Wednesday, January 17, 2018

On Diversity and Bacon.

I am a member of Sweet Adelines International, a worldwide organization of women singers that is dedicated to the art of Barbershop Harmony and a cappella singing.

I have been a member for about 11 years. I started out as a chorus member and became more and more involved in the management and music teams over the years, and now I am the frontline director of a mid-size chorus in Calgary, Alberta. I have written several posts about the director role on this blog – it’s a subject that I love, a job that I love, and I am very proud of all the things I have learned because of the opportunities given to me by my chorus, and by Sweet Adelines.

I love what I do.

But lately, we have been having these discussions. Discussions about diversity, inclusiveness and how to grow our organization again, as membership is declining.

Important discussions, that seem to be going nowhere.

The other day, a question was posted in one of our Facebook groups. “Crowns or no crowns? Discuss!”. And people did. The post currently has over 800 replies – people feel very strongly about this.

An aside for the un-initiated: Crowns are given to the winners of the international quartet competition every year. Saying “I want a crown one day” means that you want to become an international quartet champion. It is a long standing tradition and people love it, it’s a big part of the annual competition – but although almost everybody wants to become really, really good…not everyone would feel comfortable wearing a sparkly crown or tiara. Just like not everyone is comfortable wearing glitzy stage outfits, sequins, and dancing shoes with heels.

When we discuss diversity, we talk about the inclusion and representation of women of colour, but also the inclusion and representation of LGBTQIA people.

While we focus our time and talent on making beautiful sounds, a big part of our performances has been the visual – sparkly costumes, ball gowns, heels, big hair, lots of makeup. Stuff that I personally think is fun, like playing dress-up. For a person who presents gender-neutral though…feeling pressure to do the dress-up part of it when all they want is to become a really good singer in a really good quartet, I imagine it must be a bit uncomfortable. Maybe even painful.

In this Facebook post, the discussion got very heated. Everyone had something to say about the crown tradition. Most want to keep it, because, well, tradition. Some tried to explain why some of these old traditions may actually be harming us. Some attempted to make others understand why the expectation of wearing a crown if they won actually deterred them from competing.

A day or so later, someone else made a post. It read “Bacon as dessert? Discuss!”

This, I’m sure, was only meant as lighthearted fun to break up the discussion. I know the original poster had no malicious intent – it was just a little joke.
But people got the metaphor, and the posts – although still talking about bacon – became quite pointed.

“Really?”, I thought to myself. “Bacon? We have to wrap these questions in damn bacon to make people actually talk about them? And even then, they don’t quite seem to grasp the concept – not everyone eats bacon!”

But OK. If bacon is the way we have to go, then let’s go there, people. Our beloved organization is shrinking and here we are, for some reason, unsure as to how to move forward.

Enter BACON.

Let’s say you own a restaurant. It’s been in your family for years, and what makes it different from other restaurants is that literally everything on the menu has bacon in it. Everything from cocktails and appetizers to main courses and desserts. You love bacon. Your friends love bacon. Everybody loves bacon!

You have become really good at cooking bacon and finding new ways of incorporating bacon into your dishes. But lately, not as many new customers are coming to your restaurant. Many of your old regulars still come every week, but even some of their visits are less frequent. Some of them even ask for no bacon on their food, which upsets you a bit because bacon is your thing!
You even fry the potatoes in bacon grease!

It turns out that new information has come to light. People are finding out that eating meat all the time actually isn’t good for you. Especially processed meats, like bacon. Many are also very upset about how the pigs are treated on factory farms, and there has been video released of pigs being kicked, dragged and beaten, all in order to produce bacon. People have decided that they want to eat less bacon, and add more fresh vegetables and meat alternatives to their diet.

You’re losing money. You’re still wondering why – your food is so good, bacon makes everything better, how can people choose other restaurants over yours?

One day, a vegan comes into your restaurant. She is hungry. She wants to sit down and have a great meal with her friends.

You don’t have a single option for her on your menu.

She explains to you that she doesn’t feel welcome here. She likes the atmosphere of your place, she likes the people who go there, she likes you, she likes the fact that all the food is home cooked, but she can’t stay because there is nothing for her on the menu. She’s going to have to go elsewhere…and her friends decide to go with her.

You could have had a table of 5 paying customers, but instead they all left. You worry about loss of income and a declining customer base.

You wonder why that woman couldn’t just have ordered a meal and removed the bacon.

You wonder why people have to be so difficult. Why can’t they just go with the flow and respect your traditions?

But your problem persists – your business is not as successful as it once was, and you now have to make a decision. You know that people want options. Some may still want your classic bacon dishes but if you want new customers, you have to come up with some alternatives. You, my bacon-loving friend, have been given a choice.

You can keep doing what you always did and not change a thing. Maybe times will change again. Maybe a new study will come out that says bacon is good for you and makes you sexy, and piglets actually really enjoy being castrated without anesthesia.

Or, you can change with the times. You can give your menu an overhaul. Why don’t you ask that vegan to come back and help you come up with some ideas for new dishes? What would she like to see in your restaurant that would make her want to come back again and again?
You could incorporate some veggies into a few of your old bacon dishes to satisfy the meat lovers while still getting them to enjoy something new.


Look at them happy pigs!

Maybe you decide to renovate the kitchen and give the dining room a facelift, kind of like if Gordon Ramsay came to your place with his TV show – just with less yelling.

We have a choice. We are being told what the problem is, and we can choose to try to do something about it. Change isn’t always easy, but it is almost always worth it if you believe that the end result will bring more success.

Listen to that vegan. She just may have the answer.

-M.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Juno - A Tiny House Community

The Juno Tiny House Community...does not yet exist. I wrote this while pretending I had 800,000 bucks to purchase some land with. I often pretend I have that kind of money. It's fun, until I remember that I actually don't.

I have been fascinated with the Tiny House movement for years. It is one of two things I always default to when watching YouTube videos to relax and kill time. The other is makeup tutorials.

A tiny house, by definition, is a home that is 500 sq ft or smaller, therefore requiring a lot of downsizing and minimalism in decor and belongings. Most tiny houses in the movement are build on flatbed trailers, and can be moved.

Living tiny is a way for many people to own their home and still live mortgage-free, and I think that sounds like a perfect situation - in fact, if I had the opportunity to own and live in a tiny house, I totally would! I like the idea of not owning a bunch of stuff, just the necessities, and being able to use every single bit of space. I actually get a bit stressed thinking about owning a big home, because I don' like the thought of having rooms that are not being used!


Not my thing.

A common obstacle with a tiny house is where to put it. In my city, your best option is to rent a lot in a trailer park, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - you'd be hooked up to city utilities, garbage collection, sewer, etc. The problem is, of course, that there aren't that many trailer parks, and the existing ones are already full of...well, trailers.

You could use someone else's land to park on, but how many of us know people with a bunch of extra land to spare? Living in someone's driveway is not an option - someone tried that in Calgary a few years back and they had to move, the city did not allow it even though the homeowners did.

You could purchase a vacant lot, but there is often a minimum size requirement for the home you build on it. Buying a land parcel is an option, but who has that kind of money? Oh, right, I do - in my imagination!

In my imagination, with my imaginary money, I would buy a piece of land and divide it into several smaller lots, kind of like a mobile home park, but nicer. On each lot, I would build a tiny house. It would be simple, but completely livable and move-in ready - it would have basic appliances and be hooked up to water, sewer/ septic, and electrical.


Totally my thing!

Each tiny house would be moveable in case the owner decided to leave, but it would be placed on a concrete foundation. I used to live in a mobile home and the fact is, they move. Not much, but enough that it was an issue for me, and it is the only thing I don't like about the Tiny House movement - the fact that most of the homes are on wheels!

I would then sell each lot + house. You would be able to own your own little piece of land and your own home, at a price where, even if you did take out a loan or a mortgage, you would actually be able to pay it off and actually OWN your place outright. I would also give the option of buying just the house and rent the lot it was on.

It would be a small community of small houses, and I would name it The Juno, after my dog.


Juno approves.

Of course I would live there too! I am an awesome neighbour!

If you had the option to downsize to a small, modern house with all the amenities plus a nice little outdoor space, and own the whole thing for less than $100,000, would you? For me, it is a no-brainer! Leave a comment below and tell me what you think - I am actually serious about making this happen somehow, and I would love to know if there is actual interest in this concept!

-M.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Clean Week

Here's the thing about me and working out - I don't hate it. I love the way I feel when I do it regularly. I adapt pretty quickly to following a workout program, and I usually notice results fast.

However, I suck at sticking to it.

I start, I go hard for a month or so and then I decide, for whatever reason, that I am going to take a break for a few days, and that turns into another month...or two.

I am a creature of habit and comfort, and lazy habits stick faster than the healthy ones. Funny how that works.

I am just getting back into it after one of these breaks - and here's the thing; I see results fast when I begin working out, but I also see them when I stop for a while. And those results are not the ones I want.

So, here I am again, feeling a bit sluggish and tired, wanting to get back into an exercise routine again, but feeling nothing but dread and impending discomfort when thinking about picking up a high-intensity program like Insanity Max 30, which is what I was doing before I decided to take a completely undeserved break.

Side note: I actually got a new tattoo and wasn't supposed to work out for maybe 4-5 days. But that was a month and a half ago.

So, I decided to try something that was going to ease me back into working out - it's a newer program from Beachbody that is designed to do just that. Ease you into it and give you a little glimpse of what online streaming workouts are all about, teaching you safe ways of executing moves and how to modify them to best suit your needs and your level of fitness.
I hadn't tried it before so I decided to give it a go, and I'm glad I did!

I am doing a very half-assed (full pun intended) squat in this picture, which is why I have conveniently chosen to crop most of myself out. This is for your own good.

So, yeah - I don't go to the gym. I really don't like going to the gym (I generally don't like public places, and I certainly don't like physically exerting myself in public places), so being able to stream workouts in my own living room and have the ability to do this in private really works for me.

Usually with these workouts, the video has several people working out in it with the trainer, who gives you all the instructions and shows you what to do. Usually, one cast member will be "the modifier", and shows you how to make moves low-impact and more gentle for those of us who are new to the program or can't or won't jump for any reason. Clean Week is different in this respect, because here, the whole cast is doing the easier version of any given move, and the one guy who is modifying is showing you how to intensify the move if you are ready to do that.

Another thing that is different about Clean Week is the fact that it is only a week long. You are not committing to several months of though workouts, just a week to see if this is something you could stick with. I chose to try the second workout of the week, which was cardio. It was 30 minutes long and consisted of 4 rounds of 3 moves. Each move is done twice, for 45 seconds each, and each round finishes with a 30-second "cardio blast" to really get your heart rate up. After each round, you get a whole minute to recover, get water, towel off, etc. At the end of the 30 minutes, there's a couple of minutes of cool down/ stretching time.

I quite enjoyed it! The trainer, Megan, is pleasant to watch and listen to - upbeat but not annoyingly motivational, very encouraging. I am definitely going to try a few more of the workouts this week before I jump back into something a bit harder, and I think Clean Week would be a great program for anyone who wants to embark on a fitness program but doesn't want to commit to a full program that might be to tough, too long, etc. You can find out more about Clean Week and Beachbody On Demand by clicking HERE. Happy Sweating!

P.S. I dont know if "Happy Sweating" is a thing. But I still kind of like it.

-M.

Disclosure: The links in this post lead to my Beachbody Coach account. If you choose to purchase anything from these links, I get a commission (at no extra cost to you) - if you are not comfortable with that...don't buy from the links :)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Becoming a Director - Part IV

The Ego Check

...and Other Things That May Happen

I am the kind of person who likes to re-watch movies. I have a small collection of movies that I have adopted over the years as “my favourites”, because I liked a character in them, or I found them visually pleasing, or they were just feel-good movies that go along with certain periods of my life, or fit with a certain time of the year. I watch “Desperately Seeking Susan” at least once a year. Same with “Mermaids”. Lately, “The Devil Wears Prada” has made the list of movies that I will just put on from time to time because they are comfortable. I like the beginning of the movie the best, when Andy (Anne Hathaway) becomes interested in fashion and gets a makeover and rushes through New York city wearing fabulous things that she somehow can afford as an intern. She becomes friends with Nigel (Stanley Tucci) who is some kind of assistant or editor at Runway Magazine (where Andy is an intern).

One day Andy is complaining to Nigel about her mean boss Miranda (the always flawless Meryl Streep), and Nigel pretty much tells her to suck it up because a thousand girls want the job Andie has, and Andie knows that if she can just stick with it for one year, she’ll be able to get whatever job she wants. Nigel tells her to wake up, that she’s not even trying, that she should be trying harder because she is working for an icon, and that in order to be successful, she has to put her heart into it, and then says “wait until your whole life goes up in smoke. Means it’s time for a promotion”.


There it is.

I don’t work for a fashion magazine. Being a director doesn’t mean that the world is my oyster and that I will be able to get whatever job I want after I am done with my chorus.

But one thing I wish I had known before I started was how much time it was going to take. I had been told, but I didn’t really know.

“The Devil Wears Prada” gets more and more annoying to watch as it goes on, and I rarely watch it to the end nowadays. Andy’s friends make fun of her for taking her job seriously. They all know that it’s a huge stepping stone in her career, and that she just has to stick it out, but they get mad at her for always taking her boss’ phone calls. Her boyfriend gets whiny and sad because she doesn’t have time to lavish him with attention. He knows how crucial this job is for her career, but he thinks his birthday is more important.

I’m getting off topic, sort of.

My point is, that as you delve further into your role of Director, it is going to take more and more of your time, and you need to be prepared for the fact that not everyone in your life is going to get that. Especially since you’re not getting paid, but you spend hours every day working on chorus stuff. You do it because it’s important to you and you love it, and because every week, you’ll discover more and more things you could be doing for your singers, for your teams, for yourself.
And your family and friends may not love it. If they are not involved in chorus/ quartet life themselves, they will not get it. Even if they are, they may not get it.

You will find yourself growing, as a leader and as a musician, and I think for most of us, it makes us want to put even more of ourselves into it. We feel that our involvement in our organization is rewarding enough, and we forget that our family members do not see what we see.

We hope that they will see that we are happy, and growing as people, that we are finding purpose in our lives. And many will see that, eventually – but you may have to nudge them a little. And you, dear Director, are going to have to learn to delegate!

What? DELEGATE??? Relinquish control over things? NEVER!!!

It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. First, you have to be OK with yourself not doing everything. You have to learn to accept that you can still be in control even if it’s not you out there doing it.

Then, you have to find the people that you know can do it. People who understand what you want, and who will pass that on to the chorus without any ulterior motive. People you trust.

You have to train those people. You can’t just give them a task and send them on their merry way – make sure that they are going to represent YOU when they do it. Be very, very clear as to what your expectations are, but also, understand that they are not you and they may put their own spin on things. This is where the Ego Check has to happen.

Just because they are not you, doesn’t mean they’re not great. Hard to grasp, I know. But, one of our most important jobs as leaders is to grow and develop other leaders, and you can’t do that if you aren’t willing to give people a little bit of space to figure out how they are going to do their jobs. Isn’t that how you became a director in the first place? Because someone let you go out and try it?

The more you can develop people and teams within your chorus that can take care of some of the work for you, the more balance you will have. You can focus on the things you are really good at, and not worry about a million other items.

You’ll still have to check your email and phone numerous times a night and you’ll still have plenty of work to do, but once you do find the right people, you will be more and more comfortable letting them do things without you. I think it’s hard to relinquish some of the control, because we are perfectionists and we want things done OUR way. Well, then we have to teach our people to do things our way, don’t we? Yes. And this takes time.

And your family may not get it.

And, because your success in the chorus world doesn’t equal a big paycheque, they may never get it.
So, you do need to communicate with them and explain why you are doing it. You might have to do this several times before it sinks in (and depending on who your family is, it may never sink in and that’s why so many SAI directors are divorced. Fact.)

(Fact: I don’t know if that is a fact. I just know several chorus directors who have been divorced but I really have no idea if barbershop wrecked their marriages…and I am not going to ask. Feel free to leave an anonymous comment.)

You do have to make yourself happy. After all, chorus IS a hobby…an all-consuming fire of a hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. If you are constantly stressed out and feeling guilty (and as women, we already feel guilty all the time, don’t we?), you need to look at what you can change to make it better, and chance are that once you do change those things and become better at prioritizing, not only will you be happier, but so will your chorus members. You know what they say – “if Mama is happy, everyone’s happy”. You are Mama. You may or may not have children of your own, but you are Mama now. And sometimes, Mama needs help.

-M.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Don't Mind Me - Anxiety Sidebar

It seems that many of us “out-front” people share a certain personality trait which seems like it shouldn’t be an issue for us, since we spend so much time in front of groups of people, speaking, teaching and performing.

How many times have you told someone that you are an introvert and been informed that that can’t be, because you’re a performer and you seem so comfortable in front of people?

How many times have you been told “but you don’t seem shy”?

I have, many, many times! And guess what? I am not shy! I have never been shy. Shyness is not a thing with me.

Being introverted is not the same thing as being shy, and being shy is not the same thing as having social anxiety.

Let me explain.

Shyness, introversion and anxiety are three different things. You can have all three (if you’re REALLY lucky!) but they are not to be confused with one another.

I think Introversion is the most different from the other two in that an introvert feels energized by alone time and can get completely drained from social interaction. Introverts crave solitude. I am an introvert (who also suffers from FOMO but I am dealing with that).

Shyness, I believe, is mostly characterized by fear of drawing attention to yourself. I am not shy. Pay me all the attention you want. Look at all the selfies I post, for heaven’s sake! Do I seem like I am not desperate for attention? I think shy people quite often crave the company of others but don’t know how to approach it. I like…nay, I NEED to be alone.

Anxiety comes in many shapes and forms, and it can be debilitating. It manifests itself in many different ways. Mentally, it can be constantly overthinking everything, always assuming the worst, not being able to stop expecting the worst possible scenario. It can be physical – shaking, shortness of breath, hyperventilating, sweating, blurred vision, uncontrollable crying, etc.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and social anxiety. Moderate to severe. I sometimes even have to take an actual Chill Pill!

In the middle of writing this, I had to stop. Because now there is an issue with people knowing this. People I will meet at all these different events. Maybe they will treat me differently now that I have said this. Maybe they won’t invite me to things. Which is OK because I like to be alone anyway but I still want to be invited you know and I like being alone but not lonely. Maybe they will talk to me differently now or try to be careful and feel concerned and oh god I don’t want people to be concerned and I should probably not publish this blog because they will think I am WEIRD THEY PROBABLY ALREADY THINK I AM WEIRD AND THAT’S WHY I AM ALL ALONE IN THE WORLD AND NOBODY WILL TALK TO ME AND WHEN THEY DO THEY WILL HAVE A CONCERNED LOOK IN THEIR EYES


Once the heart palpitations (yes, really) had subsided, I decided to keep writing and to go ahead and publish (pause for new inner drama here) because I know I am not the only person dealing with this.

I know for a fact that I am not the only director dealing with this. Most of us have an analytical nature and while not everyone constantly falls into a rabbit hole of overthinking every time they try to make a decision, being analytical serves us well. It helps us evaluate what we hear and see on our risers. It helps us formulate what kind of sound we want (Eventually. I was shocked to find out that not everyone hears shapes), and it can be a very helpful leadership tool.

It’s a strange dichotomy, the ease with which we can speak in front of crowds and perform on stage, and the bumbling awkwardness we navigate in small, social situations. Other people have a hard time reconciling the two, but to us it’s just how it is. I think it’s a lot more common with female directors – most of the guy directors I have met seem quite confident in all situations. Men do have a little bit more space in society to be sure of their confidence – they don’t have to worry about what people will think if they put their skills on display.

(I feel like I have just broached a subject that might need its very own blog.)

My point, and I do have one, is that if I were shy, I wouldn’t be a director, and I probably wouldn’t even have been a performer. My point is that being an introvert isn’t a bad thing, but you might have to learn ways of breaking out of it from time to time if you ever want to network. And my point is that anxiety of any kind can be a huge obstacle, but you find the areas of your life where it isn’t able to take up space – such as when you are in front of your chorus – and make those areas big enough to push out any potential rabbit holes, and you’ll find that you can feel calm and confident a large portion of the time. And should an unexpected social event occur for which you don’t have time to plan and evaluate, learn to be comfortable being an observer. Learn to know when you have had enough interaction and politely say goodnight and go home. People might think you’re a bit weird, but aren’t we all, really?

-M.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Becoming A Director - Part III

“CRIPPLING SELF-DOUBT”
In which I discover that I have no idea what I am doing and everybody knows I am a fraud.

So, you’ve been the director for a while now. A year, maybe? You’ve been through a contest cycle and your chorus is not yet wearing any medals and you have not received a blue director pin and nobody is hiring you for your coaching services.

Let me backtrack for a second.

Here’s the thing. I can’t write a series of blogs that are geared towards Master Directors and Faculty because I don’t know anything about that. And let’s face it, those people have each other. These articles are for The Rest Of Us. But don’t worry, Master Directors – you are still allowed to read!

I will elaborate on The Rest Of Us in a future chapter. Today, we are going to talk about the fact that I am a failure and a fraud, and everybody knows I have no idea what I am doing. Especially me.

They call it Impostor Syndrome and it’s a real thing. From Wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". The term was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes.[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. An essay by a psychology professor suggests that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women.[2]”


Can you have impostor syndrome even if you're not a high-achieving woman?

When you first take on the director job, you think it’s going to be much easier. You do know that there is a lot of work involved but you assume that everyone will immediately understand your way of thinking, and success will be swift and tangible! But that is not always the case. As your scores may reflect. What if you take over, and you go to contest and…*GASP*...your scores go down?

THE HORROR.

Clearly, this is all your fault. You have no idea how to be a director. You don’t know how to teach anybody anything. You don’t know how to pick the right music and you certainly don’t inspire anyone.

What if you go to contest again the following year…and your scores go down even more?

Well, boo-fricking-hoo.

You now have a choice. You can mope about it and spend all your time thinking about all the things you have done wrong over the past few years, or you can pull up your pantaloons and find new ways to be awesome.

It’s time to take stock.

There are many music-related things you can be good at and they aren't the same for every director. I really wish I was good at identifying exactly what the issue is in bar 22 and why that chord isn't quite tuning and be able to say "hey, baritones, it's your fault, sing that Eb a bit higher!"(Just kidding, I don't ever want to tell a whole section it's their fault!) But I am not. I am getting better and better at it, but it is not going as fast as I would like. And in the meantime, I have to be able to identify the things I am good at, and do those things...a lot. I am getting pretty good at surviving Tuesday nights and not make everyone quit! PROGRESS.

If you had set some goals for yourself and the chorus at the time you took over, now is the time to look at those goals and be honest – are they realistic? Are they too lofty? Are they even tangible goals?

If you didn’t set goals at the beginning, you are actually in a better position because you won’t have to change your mind. But it is time to set some goals, and the first thing you need to do is look at your singers and find out who they are. You have to make the decision to either work with what you have, or try to change what you have. I believe in working with what you have, and I believe that the most important thing to do in order to attract new members (which we are always trying to do), is to make sure that your current members are doing well, and that they are on board with you. If that means you are not going to win contests soon, that’s fine. Our organization is full of choruses who don’t win contests, but whose members come to rehearsals every week, pay their dues and put in the time. Think those members contribute to the survival of SAI?

YUP.

We are important. We are really, really important.

Set a goal. A simple goal. A doable, realistic goal. Make a plan for how to achieve it. Keep repeating it to your members, because it is important that they know exactly what the goal is and that it is not going to change. This leaves them with a decision – they either get on board and take the steps necessary to help reaching it, or they have to step down.

For some, making this decision will be a long process. Be patient, but insist. Repeat the goal and the work you are asking for every week. Eventually, they will make their decision.

Make sure that you only pick songs that they can sing, songs YOU believe THEY can sing, and that fits their personality. It’s tempting to pick songs that YOU would want to sing, but you don’t get to sing much these days, do you?

And you, my dear, fake, impostor person? Learn things. Read books, go to classes, attend every educational event you can. Watch other groups being coached. Take notes. You know more than you think, and it’s time you started focusing on the things you are good at, and work on those skills even more. There will be many directors out there who are much better than you and who know lots of things that you don’t, and that’s OK.

You can inspire people to always want to do their best. You can make them laugh. You can teach them how to work with learning tracks. You can point them to resources that can teach them to read music if they don't already. You can pass on information you received from directors with blue pins. You can insist. You can persist. You can praise. And sometimes, you can get a little cramp in your shoulders from waving your arms too hard.

Happens to the best of 'em (or so I am told).

Those other, amazing directors, are not you. YOU were asked to become the director of your group because they saw something in you that they wanted in a leader. Remember that. Be you.

You’re awesome.

-M.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Becoming A Director - Part Deux

“LIGHTBULBS”

In which I wonder why They aren’t learning the songs I am throwing at them randomly, and reluctantly agree that Having A Plan is important and that it isn’t ALL about me.

For a short while there, right when I first started out as a director, I thought I knew what I was doing. This didn’t last long and the problem was that I was basing every decision on what I thought I would have liked from a new director. I chose music based on what I wanted to sing and assumed everyone would just go ahead and learn it and we would have instant success. No, really. I really thought this.

It didn’t happen that way.

If you have been singing for a while, and you have watched other choruses and their directors, chances are you have a pretty good idea of what kind of director you would want to be. You see all these groups with their different personalities and eclectic repertoires and a dynamic arm-waver out front, and you can easily put yourself in that spot and dream of all the success your chorus will have with you at the helm, doing those same things.

The problem is, you don’t see all the work that went into it beforehand. You don’t know how long it probably took to get to that point where it looks and sounds so natural and effortless. You don’t know if there was struggle and conflict, and you don’t know how much sleep that director lost trying to figure out how she could be the best leader for her chorus.

I have heard of new directors coming in and turning everything upside down – getting rid of the entire repertoire and starting anew, and to be quite honest, that is what I should have done...but at that point, I was still a singer first and foremost, and I liked the songs we were singing. I knew the chorus did too, and while I toyed with the idea, I was too worried about how they would react if I took away all the songs. That, plus I didn’t really know what I wanted them to sing instead. AND we had performances coming up and we needed songs for those. So, we kept the same songs, and the songs we were singing at that time didn’t really have much in common. Some of them had been sung by the chorus for a long time, and many mistakes and bad habits had crept in over the years – in hindsight, starting over would have been the smart thing to do, but I never said I was smart.

I picked new songs quite randomly. A couple were suggested to me and I just said YES LET’S DO IT because I really wanted to give new music to my singers, and some I picked based solely on the fact that I liked them, not thinking about whether the chorus would be able to connect to them or tell their story. I didn’t know what the chorus story was, really, and I didn’t understand how it had changed once I came down from the risers and became their new, somewhat fearful leader.

Remember the part of the previous post where I told you I needed to make my own mistakes so I could learn from them? Well, here it is – a mistake I made right as I started out, which I have now learned from and am in the process of turning around and steering onto The Right Track!

There are times in a person’s life where one realises that one made a mistake, and then one realises WHY they made that mistake, and then one almost feels like there is a literal lightbulb over one’s head that comes on and thinking about one’s mistake becomes almost celebratory.


Just Like That.

Here’s what I missed when I was brand new: I WAS THE LEADER. These were, in fact, my decisions to make, but I was too worried about what people might think and what if their feelings got hurt? But remember – they picked you! They picked you because they believed that you could take them further, and because they wanted to see how you would do that. You are the boss now. You don’t have to be a dictator, but the fact is, you DO get to make decisions – and not everyone is going to like the decisions you make!

That’s OK. Yes, I know you want everyone to love you and think you are a wonderful person of great substance, but let me assure you; not everyone will agree with everything you do. And you have to figure out a way to be OK with that. Took me a couple of years.

Here is something else I missed at the beginning: IT WASN’T ALL ABOUT ME. While I could make The Decisions, I had to learn how to make them based upon the needs of the chorus…and at the time, I really didn’t know what those needs were. Hallelujah, another mistake to learn from!

In our case, and in my defense, the chorus didn’t really know what they needed at the time either – they just wanted to keep singing, because we had had some rough times in the not too distant past and we were all feeling a little tired and a little discouraged.

Now, a few years later, I am finally learning how to see the singers I have and what they can and cannot do, and from that, a new purpose emerges for having taken on this role in the first place.

So, if you are brand new, or perhaps you have been around for a few years but you still FEEL new and you don’t know what direction in which to steer your chorus, do this: TALK TO YOUR SINGERS. Sit down and discuss where the group is now, where they want to go, make sure they know what YOU want, and find a way to come together. You may want to consider bringing in a facilitator to help you with this – this could be another director or coach, or even a professional from outside your organization.

And, depending on the level and capability of your chorus, and based on how the current songs are sounding, I highly recommend getting rid of all of it and start building your own, new repertoire. It’s like the clothes in your closet – some things you just love but at some point, you may have to face the fact that they don’t fit you anymore and it’s time to go shopping for new stuff that you can wear NOW. You will be happier, feel a lot more comfortable, and damn it, you will look good!

-M.