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Quarrelsome Choirs


gazman
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Either he getes rid of the whole choir and starts afresh, exclusively with people who were not in the old choir and he does this with the stated support of the incumbent or he resigns with immediate effect. Such people are not worth wasting time and worry over. They appear to be ruining the musical and pastoral standards of the place.

 

Malcolm

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I'm very sorry to hear of your friend's difficulties. It's soul-destroying to have to grapple with such behaviour in a place where one would expect a supportive, welcoming and friendly group of people. Sadly, I've known other church choirs who need to be reminded that they are not there for their own sake.

It's often the case that what appears to be a significantly-sized 'difficult' group is often comprised of a few trouble-makers, surrounded by others who are afraid to stand up to them.

For what it's worth, my advice is that your friend needs to get the incumbent to unclench his nether regions from the fence and to demonstrate his full support. That support should extend to underwriting his approach that members who insist on not appearing at rehearsals may be asked to leave. Similarly, those who cause the unrest and undermine his work and decisions should be asked to leave.

He should decide on his time limits and announce this plan in the presence of the incumbent in a meeting either after rehearsal or after a Sunday service.

It won't go down well. But, as difficult as it may feel, he should stick to his decisions and keep the incumbent updated on everything that happens. Above all, he should be neither cowed or provoked into anger by the antics of the trouble-makers.

In the end, he may end up with a small choir, but they could be a more co-operative group. You never know: with the exodus of some, others - who may have seemed negative - may fall into line. Quite frankly, I'd rather have a faithfull few who at least know why they sing in a church.

If the incumbent gives any indication that they will not give their full support then he should walk away and not look back. Other places where the Spirit of the risen Christ is more in evidence will welcome him with open arms.

 

Good luck to him.

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There's another way, I think:

 

Rehearse loads of stuff for Sunday, no-matter who is there and then DON'T DO IT ON SUNDAY - no reason given and no matter who's there!

 

Then:

 

Don't turn up to Choir practice, arbitrarily, and on Sunday morning present them with a pile of stuff they've never seen and lightly assist them to fall flat on their butts (musically speaking of course!)!

 

What's sauce for the goose......

 

Ha! :lol:

 

DW

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Not the first, by means, unreasonable "choir" I have heard about or had the misfortune to meet.

 

As a result, I have become fairly hardline about this. A choir is, to be worthy of the name, a musical ensemble. That being so, it cannot function without rehearsal (though patterns of rehearsal schedules can be tailored to fit) - even if all the members are accomplished sight-singers. (I exclude, from this, fully professional choirs, from whom a professional attitude is to be expected.)

 

If they cannot bring themselves to act responsibly as a choir, then I would abandon them to their fate - or, if the incumbent is a truly supportive as described, arrange with that person to issue an ultimatum with the ultimate sanction of disbandment.

 

Either way, bring it to head - it is no good as it is.

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Guest Patrick Coleman

However 'nice' the incumbent may be, and however well they may get on personally, if the incumbent will not support him publicly 100%, he should get out.

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Some very sound advice above. Sadly this sort of attitude seems to be quite common among amateur church choirs. I suppose your friend could try recording the choir performing something, play it back to them and discuss how best the standard could be improved, but I doubt that would have much effect. People like this usually have no proper concept of musical standards. If they had, they would not behave like this in the first place.

 

One possible (but probably totally impractical) solution to this would be to have the vicar sack the choir, replace them with singers who have the right attitude (even if it is only a single soprano line), get a new understanding about attendance and musical standards firmly established and then re-admit those former choir members, and only those, who are willing to accede to the new conditions - with a firm understanding that if they start to argue the toss they will be dismissed again.

 

In practice, however, I know that if it were me I would just throw a wobbly, tell them they weren't up to my musical standards and leave them to stew in their own, insular little world. Diplomatic as a blunderbuss, that's me! :lol:

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Equally diplomatically, my tack would be to start a choral society rehearsing on a different evening at which members have to pay a small subscription, and invite the current choir to join it. Lay on a few celeb come and sings and the opportunity to do a cathedral weekend somewhere and a big summer concert with orchestra. If this guy is worth singing for, then people will join, and paying for it tends to do something for both self-motivation and peer pressure to turn up on time. The rehearsal attendance ethic may well transfer across when people are worked a bit harder and begin to realise there is a point in their attendance. And if it doesn't, you've got something to replace them with. One thing is for sure - the director must direct, with some kind of long-term vision in place, and not be led stumbling from one service to the next. That will prevent anyone considering coming forward to join from taking it seriously.

 

I am on the flip side, in charge of a choir which has had no serious rehearsals for some time and I'm grateful for their indulgence in turning up when they can to a newly-introduced midweek rehearsal, at which my wife and I attempt to teach parts to an all-new treble lineup which gains members weekly. The 'old guard' have been smashing about coming when they can, even if there's a lot of standing around doing nothing involved. I sense however I'm on the upward slope beyond the downward one which Holz describes. It remains to be seen whether the committment remains when the front row are a bit more ready to motor... but, with a good front row, the back one almost invariably follows. If it doesn't, there's always the Britten Missa Brevis and Nigel Allcoat's exquisite (mostly two part) Parish Mass, which we ran for the first time this morning - quite easily the best simple Kyrie I've ever encountered. (No brown-nosing intended.)

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It sounds as though they consider themselves to be a social club rather than a church choir. I don't know what the normal contractual arrangement is between choir, choirmaster/organist and incumbent, but is there no way this bunch can be disbanded? It is a risk because there is always a possibility that your friend would not be able to replace them but with the Vicar onside, the choir could be put in a kind of 'special measures' and all rehearsals stopped.

If they then turned up and attempted to robe and sit in their usual places it would be akin to a pitch invasion.

 

It is a pity that Sunday mornings are hectic because that would have been an ideal time to have rehearsals if and when your friend started up the choir again, after a brief cooling- off period of perhaps 3 months with suitable publicity.

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Yeowch! Poor fellow. I have every sympathy, and I've encountered the problem myself many a time in my own career.

 

Your friend might want to read John Bertalot's "How to be a Successful Choir Trainer," in which there are many useful nuggets of advice about a whole range of problems, including most notably the issue of attendance. I won't spoil it (nor infringe Dr Bertalot's copyright!) by quoting anything here, but I would say that the gist of his advice on dealing with troublesome choir members is to take a conciliatory approach rather than a confrontational one - "Take the gentle path," as George Herbert put it!

 

A member of my voluntary choir annoys me no end by simply turning up on Sundays - often AFTER their practice before service - and more often than not being clueless about what's going on, or making mistakes in the service itself. I finally decided to grill him about it, but realised that I might have better results by hinting that I value his presence in the choir and would value more commitment from him just as much. Unfortunately, his response was that he's in a local choral society which rehearses on the same night as we do - I could have snapped back that one's loyalty should be to the choir that performs the most regularly, but instead I held my tongue and simply said that we'd be glad to see him at the Sunday practices.

 

So far, that approach seems to be working, because he was there promptly for rehearsal yesterday morning and even had time to find out (from one of the other members) what piece we were doing, what page it was on, etc. Therein, I think, lies the secret - trying to win difficult people as friends and colleagues, rather than alienating them.

 

I don't expect your friend will have an easy task in trying to sort out his situation - vastly worse than mine, it appears! Still, it could be worth a try; either it will work (and the choir will improve and he'll enjoy working there far more) or it won't, in which case he could consider resigning, particularly if the Minister takes sides with the Choir... Good luck to him, in any case!

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Attendance is a headache for many unpaid choirs. However this:

the attitude that the rehearsal is for them to attend only if they've nothing better to do

strikes me as the major problem. Are the "better things to do" professional commitments, or are their professional commitments such that they are trying to juggle a limited amount of free time?

I endeavour to know my choir not just as a group but as individuals. In time one can win a personal loyalty, not just a group loyalty.

In my group several members are trying to juggle a limited amount of free time. A teacher trying to balance many commitments might tell me that they can sing one service on the Sunday but not both, which would I prefer? Often I will get a couple approaching me and saying that they can't both be in attendance at a particular service due to child care issues - which part do I need covered more? Better still, they approach others on their parts to check on their availability and then propose a solution to me for approval.

Clearly the above approach is not perfect (and not all choir members are in full agreement to it, though they have accepted it) but it enables us as a group to sing decent repertoire to a good standard all year, and on the occasions when the full choir is in attendance it can be quite spectacular!

In terms of managing this element of unpredictability in terms of our midweek rehearsals I think it important to get away from the idea that a given rehearsal is specifically for the next Sunday's service(s). Any music which is on the fringe of the repertoire (i.e. sung once a year or less) will be rehearsed at least twice on consecutive weeks. The problems thrown up in rehearsal are usually sufficiently different that those who are able to be at both rehearsals are still kept interested. New music is usally rehearsed between two and four times depending on difficult. If the music for a Sunday morning is especially well known, I might even grab a few minutes to check a psalm chant for the evening.

I view our rehearsal time as a web, into which are woven services.

When individuals know that they have missed a lot of rehearsal they will usually check on what music is to be sung and approach me for advice. This may well include a few minutes one-on-one preparation time. This I also offer to less experience members of the choir whose idea of "core repertoire" falls short of the group's concept.

Not sure there is any concrete advice in the above, but there may be a few ideas to draw upon, as I have drawn on ideas from others here.

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^^

This strikes me as very humane and anyone would be immediately won over (one hopes!) by this sympathetic and well organised approach.

If I ever manage to get a choir going I shall hope to be like this.

 

I just hope the choir in question is not too intractable and the relationship with the leader not beyond repair.

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Thank you, everybody, for your replies. I have spoken to my friend who has read all the responses, and has found them very helpful and thought-provoking. He informs me that he has taken them on board and is very grateful for all your suggestions.

 

Recalling what happened recently when a troll tried stirring up trouble in the Church Times, I have now deleted my original post.

 

Thanks again! :P

 

HG

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Guest Patrick Coleman

You got there ahead of me. I was going to suggest that your friend send an anonymous query to the Church Times and we could then see what came of it!

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  • 2 weeks later...
However 'nice' the incumbent may be, and however well they may get on personally, if the incumbent will not support him publicly 100%, he should get out.

Which is exactly what my friend has done this evening, with some sadness, and for that reason.

 

Thanks for all your advice, folks. :rolleyes:

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Which is exactly what my friend has done this evening, with some sadness, and for that reason.

 

Thanks for all your advice, folks. :rolleyes:

 

I'm sorry it came to that. :lol: But I do hope your friend is not too discouraged. There are plenty of singers out there who would love to be part of a disciplined choir with a talented director. They just need matching up (and a context where they're allowed to flourish).

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Can't be doing with choirs myself.....

 

The Organists' Review arrived today - plenty of stuff in that about choirs ... same with Choir & Organ. Wouldn't it be nice if we had an organists' mag that never mentioned the word choir (except for choir organ).... Seems to me that there are bunches of organists who are perfectly happy to play the organ for a service but will run a mile at the mention of dealing with the choir -- even, dare I say it, in some of our great cathedrals. :rolleyes:

 

I have just a little over 18 years till retirement; if the Lord should spare me that long, I've thought that I wouldn't mind returning to the organ bench on a Sunday, but yes....

 

it would be on one condition ...

 

Q

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Can't be doing with choirs myself.....

 

The Organists' Review arrived today - plenty of stuff in that about choirs ... same with Choir & Organ. Wouldn't it be nice if we had an organists' mag that never mentioned the word choir (except for choir organ).... Seems to me that there are bunches of organists who are perfectly happy to play the organ for a service but will run a mile at the mention of dealing with the choir -- even, dare I say it, in some of our great cathedrals. :rolleyes:

 

I have just a little over 18 years till retirement; if the Lord should spare me that long, I've thought that I wouldn't mind returning to the organ bench on a Sunday, but yes....

 

it would be on one condition ...

 

Q

 

Hi

 

I definitely agree about the magazines! We don't have a choir - and are not likely to form one. My last church did have a choir - or to be honest a singing group - but they only did special occaisions, and that's not too bad.

 

I've nothing against church choirs - except that there are too few that are really compentent and who really lead the congregation's worship - all too often, choral services become a performance (and sometimes not a very good performance at that).

 

Like Quentin, I'm wondering about going back to playing when I retire (maybe only another 8 years) - although the way things are going, health issues (particulalry arthritus) might rule that out.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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John Bertalot's article in OR addresses the problem of ... how to deal with stroppy choir members!

 

From a purely personal POV - I find his OR articles decidedly irritating - the one in question may be appropriate though!

 

A

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