected.
    Next, the director refused to discuss the subsequent rehearsal scheme with me, complaining that this was too time consuming vor him. A few more things happened, finally the pastor intervened ...

    Suddenly I found myself, the bloody beginner, assigned to lead all remaining rehearsals until Easter, while the regular director, who apparently sees himself as a great church musician, is my 'assistant' for accompaniment.
    It worked surprisingly well in the first rehearsal, but I am uneasy about it. And then there is the suggestion that I might direct the choir regularly once a month, on the Sundays when the normal director is in his other church - of course I am enthusiastic about the idea as such, but not so much about the prospects of the required 'cooperation'.

    Any thoughts about this situation are appreciated!
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,335
    thoughts about this situation


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  • kenstb
    Posts: 358
    I agree with Adam 200%. Get out of there as fast as you can.
    Thanked by 2MBW Elmar
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Thanks for this 'fast' advice! I think I won't follow it right now, though.

    The main reason: I have support by the pastor, which I trust - and I have reasons for that other than the mentioned intervention, I know him well for ten years.

    Second, the musician of my parish (the other parish of the cluster, under the same pastor) who was in the selection commitee, is supporting me; and the pastor usually listens to him. Also I got very positive reactions from choir members after my first rehearsal with them, and two of them are on the parish board.
    I will no doubt do the Easter Mass, and there is nothing wrong wit the 'small' choir anyway.

    So obviously not all of them are nuts, but some certainly are.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • But the hired director of music, who you are being used to push out of his/her job, is not happy. And you would not be either.

    Having been hired with the understanding that he worked another job and would be missing at times, having someone also working there for less money brought onboard to do just one Sunday and now one Sunday a month...

    And since you are NOT a professional, putting you in his place saves the pastor $.

    You are in the middle of a situation which can tar you for life as the person that pushed ms. X out of her job...

    The director has made it clear that you are not welcome. If this had been HIS idea and he had invited you to help out when he can't be there...it would be a different story.


    You need to meet with this person, level with his/her, and find out what is really going on.

    Or you can go on trusting the pastor. I know that you will because you came here asking for advice and then wrote, "Thanks for this 'fast' advice! I think I won't follow it right now, though."

    and, you do understand the parish board has no vote or any kind of power, right?

    As far as getting your own choirs...they're like beer.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,810
    Noel

    I have read the post above and my understanding is two musicians that are not considered professional have been given jobs to run to separate choirs in a parish. It seems to my reading that Elmar, has a job that has been expanded to include duties that the other musician can not meet.

    I don't really see a problem... Unless this job provides the money needed to service a debt!
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,810
    Noel

    I have read the post above and my understanding is two musicians that are not considered professional have been given jobs to run two separate choirs in a parish. It seems to my reading that Elmar, has a job that has been expanded to include duties that the other musician can not meet.

    I don't really see a problem... Unless this job provides the money needed to service a debt!
  • The mention of beginner's bound may have thrown me.

    Aside from the nonexistent $ issue, it's still a situation in which one person is being pushed into a situation in which the incumbent person, though unavailable at times, is not pleased...and ends up having to accompany rehearsals for this person...probably even more galling since neither of them may be being paid!
    Thanked by 2MBW Elmar
  • bonniebede
    Posts: 753
    Elmar - speaking form my situation where volunteer directors are the norm, not like the American situation, as far as I can tell, the real issue is building a working relationship with someone who may feel that your very presence is an implied criticism of their own work.
    To resolve the situation it is important to try to come to an understanding where they will see that you are both a team on the same side, not in competition with each other.
    This may be impossible, but at least the attempt at friendly cooperation, patience, encouragement for them and gratitude for their input, etc might help you along.
    God bless your work/
    Thanked by 2Elmar CHGiffen
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Thanks for your reactions and advise so far!
    Before answering to them in detail, I'd like to clarify a few points:

    - The director of the 'big' choir is not director of music; actually our parish cluster does not have one, and probably won't in the near future (unfortunately; informal consultation among musici, as formerly in the individual parishes, tends to be insufficient in the cluster).

    - He is not a professional, in the sense that he never did academic sudies of church music. However, he got his experience accepted as a substitute for the lowest academic church music degree (which I can understand for his organ skills, but not for choir direction), and as a consequence is entitled to the according payment.
    Which makes it odd that he was given the job, while only non-professionals were addressed in the official job opening due to the $$$ ...

    - In the small choir I do not need an accompanist; for 'my' rehearsals of the big choir I do ($$$), while the regular director does it all by himself (with mixed results, and singers want a 'real' director back in spite of $$$).

    - Most of our church musicians (including organists with a degree) are not employees, but paid per hour. This also means that there is no predetermined contract duration, nor number of working hours per week or month.

    - While I cannot afford to invest the time just as a hobby, I am not so desperate for money as to accept any working circumstances. In the case of apparent lack of pastoral support - or of the parish board, for that matter - I would not hesitate to pull back.
  • So you are all paid.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Noel,

    We are all paid indeed, of course at different rates (ratio about 2:3). Directing plus playing organ/piano at the same time gets you an extra 50%.

    In contrast to official meetings and such, private study and preparing rehearsals and services are duties included in the normal payment, and do not count as extra working time.
    So it is remarkable that the normal choir director refused several times to answer my questions and discuss my suggestions outside the rehearsals; not on the phone, not via e-mail, and certainly not in a private meeting; claiming that he did not have the time.
    I tend to believe that this would fall under his duty of rehearsal preparation.
  • This is a very strange situation. You are not happy with the way that he got the job/is qualified for the job/or something or other. You are trying to take advantage of him by asking him questions and doing things he is not required to as part of his job and that he is not being paid for and time, in this case, is money since that's how you all are paid....

    Why should you need an accompanist for the big choir and not the little choir?

    Why was he chosen when he cannot be there every Sunday?

    This is a very strange situation. This has to be in a county outside the US, right.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,137
    This seems strange to me also. Would you be able to make a list of parishes, ensembles, leaders, and paid/unpaid status? I might just be confused as to who is who.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Noel,

    I agree that a the situation is strange ... a few aspects however are less strange than they may appear, let me explain:
    You are not happy with the way that he got the job/is qualified for the job/or something or other.

    I am not happy with the discrepancy between his formal degree and his actual choir direction skills.
    You are trying to take advbetweenantage of him by asking him questions and doing things he is not required to as part of his job and that he is not being paid for

    I respectfully disagree: Preparing rehearsals without extra payment is part of the job. In the case that you get a guest director involved for one of your performances, this includes in my view: providing sheet music for your guest director, answering questions about the choice of music and abilities of the singers, plan a joint rehearsal schedule. In one word: cooperate.
    Why should you need an accompanist for the big choir and not the little choir?

    The little choir is used to singing a capella, sings 95% unison.
    The big choir used to rehearse always with a pianist, and most if not all of their repertoire (dating back to their more glorious days) requires it.
    Why was he chosen when he cannot be there every Sunday?

    I have no clue, this is just weird.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Irishtenor,
    Would you be able to make a list of parishes, ensembles, leaders, and paid/unpaid status?
    I could look it up except for the last item (all I know about that is hearsay).
    As far as I know, most church musicians even had no written contract, and were paid just what the pastor was willing to give them.
    Which IS strange.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 862
    discrepancy between his formal degree and his actual choir direction skills

    So then, do you have a music ed, sacred music, or some sort of equivalent degree that makes you a more likely director-candidate to explain the displeasure? (just trying to figure out why this particular point is such an annoyance)
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    CCooze,

    Just read the first three sentences of this thread, then you know my background.

    I am looking at the director's skills from a singer's perspective:
    If I had been member of this choir and then got this new director, I would have left within a few weeks. One of the oldest singers actually did. A few told me that although they weren't enjoying rehearsals any more, and felt that they weren't learning anything, they stayed in hope on better times.
    The new director was hired (among other reasons) for his qualification; if he was a beginner, that would be a different story.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Time for an update:
    A few days ago, I got a contract as ad interim choir director of both our choirs until the summer break!

    Things started to get an unexpected turn already on Tuesday of the Holy Week:
    Our pastor called me for an 'urgent meeting' ... and asked me if I was available to continue directing the 'big' choir after Easter.
    He told me that he was planning to discontinue collaboration with the (until then) main church misician due to his excessive salary demands - which got his contract negotiations with the parish council stuck - in combination with his poor functioning as choir director. Pastor assured me that the problems I had with the guy were only the top of the iceberg, and in no way decisive for this step.

    A draft contract for me had been prepared already, pastor asked me to review it as fast as possible so that it could be signed before Easter. Although I had some issues with the contract (it finally took another four weeks to resolve the details) we agreed on the essentials, and our pastor came in for our last rehearsal before Easter, to introduce me as the new choir director.

    There will be a formal job opening in fall, on which our pastor immediately encouraged me to apply. As things are going, I might be their candidate of choice.
    Which is odd, the parish council apparently continues to prioritize low cost over quality ... otherwise they could (and I think, should) try to hire a professional.
    Obviously I won't complain!

    And of course, Ill try to provide as much quality as I can.
    The singers say they enjoy the rehearsals (again), and people in the pews seem to be happy as well.

    Thanks to all of you for your kind and helpful advices!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Next update:

    Another two months of directing the parish choirs have passed, including planning of the Solemn Pontifical Mass for the re-opening of our church (September 25th, after almost four years of reconstruction works). Also preparing the choirs 'for my successor'.

    Summer break approaching, the parish council invited me for an evaluation interview, and to discuss terms of a possible extension of my contract. They offered me a follow-up starting after summer break, until end of the following liturgical year (Christ the King 2017) with payment 70% up compared to present. Which I happily accepted!

    Today we had a meeting with the 'choir commitee', presided by the pastor, to make plans for fall (church re-opening and beyond). Very constructive, good atmosphere.
    So finally all the struggle I had in spring is paying off now.

    Thanks again for all your advice and prayers, and many interesting discussion threads in this forum, from which I learned a lot - an still do!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,137
    Sounds like congratulations are in order!

    What would you say you have accomplished since you started? What are some goals you have for now through Christ the King 2017?
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • Elmar
    Posts: 226
    Thanks, Irishtenor!

    What I have accomplished?
    First thing, take over the small choir two weeks into Advent (and three months into my first choir direction course), direct their singing on Christmas Day - still under supervision of their leaving director - then continue the choir on my own without anyone leaving ;-)

    Then, get asked (in the first place!) to 'guest direct' the big choir on Easter Sunday, eight weeks beforehand, start (!) rehearsing the music as far as time permitted, and have the choir sing in a way that I was immediately asked to take care of the big choir as well.

    Try to teach them singing on their own power, rather than follow the 'accompanying' organ (or piano, in rehearsals); teach them to follow the director instead. ("What do you think I do all that swaying for?" - "Cooling your armpits!?") Sing a capella ... in rehearsals; not in Mass yet.

    Have the choir rehearse 30 min before beginning of Mass (took a few months to convince them of the necessity, no complaints any more).

    In terms of music at Mass: have psalms actually sung and never read; synchronise music with liturgical action where necessary (Agnus Dei at the breaking of the Host, Commumion hymn starting at the communion of the priest), rather than when it is most convenient for the choir. Select hymns for Offertory and Communion that are appropriate for the liturgical action.

    Result of these efforts (among others): my present contract.
    And just today after Mass: a new candidate soprano!

    My plans:
    First of all, (continue to) prepare the pontifical Mass for re-opening of our church on September 25th, involving the four choirs of our parish cluster, three choir directors, two organists.

    Get the schola back into life, (re-)introduce Latin sung dialogues and some propers into the monthly 'Latin Mass' (which is in fact just Latin ordinary plus Pater Noster). We'll do it on September 25th 'once', I'll try to make it a 'kick-off'.

    Get a good overview over the (up to 120 years old) 'repertoire' so I can decide what is worth to turn into real repertoire again ... and make a good choice of what to plan for Christmas, as a start.

    Guess that's enough to be busy in the near future ...
    Any suggestions are welcome!
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,137
    Godspeed, Elmar!