Solutions for dilemma needed
  • Hey guys, I'd love your opinions on what to do with the situation described below.

    I have a small (4-5 people on a Sunday) volunteer OF schola which I direct at a small country parish. Our small group rehearses and sings weekly, and we've gotten to where we're pretty comfortable with chant and with singing together as an ensemble. The regulars are not die-hard musicians, but they do a pretty good job. Each year around this time, an itinerant elderly couple who are relatives of one of the schola members insists on hopping on board and singing, both during Lent and during Holy Week. The interpersonal aspects of the situation are complicated by the fact that I've known them personally for years. They're loving, great, and devout people, but their singing is sub-par and they don't seem to realize this to be the case. The result is that music which would normally take us 15 minutes to get squared away during rehearsal now takes two to three times as long to learn, and even that is no guarantee that it will be sung well on Sunday. Additionally, their inability to blend their intonation and stay on pace throws off the other members of the schola. This is frustrating for me as DM, and for my schola which otherwise has been making fantastic progress. I'm fine with them singing hymns (they can manage hymns), but they realistically cannot sing the propers (even simplified ones) or Gregorian Mass settings. Previously, even after asking them to sit out this or that, they've stayed in their seats and sang along as if they believe themselves to know what they're doing. This morning, I had to postpone using a Mass setting the schola has been learning since January because they insisted on singing it, and I had to cantor the propers solo because they sang them so poorly that it sent the whole schola into a tailspin.

    How do I politely get them uninvolved without it coming off as some young guy on a high horse treating them rudely? What ought I consider when navigating this situation? Advice is needed.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,277
    Audition them, record the audition, and play it back for them.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 546
    Can you talk to the schola member whose relatives they are? We have the same problem at Holy Week. Two or three guys who sang in the schola ten years ago drop in, without rehearsal. They sing well enough, but it still changes the dynamic and throws us off. The director doesn't have the courage to say no, so ends up cranky and nervous, which adds to the distraction. I've rarely seen this kind of problem resolved, so I'd love to hear from people who have resolved it successfully.
    Thanked by 1trentonjconn
  • Kathy, I agree! However, then what is next? Some people just haven't a clue or don't care or don't understand or even don't think all that applies to them. I once had a schola that actually organize into a legal organization with a charter and contract (in addition to auditions), to remove a whole family that presented these kinds of problems as they would also bring in similar unmusical ringers from time to time. The entire schola sat in on all future auditions as well.
    Thanked by 1trentonjconn
  • Have you consulted your pastor about this problem? I think that that would be the place to begin. You might also discuss it privately with the couple's son, who is in your schola. It doesn't seem to me that there is a graceful, painless way out of this predicament. What do you think the reaction of this couple (and their son!) would be if you asked them not to sing in the schola? For the welfare and harmony of your choir you need to find a way to stop these intrusions into the life of your schola. The more this happens the less will be the morale of your schola and the less seriously will they take it. It is very presumptuous of this couple to assume that they are welcome to 'participate' in this way.

    Kathy's suggestion up above here may prove to be an avenue that is worth traveliing.
    You could try, the next time they show up, telling them something like 'I'm sorry, but we have established some new rules and guidelines for our schola, and one of them is that no one is allowed to sing with us who is not a regular member of the schola'. This or some diplomatic version thereof. Or, ask the son to tell his parents that 'new bylaws have been put into effect and non regular members are not allowed to sing with us anymore'. If none of these suggestions work you will have to store up the courage to forbid them to sing with you. Just be sure that your pastor (and your schola!) will stand behind you.


  • Thanks for the input. The relative in question is actually a granddaughter, who also recognizes the shortcomings of the pair and would be totally fine with them being removed. I think that I am going to pull the pair aside before or after we warm up this Sunday and politely but succinctly explain the situation to them. I'll frame it along the lines of "this is nothing personal, but you guys and the schola are in different places because we do this every week, and out of fairness to them and to the Mass I'm going to ask that you not sing the propers and Mass settings." I'll extend to them the option of staying on board and just supporting hymnody as an olive branch, as they do tend to sing hymns well. I don't like confrontation in situations like this, but I see now that being direct is probably the best avenue. Say an Ave or two for me please.
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,660
    I wouldn’t do it on Sunday. Call them or meet them somewhere for coffee during the week. Sunday is a day for rejoicing and I try to avoid ever doing personnel things on Sundays when possible.
  • canadashcanadash
    Posts: 1,457
    Such a difficult situation. I admire your desire to be kind and I like your olive branch idea.. I hope it works out the best way possible.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • jefe
    Posts: 198
    Oh, such a universal woe. It's a no-win for everyone. Just be as humane as possible. If they are very elderly, you may just have to let it run its short course. The problem is they don't know that they are the problem. It's hard to fire someone from a volunteer group,but I've done it. With that in mind, I'm very, underline very, retescent to allow any new singers into our Compline groups without hearing if they can stay on pitch, have enough but not too much tone, read music to some degree, blend, and produce a straight tone without a galloping vibrato. This is especially tough in a town of 3016 inhabitants.
  • gsharpe34
    Posts: 43
    I run into the same problem, as much with those wanting to "crash" polyphonic singing and lean on this or that strong soprano or alto as with the chant. Just said an Ave for your intention - please keep us posted as to how you manage. I may borrow a sheet from your hymnal, with your permission, if you find a way to handle this effectively! Thanks for sharing your plight.