THE SAGA CONTINUES: Diplomacy Musical Director Vs. President of the Parish Council
  • JesJes
    Posts: 514
    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,
    Jes


    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"!

    AMEM!

    I hope it works out!
  • JesJes
    Posts: 514
    @Jim_Goeddel58 Susan on steroids!
  • ex-religious sister, retired principal and somewhat autocratic President of the Parish Council


    Jes,

    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: 10,099
    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: 1,540
    I am always prepared to tell such people where to go... but then again I have always been a volunteer!
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 2,474
    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.
  • 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!

  • (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: 39
    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 2cesarfranck Jes
  • Blaise
    Posts: 425
    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 3cesarfranck Jes Carl D
  • Palestrina
    Posts: 324
    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 3CatherineS Jes Cantus67
  • KARU27
    Posts: 107
    So, how is it going there Jes? Any updates?
  • JonathanLCJonathanLC
    Posts: 53
    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.
    Thanked by 1Jes
  • JesJes
    Posts: 514
    G'day Friends,

    Thank you for your support. Many things have gone on between that original post and now.

    Father went on leave, and so did my 'knitting needle friend'. The priest who came to fill in at the parish (who is uncompromisingly vogue - usually ministering in the Casino - yes, he's the Casino Priest!) well, he, in the end, told the entire parish after mass that they need to pay a recording studio to record me and release a Truly Catholic Christmas Album (WHAT?) Anyway, during this time the choir flourished, rehearsals were reasonably well attended, that is, for what was a time with volatile weather. Father returned, and he was delighted with the music. I felt free, as did my beautiful group of dedicated singers. Then it was late September when her return was deemed to happen (doomed to happen as some might express). Instead of returning, all relaxed and ready to work together, she did not turn up to mass. Instead, she left an envelope on the organ for me to read and another on the lectern for Fr.

    In the letter, she requested a meeting during my school holidays, where she could sort out a 'matter of concern' brought to her by a chorister. (It turned out some brave soul told her off for yelling at me and controlling the choir so none of my decisions could bear any fruit.)

    My dear priest-friend and parish administrator sat down with me over a hot cup of tea, reading through a comedy script for a play he acted in during his seminary years, and then we tackled the complicated stuff.
    1. What am I doing with my life next year?
    2. Where is the church music in this parish going?
    3. How's the love-life? (Because why not?
    4. How do we deal with (dun, dun duh) the Chair of the Parish Council?

    The priest himself confronted this lady to some extent. He put to her that he had even heard her yell at me with his own ears and seen her aggressive body language with his own eyes. She continued to threaten him with letters written to the Archbishop. He told me his hands were fairly tightly tied.

    We made a plan, a somewhat cunning one, to give me a break and hope that the choir either gets its act together and flourishes or folds in a heap. Regardless of whichever direction the choir was to go, something good would surely have to be realised. The hope was that they would understand that they are aging and need to recruit younger choristers or fold and build a more youthful choir altogether. Not only this but the realisation that as long as there is an impervious chair of the parish council at the helm of the music, there would not be a healthy future for the choir. (A realisation they have made very recently.)

    So, in late September, I hung up my "kiss marked organ shoes" put on my ballet flats and began to kneel among as many different Catholic congregations as I could. Call it an organist holiday if you will. This situation is not the first time I have had to escape annoying politics, but I sincerely hope this is the last time. Much like my previous 'holiday', I have been inundated with sacred music work and invitations to various liturgical rites. It's been an honour to work in some fascinating settings.

    I am not overstating this when I say a LOT has transpired since even taking this break. I have received parcels and letters in my mailbox. I've received deliveries of flowers, emails, phone calls and cards all asking me to return to the parish. I never in a million thoughts imagined the parish would actually miss me, and certainly not this much. Our chair of the parish council friend has taken over the choir. It appears to be holding the fort much better than imagined on that front, however; the congregation are being driven out, and some members of the congregation have flirted with the idea of even leaving the church. THAT is a disaster? That she would leave because I took a holiday. That she would go all because of this offensive behaviour demonstrated by this woman.

    Two weeks ago I received a call from another 'councillor' who is fed up by this woman's antics and is seeing the dwindling congregation numbers and the dwindling hopes/health/condition of the choristers. He called me with a solution. "We shall lovingly confront this lady; she needs our help to be humbled. You and Father need our help and support to inform her that this behaviour is unacceptable." A meeting will happen in early December, and some relatively permanent decisions will be made about the music at the parish. Some which will benefit way beyond the choirs and musicians but also all parish groups. It may blow up, but it may also bring about some peace. Our priest will be free to preach the Gospel without looking behind his back for the knife. (Or complaint letter sent to the bishop.)

    It has crossed my mind; why doesn't my priest stand up to the lady? Why won't he defend me? He could with one fell swoop end this council business, why doesn't he? Well, as for his support, it turns out he has been highly supportive, and quite publicly so.

    Here I attach his Homily given just this most recent feast St Caecilia and also a homily given back in 2018 concerning sacred music. I think these are articulately written, they leap to my defence in a rather heroic way, and they propose sound arguments which may prove useful to anybody dealing with a similar battle. The more notable of the homilies is his most recently found on page 4 of the document.

    I hope that by mid-December this melodrama comes to a swift halt! Please pray for my friends and me.

    God Bless,
    Jes


  • Jess,

    Wow.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,899
    Very happy for you, Jes, and just the tiniest bit worried too:
    the music must use less than all eight notes in an octave.

    ;-)
    Thanked by 2Carol Don9of11
  • Don9of11Don9of11
    Posts: 229
    I pray things work out for you Jes, it looks like the pastor has your six. Excellent homilies and the pastor's characterizations of modern hymnody and what they lack are spot on. Hope you have a Blessed Advent.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,099
    Read Snow White. The poison apple trick still works.
  • ghmus7
    Posts: 1,137
    You ALWAYS have to look out for the ex-nuns. There is usually some underlying grievance. If I were you, I would just carry on and ignore her as much as I can. I would not let this disturbed lady take energy from positive work.
    Sometimes people like this just want to get a 'reaction' from others - and create trouble. Again, I would take care not to spend too much enegry and time in dealing with her...just go on doing your good work...
    AND it looks like you have a supportive pastor, so you have that for your peace of mind.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • toddevoss
    Posts: 104
    Wonderful sermons. I can guess why he has to watch his back from the Bishop as most Bishop's are very suspicious of Priests who preach sermons like that( not part of the "get along go along" principle they so sadly often enforce). This also shows the danger of not bouncing "Susan" from her role as director and even from President of the Council back when she (I am sure) was still yelling at everyone, but before it could be associated with the introduction of the "dreaded" Latin by the young "arch traditionalist". Never let a problem person like that fester. Your Priest still may have taken a few arrows in those prior years, but not as many and a bit more likely to be backed up by the Bishop I would imagine.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 672
    I was on the Pastoral Council for our parish for many years (I served as President for one year). You can only serve for a set number of years before you have to roll off. Maybe her time on the Council will soon come to an end.
    Thanked by 1Jes
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,507
    Limited terms are a very wise provision, but not universally applied, unfortunately.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • drforjc
    Posts: 20
    At least in my diocese, pastoral councils are consultative only and the pastor has final say in anything.
    Thanked by 1GerardH
  • GerardH
    Posts: 97
    @drforjc That's Canon Law in fact! Furthermore, they should be appointed by the pastor at his sole discretion, not by elections as is seen in some places. He's not even required to have a pastoral council (though he must have a finance council). I think many pastoral councils exercise more power than they actually have a right to.
    Thanked by 3CHGiffen Jes drforjc
  • JesJes
    Posts: 514
    Haha the less than eight notes in an octave made me chuckle. It's a very Australian music theory thing to say. That being said we have some woeful sacred music in Aus, we have "congregational mass settings" which include multiple octave+ leaps in the Gloria alone. I dunno if you've heard a congregation attempt to sing a 10th but it's not something I want to hear again for a while.

    Anyway, yes, we have a parish council and movement is happening at the station so this organist without a home is soon to gain one back. We have had a massive exodus of some pretty amazing priests from their posts just in the last week so I might have to fill those interested in on that when the full story arises, all I can say is... it’s a sad thing for sacred music with those dudes out of their posts.

    Oh and yes, I’m going to make that CD the casino priest said I should make. I’m looking forward to my long weekends and spare time in the new year.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • JesJes
    Posts: 514
    I should actually say too. Please pray for our president of the parish council. She needs to lower her anxieties else I fear she may make her heart fail with the stress. I do want her to be safe.
    Thanked by 2Carol CHGiffen