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To those in responsibility for music at _____,

It will be a relief to some of you that I am withdrawing from choir directing responsibility completely, with deep apology to all I have offended. This only affects choir. I intend to keep a place on the cantorial staff if that is acceptable.

My frustrations in particular

It is with a feeling of utter futility, though interrupted by shining, transient moments of beauty, that I have pretended to direct a group in which there is no will to acquire the rudimentary habits and skills of practical a cappella ensemble for any purpose, let alone for worship.

One sings with eyes glued to the page, another sings with eyes shut, attending to her favorite notions of when to begin an entrance, when to make a cutoff, how long a pause between phrases for a breath, and how slow or fast a tempo to keep. A separate choir-of-one. This is a failure of habit training, not of the persons.

There is a skill to attending to the director, yet glancing from the director’s hands to the page and back again quickly. There is a line of sight between the eye and the director. We position our music stands so far off from that line that the skill of attending to direction while snatch-reading for the next phrase of music, cannot develop. This is a failure of habit training, not of the volunteers.

We have not developed the linked skills of giving pitch, and taking and maintaining pitch. Often, a pitch is sounded and immediately ignored by all without exception, in favor of a scale step higher, after which the ensemble pitch keeps on drifting upward, rather abruptly at times. This is only a failure of training.

Some are in the habit of making rhythmic gestures when not in the conducting role. Tracking the rhythm internally is indeed necessary, and greatly helped by making these hand gestures or foot tappings, but they must be reserved for a rhythm workshop, or for rehearsal time at the director’s instance, when phrasing difficulties arise. This, again, is only a failure of habit training.

The hand-dancing needs to be internalized, by all but the director, as a matter of discipline any adult can understand the reason for. Happily, our regular director has made his hands true servants of the music, in a surprisingly short time, without previous formal music studies. That skill –that gift– ought to be treasured, and honored with eyes open and unburied.

Whether the music is in major or minor, we prefer to sing in major. The intellectual effort is nil. We do not hear that crucial difference consciously enough to correlate with the written music. Major-minor is the most recognizable difference between kinds of tonality. It can be heard –or felt– by most non-musicians and performed by some of them. A failure only of training.

Reading for major-minor cannot be learned casually, on the fly. It’s a second phase of music hearing fundamentals, after domino-tonic and before scales. And for those who do not read, Fickle Dame Memory stands alongside, ready to abandon the unwary right at the entrance to a piece in minor. This trick of hers is predictable, and nothing but training can prevail against it.

Above the particulars

Attempts at a rehearsal commitment have repeatedly fizzled. A failure only of leadership.

Is it a mercy the congregation is so forgiving of all the resulting awkwardness? Or is it innocent ignorance, not suspecting that better might be possible?

No. It’s simply the someone-else effect. The people are grateful that someone else is trying their level best, faithfully, week by week, year after year. The perennial convenience of someone else. The someone-else effect is behind many of the expressions of appreciation the choir hears.

When a likely new choir prospect is invited to stand among, to begin the long learning process, there is typically the claim of a voice not good enough, while the issue is not fineness of voice at all, but rather the effort of trying something new and difficult.

Summarizing

I cannot complain of any but my own failures in leadership. This is a group matter, and I have many years of experience groups called musical ensembles, both as follower and leader. Circumstances are as they are, beyond argument, and people are properly busy about their own hopes and strivings. All I can do, ever, is consider what I myself am willing and able to do in my own circumstances.

Pushing on a rope end has led me nowhere but into unjust anger. I have failed to discipline myself in the toleration needed to continue in so wide a mismatch between hopes and practicality. Stepping in occasionally when the regular director is to be absent has done more harm than good all ’round.

Do not depend on me for it anymore.