Who Licked The Red From The Alto's Candy?
  • My choir rehearses for one and one-half hours on a weeknight and thirty minutes in church on Sundays, breaking about fifteen minutes before our Mass begins. At the weeknight rehearsal, we prepared an introit, offertory and communion motets, psalm set to simplified Anglican chant, descant for one hymn, and a round on an inner verse of another hymn. Everyone felt very confident about the music at end of rehearsal. Halfway through our rehearsal this morning, we gave a quick review of the round that went very well. One of my altos stood and raised her hand. She gave a two minute explanation of why we should not sing a hymn tune as a round because it would confuse the congregation. (We have done this many times in past so there was nothing new here.) To get her to stop, another singer suggested we skip round today. So I acquiesced. Now I am furious because the angry alto has made a practice of subtly criticizing anything new that I attempt with choir, whether it is reassigning seats or a new anthem or communion setting. She actually has scheduled an appointment with me recently to 1. list her concerns about choir, 2. express her concern about the lifestyle of one of my sons, 3. comment on weight of a family member, and 4. conclude by telling me she was confronting me out of Christian love. I was so stunned on that occasion that I simply told her I appreciated our friendship and her loyalty to choir. Today's incident is honestly my breaking point. There is no point in asking my priest to intervene. He likely would call an intervention between the two of us and make matters worse as he is a confrontational person himself. Other singers are afraid of discussing this with her. What I really want to do at next rehearsal is sing another hymn as a round and remind singers that I am easily available via church office, cell phone, texting, and email if they ever have concerns or want to rehearse individually. The service today went very well although I was on verge of tears the entire time because of the entire tone of her remarks. Did I mention how horrible this is for new singers to witness? Prayer truly allowed me to play and direct. HELP! LOW POINT! ADVISE NEEDED.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 144
    I've given up on trying to fix the annoyingly weird social dynamics in my own schola, so I can't advise on the practical side of things.

    But I will say that I am fairly certain after many years of dealing with weird social dynamics in all areas of life that 99.9% of people who are socially awkward, obnoxious, overly blunt, rude, lacking in finesse, clumsy, or otherwise hard to deal with really have nearly no idea whatsoever that they cause anyone else any distress. If they do perceive distress (ie you burst into tears in response to something they say, or call them into a meeting and tell them all the things they do wrong), they are baffled and think you are weird, delicate, over-sensitive, stressed-out, hard to deal with, or whatever.

    That is to say, we are all quirky in our own ways, and we all do the best we can within the limitations of our upbringing, intellectual capacity, culture, etc. Which means most of the time we don't do nearly as well as one might hope. But that really is the best we can do. Really.

    Praying an Ave Maria for our mutual sanctification every time someone annoys me seems much more productive than hoping they can be transformed from annoying to amazing. The latter is highly unlikely. The former helps you both get closer to heaven.

    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Good points. And, I prayed for both of us at various times in service. However, on a practical level, I need some ideas about how to address the problem both pastorally and for sake of keeping choir focused and not interrupted with these outbursts. I am fairly intuitive and am positive that some singers are becoming irritated by the behavior. Also, most of my singers are very focused and centered on learning music rather than questioning my judgement.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,091
    If your hymnal has TALLIS' CANON in it (perhaps to "All Praise to You, My God This Night" or "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow"), simply point it out to the lady (and the choir), where the tenor and soprano are in strict canon. Have the men start the melody, and the women start four beats later. It's a famous canon and is in many, many hymnals (with other L.M. texts, too)! After all, if it's already in the hymnal, how can it be wrong?
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,886
    I thought I had heard nearly everything but even I can't conceive of a hymn round involving the congregation. In my place, it would be the biggest train wreck ever. If you can pull that off, it would be a wonder to behold. If I misunderstood and this is just a choir piece, I don't see the objection.

    That being said, it seems to me this person simply doesn't like you or your work and would probably be glad to be rid of you.
  • Cesar,

    I think it would matter what hymn you were trying to sing as a round, whether it was a good idea or not, and whether you expected everyone to be singing one verse of the hymn or multiple verses or whatnot.

    On the whole, I have tried not to criticize my choir directors during rehearsal, when I'm a singer, for one simple reason: professional courtesy. Except when I can see a train wreck developing, I try to do merely what I'm asked to do. If professional courtesy isn't sufficient cause, how about the respect necessary to use rehearsal time well: everyone (i.e., not just the director) has given up time to be here, and personal issues (as I used to say in classrooms) I'm happy to discuss on personal time.
    Thanked by 2chonak cesarfranck
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,029
    One possibility might be to send a message to the entire choir (rather than singling anyone out) asking anyone who has comments or critiques of the repertoire, director, etc to discuss them with him/her in private. Then be firm about how you deal with it: if someone offers unsolicited advice like this in public, stop them as quickly as possible, offer to discuss it with them later, and move along.
  • jcr
    Posts: 31
    This description of obnoxious behavior has a familiar ring to it. There are always some people in a choir who seem to think that they have unique insight into the situation and can offer you wisdom beyond your ken. One encounters the same difficulty with family members and friends who, when you describe a problem to them, regale you with all the things you thought of during the first five minutes of assessing the problem. There is no actual cure for this stuff, but some of the suggestions given above are good and deserve considering when you decide to address the problem.

    If we recognize that some folks seem to want more that an ordinate amount of attention we may find a clue or two in solving the issue. It may be that listening and even (carefully) soliciting an opinion on occasion from this person may help. I confess that I've never been able to make the situation better by this method, but others have suggested it to me and I pass it along for what it may be worth.

    When we are patient with such folks we are sometimes rewarded by their withdrawal from the choir. At other times we are successful at wearing them out and their behavior dwindles to a tolerable level. More direct treatment than these things depends upon your security in the position, pastoral backing, choir support, aspects of your own personality, etc.

    I have found that prayer, as much patience as one can muster, a conscious exercise of kindness toward this behavior, and such other treatment that may occur to you as you deal with it (consistent with these things) will bring about some changes over time. God bless you as you work on it. These situations are no picnic.
  • mburrier
    Posts: 25
    Who is in charge?
  • It really doesn't matter what hymn in question or the specific nature of the critique. The choir member handled it inappropriately, and the question from mburrier is the crux.

    My practice schedule is much like yours... and I was in a similar situation one time. I had been with the group for 2-3 weeks at that point; we were reviewing the Propers in that short Sunday practice before Mass; one of the men in my group took it upon himself to stop the practice because there had been a mistake made.

    This particular individual was an officer in the military - perhaps that had something to do with the way he had approached the situation - but his demeanor was very confrontational and rude.

    I stopped him from continuing to interrupt the rehearsal and explained that it was my role to run the rehearsal and decide how to handle mistakes. I then followed up with him via e-mail afterward to explain that his approach, while perhaps well-intentioned, was inappropriate. I used some humor and a positive message... but made it clear that as director, I was in charge.

    In his particular case, he decided to leave the group - which was likely best under the circumstances. I discovered later that he had been like that under the previous director. Ironically, I had visited the parish where I was now directing some months previously, sitting in the congregation for a Mass offered by a visiting dignitary. The two lead voices on the chant (I was able later on to determine his was one and the previous director was the other) disagreed with one another through most of the Propers, singing them about a full step apart for the most part. It was so prolonged that I was convinced for a moment that it had to be intentional (i.e. a misguided attempt at drone, or trying to be 3rds apart to do their chant in parts) rather than bull-headedness... but the fact that it continued through most of the Gradual / Alleluia and Offertory finally made me realize that it was just two guys, neither of whom were willing to concede that they had missed the interval.

    Directors are in charge for a reason. That doesn't mean everything we do is right, nor does it mean we can't take constructive feedback... but the buck stops with us.

    There was a sign in my old band-room of high school.

    Rule #1. The director is always right.
    Rule #2. When the director is wrong, refer to rule #1.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • It is a transgression of the highest order for anyone to criticise the choirmaster's decisions and methods during rehearsal. Your mistake was in not stopping this lady short right from the beginning, telling her that you would discuss the matter with her privately after rehearsal or some other time. Refuse, EVER, to stoop to argumentation with any one during a rehearsal.

    Never allow such a person to take control of the rehearsal in this way. It is bad for your authority and dignity. It is bad for the choir's morale. It is bad in the example and prededence it sets. And, it is bad in creating a poisoned atmosphere, a poor setting for learning music in a holy, collegial, and brotherly manner. This lady is toxic. If she cannot reform, it would be best if she were dismissed from the choir.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • The point of my post was not whether a round is a good idea on a hymn. In my parish, we sing one or more verses as a round a few times a year. Various hymnals offer the suggestion that a particular hymn may be sung as a round. Also, I have several other resources and books that provide accompaniments for singing "in the round." While hymn rounds are not a matter I would direct in a ditch over, they are commonly used and resources are available. As the main rehearsal had included a thorough review of the hymn, there had been ample time for her to communicate the concern to me. I appreciate all of the above comments and prayers. The suggestions for more prayer and establishing a clearer understanding of my role as leader or director seem the best.
  • Cesar,

    not a matter I would direct in a ditch over,


    Thank you for enriching my vocabulary. I've never heard this expression.

    Could you explain, by the way, in which part of the country hymns as rounds "are commonly used"? I've never seen it done at Mass.
  • If there were a way to inject a subtle (or not-so-subtle) dose of humour as a means of moving-on in the rehearsal, etc., while being convinced of your methods, maybe the situation would be quelled. If the rest of the choir (or most) are with you, you're probably fine. Choir director=many hats. One of which is one of (proper) sociology.

    That being said, I know that the situation (as are many) is awkward.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • My choir is on board with me! I will add humor to prayer and patience. As I have been here 31 years, I feel supported overall and love what I am doing.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • The phrase is "die in a ditch." Autocrrect wins again! I have never seen them done. I have heard them done in several churches and only occasionally have done them. I play in an Episcopal parish in small town in the south. It is not a wide spread custom here, as far as I know. Anyway, the point of my original post was a singer disrupting choir rehearsal about this matter when she had rehearser it five days earlier and not said a word or contacted me which she could have easily done. I do want to thank my Roman Catholic friends on this forum for allowing me to participate and comment. I do love the Musica Sacra Forum. Peace. Cesar
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,783
    Nothing wrong with congregational rounds provided one has an exit strategy. CCH has only one such piece ("Seek ye first") and I've been firm about choir on one part and organ on the other.

    That this sort of thing
    She gave a two minute explanation

    led to
    another singer suggested we skip round today.

    (clockwise?) had better be a lesson to us all. (I love the thread title, btw!)
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • If a congregation normally sings well and learns reasonably well (which many do) there is no reason that they should not participate in a round. Pas de tout. The service folder should merely indicate 'In canon, Congregation begins with organ' and all proceeds admirably from there. The choir can be the imitating group. I have witnessed and directed congregational rounds in Episcopalian, Catholic, and Lutheran churches and the people not only performed well, they were delighted to have 'pulled it off'. I have even directed three part rounds, consisting of men-women-choir, or gospel side-epistle side-choir etc.

    This can be done in many places, but not every place. What one congregation can perform admirably, another cannot do at all. Be not like unto those who say 'can't' because they can't, or their congregation can't. They speak only for themselves. Others can, either with ease or with some loving and respectful preparation.

    There are few things as inspired and inspiring as a congregation who can do more than sing a melody (not that there is anything wrong with just singing a melody), but sing in parts or in round. Most people can do most anything that they are asked reasonably to do. The problem, as always, is with those (leaders or congregants or priests) who say 'these people can't', projecting their own limitations and ignorances onto everyone else whom they possibly can.
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck CHGiffen
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,997
    I've sung Duke Street in a round as a Communion "hymn of praise."

    All 4 verses of Jesus Shall Reign as usual, SATB
    Cut organ
    Vs 1 in canon, men vs. women
    Vs 2 SATB, with or without organ
    Thanked by 2cesarfranck CHGiffen
  • Kathy,

    You're using "round" in a different sense than I am, if you're singing Duke Street SATB. Explain, though, in a unison cannon (as you suggest in v. 1) where you have the second voice join.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Ha! Our entrance hymn was "Jesus shall reign" and it was sung mightily and without canon or round. The Gospel hymn was #675, TH82, " Take up your cross," sung to tune of Bourbon. The canon was to be on verse 3. And, choir had it perfectly. Alas, it was not to be! Although we could have done with exception to a combination of a choir director/ organist who was spineless and likes to keep the peace. My parish is actually in a small city rather than town. Several parishioners commute a fair distance and often arrive before our rehearsals are over. Thus, I make every effort to complete choir rehearsal 15 or 20 minutes before Eucharist begins. So, making a last minute cut versus drama in choir stall, takes pride of place.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,997
    Chris: At the measure. "Jesus shall Jesus shall."

    And yes, in unison.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck