Diplomacy Musical Director Vs. President of the Parish Council
  • JesJes
    Posts: 510
    In the upcoming four weeks I'll be dealing with a very difficult situation. Parish attendee (parishioner kicked out from elsewhere) of 23 years, ex-religious sister, retired principal and somewhat autocratic President of the Parish Council does not like our priest and consequently does not like me as an appointment of the priest.

    A very beautiful elderly singing group has been run by a very giving volunteer for over 45 years. It is only in the past couple of months that he has handed his position to me to step into his shoes and take things going forward due to his poor health (at age 86.) As far as I can tell I'm doing okay at this. There is some work to be done but at the moment I'm just letting the choir coast along the way they have been previously.

    On Second Sunday of Easter (my first day in the position at less than 24 hours notice) I was pulled aside by this president lady and asked about my qualifications, she was concerned I didn't have a "magic wand" (wasn't using a baton for a choir of 18 unison hymn singers.) She has historically "conducted" (yelled and waved a large knitting needle at) the choir for the past 10 years and I let her continue to do so.

    On Pentecost she chose to yell at me inside the church after mass for not following her "directorship" with the tempos (She doesn't start conducting until the singers come in.) She was also unhappy that I'd chosen to sing the sequence chant in latin as I didn't know the choir previously knew the sequence as an English hymn and had 5 minutes to sort out a last minute fix. Lastly, she was extremely unhappy that I'd attempted to recruit 5 new younger members of the choir (made up of talented parishioners) who she proceeded to yell at also.

    Bearing this in mind this is how I dealt with it. I wrote a letter to the choir:

    Hello St. Joseph’s Choir,
    It came to my attention on Pentecost that a member of the choir was distressed.

    If you would like to discuss your ideas for the choir please do feel free to catch up with me after mass today between mass and 11:00 outside the church building (where Father processes out towards.) I want this to be St. Joseph’s choir; you as choir members and parishioners own this choir as a shared group.

    I will accept constructive criticism when it is offered to me in an acceptable tone and in a suitable place. An appropriate place is usually considered to be outside of the church building, usually near the main doors, best done personally and in full understanding that I am human and ought to be treated with the dignity of being one. I will of course return this respect and be open to such feedback. I will not accept being yelled at but understand that passion may direct one to offer feedback emotively and I always will do my best to respond in a calm and collected way.

    Feedback is welcome, listened to and valued. I will implement suggestions if they concur with Church Canon Law, are within my physical means and in line with our wonderful faith as well as supportive of our priest. Naturally, I cannot please absolutely everybody but I will always do my best to accommodate suggestions wherever possible and within the scope of my position. All music must be approved by the archdiocese and then secondly by the priest in charge of the parish.

    If I can please thank those who have been kind and patient during this time. I humbly ask you to please continue to trust me, trust that I know what I have studied and practiced both formally and informally for over 21 years of my young life (yes, over two thirds of my life! Eep!) I also ask for your patience with me; though I do have experience I do not know the previous repertoire used by this particular choir.

    I love you all dearly, let’s take care of each other in this cold winter, God bless,

    It worked, several members of the choir stayed behind and approached me outside the church and mostly said wonderful things or asked for their favourite hymn. Almost all of them who approached me suggested they didn't like being yelled at by this lady and wanted my help to fix the problems they faced (I did not start them on this topic either.) They were truly gems. As for the President, she's giving me the silent treatment for now. I'm waiting for the volcanoe to burst any day.

    Father goes on leave for four weeks, he has given me his personal number in case of "flying lava" (his terminology) and has also provided me with a body guard (our Mandola player and lovely Opus Dei man.) I cannot believe things can come to this but I believe this is a good way of managing the situation.

    Life will not be without event for sure however, it is good to note that (for anybody else ever in my position) if you show dignified strength and gentility you will gain respect in your new position. Hold on, ride the waves and do so with a big loving smile. Oh, and get a 75 year old Mandola playing body guard, they are pretty cool! :-D
  • Sounds like you are dealing with "Susan from the Parish Council"!


    I hope it works out!
  • JesJes
    Posts: 510
    @Jim_Goeddel58 Susan on steroids!
  • ex-religious sister, retired principal and somewhat autocratic President of the Parish Council


    Is this one person or three?

    Anyway, to the point at hand: your pastor (and boss) has demonstrated both his trust in you and his willingness to support you (his personal number). Cherish this. (Pastors who show this level of confidence are uncommon.)

    In this woman's mind, however, you're the easier target, so you should expect her to look for an opportunity to divide you from the pastor, and to do what is necessary to make you look bad. (She can't very well attack the priest, so she'll do the next best thing, and impugn his judgment by showing how poorly he chose.) If you're lucky, she'll continue to be loud-mouthed. This won't endear her to anyone, so you will have less work to do. If she works quietly, however, just pray for her, and be sure to keep a civil tongue in your head. Ask St. Francis de Sales for the right words.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,036
    I know you are in Australia and not the U.S. I had a similar situation with a deacon. When he yelled, I yelled back and asked him where he had studied music and what degree he had earned. All that shut him up. Parish councils are advisory and have no authority. As with the deacon, remind the lady you don't work for her, but for the pastor. Tell her if she has any issues to take it up with him. Also, make it clear to her that you will not take any garbage from her.

    You know the pastor can remove her from the council. We had a similar situation where the pastor had to do exactly that to one of our council members. It has been much more peaceful since.
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 1,499
    I am always prepared to tell such people where to go... but then again I have always been a volunteer!
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,437
    Is this one person or three?

    Perhaps three in one? That is a hideous combination, and has "bitterness" written all over it.

    Now: apart from being miserable, what actual authority does this person have? Is she the Music Director, or are you? Who actually talks to the Pastor and chooses the music? Who actually trains the choir? In other words, who is actually in charge of the music program? If this person was simply asked by a previous DM to simply beat the time while he played just to keep everyone on track, which it sounds like is the case, they are using it as a kind of power-trip, thinking themselves the heir of Toscanini; It would then be the prerogative of the new DM to say that an extra person beating time is not necessary, and thank them for their time (though it has to be done with the Pastors backing).

    It sounds like Frau Hitler just wants to throw her weight around and be important.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen cesarfranck
  • Jes

    The description of this lady's background included "parishioner kicked out from elsewhere", so it amazes me that such a person would be named head of a parish council.
    My prayers for you in this situation. You are doing well with it!

    Thanked by 2CHGiffen cesarfranck
  • (Not directly related to music, but humor me a moment)

    In my first year in a parish I discovered a power struggle between two lay persons. At the end of that first year, other lay persons hinted to me that they hoped I would be the means of resolving the power struggle. (My advantage was that I was new on the block). I organized a very public retirement ceremony for the two of them -- at the same event, a kick-off for the second year -- and thanked them for their years of dedicated service. That transition was peaceful, and both other persons appeared to be satisfied. [I didn't ever hear to the contrary, but I didn't ask them, either.]
  • tandrews
    Posts: 34
    She has historically "conducted" (yelled and waved a large knitting needle at) the choir for the past 10 years and I let her continue to do so.

    Reminds me of one of the previous church's I worked at in grad school, where the DM conducted my hymn playing (seriously?!). Her tempos for fast hymns ("Gather A Sin," "All Are Welcome") were dirge-like, and her tempos for slow hymns ("O Sacred Head") were in the express lane!
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Blaise
    Posts: 423
    I am assuming that things are as posted. I am not a DM or an organist, but two seemingly contradictory things strike me:

    Why is she 1) concerned you don't have a "magic wand" - this is kiddie talk, do you really need to even talk with her even more?? - when 2) she wants you to follow her "directorship"?

    The other thing is, maybe the pastor should have a word with her to remind her that the parish council is advisory only, not high command.
    Thanked by 1cesarfranck
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 316
    We now live in the post Law-McCarrick-Wuerl Era...

    Most dioceses have policies relating to grievances, bullying, professional standards (yes, even for volunteers) and more.

    It never ceases to amaze me what kinds of behaviour church musicians have been conditioned to tolerate. There is no other non-profit area that would tolerate these levels of misconduct routinely.

    Rise up, assert your rights, take the moral high ground. Everybody has a basic right to work and volunteer in an environment that is healthy and safe. Sticky taping a crucifix to the front of said work environment does not suddenly provide a waiver to those rights.

    Abusive behaviour and bullying must never, ever be tolerated.
    Thanked by 1CatherineS
  • KARU27
    Posts: 106
    So, how is it going there Jes? Any updates?
  • JonathanLCJonathanLC
    Posts: 52
    I am sorry that you had to go through that Jes, it reminds me of my past lives. I am currently taking a break to teach music in China. Though it has been a nice break, believe it or not, I am keen to get back into it as soon as possible.