In which I am unsure of whether it’s best to pick a director from within your chorus/ organization or if it’s more beneficial to have an outsider come in and take over. I also discover that one has to be careful as to what one wishes for.
I am writing all of this from the perspective of already being part of the Barbershop world when stepping out to become a frontline director – I know of directors who came from a choral background, had never sung barbershop before, and went on to achieve great success within Sweet Adelines and the Barbershop Harmony Society. I don’t know exactly who they are or how they did it. They are like unicorns – I’m pretty sure they actually exist but I don’t have any proof.
I have to assume that a person who does that had to have a pretty extensive background in music. They would be a person who had their music theory down pat. Someone who didn’t have to mutter “Go Buy Donuts For Adam” under their breath every time they had to play something in the bass clef. Someone who COULD effortlessly play something on a piano.
Someone very different from me.
I had been a member of my chorus for about 7 years and 4 directors when, once again, the position became available and I appeared to be the most natural choice of armwaver-person. I’m still not entirely sure how that happened, but I’m glad it did.
During my years in the chorus, I had sung baritone, served on the management team in a couple of roles, somehow been the choreographer for a brief moment, and at some point, one director had put me out in front of the chorus to direct a song. I had no idea what I was doing but I must have done something right because I then found myself enrolled in the Director Certification Program.
I then became Assistant Director and then...our director left!!!
Becoming a Director had obviously been a goal of mine, I just hadn’t realized that it might actually become reality. There I was. I didn’t have a music degree. My knowledge of music theory was basic at best. I didn’t know if I had the leadership skills to be out front. Then again, I also felt like I knew some things, you know? Things I heard on the risers (that I would mysteriously become deaf to once out front), things coaches said that made sense (that I would inexplicably forget when trying to solve problems later on), and of course, I was a singer, right? I knew what singers needed, right?
Well, I may have known what I needed as a singer, but I was about to learn that what seemed natural to me, made little to no sense to other people. And by “other people”, I mean my chorus. Bless their cotton socks. They were in for a ride and they didn’t even know it!
(Author’s note: They may actually have known. I am afraid to ask and I am not going to.)
I have never really felt scared speaking in front of large groups of people. Put me at a dinner table with a couple of folks I don’t know well and you are about to witness An Awkward Situation, but in front of crowds I feel like Oprah, or Tony Robbins (without the millions, but there’s still time). The idea of running a rehearsal didn’t feel like a daunting, scary thing, but it would become those things once I realised that I wasn’t just the assistant anymore. I had been a leader within the chorus before, and I had planned the occasional rehearsal when the Director had been away, but planning a rehearsal is a very different animal once YOU are the one who’s going to deal with the results of that rehearsal, because you also have to plan the next one…and the next one…and the next one…
You have to start thinking about the future and plan accordingly…and I happen to HATE thinking about the future and planning accordingly! It has taken me until now – more than 3 years later – to start feeling comfortable thinking about next year and the year after. I had people on my team who, lovingly, insisted that I needed to start working on a long-range plan, or even just a year-long plan, and I couldn’t, yet. They needed a plan, and I couldn’t give it to them. They would suggest…and I would agree but not really think about it. They would get frustrated, and I would get annoyed.
When you are a new Director, you need to, first of all, figure out what’s going to work for you. If you have a group that has been around for a while, they may already have their ways of doing things, and you may even have done them as a member, but now, things are different. You may be expected to do things the same way and if you don’t want to, you have to say something right away. And if you don’t know yet what you want to do or how you want to do it, it’s OK to say that too! I’m figuring things out – give me some time. Not everyone will like it - no, not everyone liked it when I finally figured out that I needed more time to figure out what kind of director I wanted to be, and when I insisted that I needed to make my own mistakes in order to learn from them, the response was, shall we say, lukewarm – but I decided to go ahead and make mistakes, and I was right – I did learn from them. And I still have tons of mistakes to make and learn from, and I’m excited about it. A little scared, but excited.
In my humble (not really) opinion, your first priority as a new director should be to build your team. Pick who you want. Don’t worry about who had the job before and for how long – YOU choose who you want to work with. If your chorus is on the smaller side, this could be a challenge because people don’t exactly line up to do jobs, but you never know who might be willing to step up. You don’t have to do this in your first week. You don’t even have to do it in your first year. But as time goes by, you will find out who works well together, and who doesn’t. Nobody is entitled to a position on the music team, and nobody is obligated to be there. You pick. You create your team. And once you do, you will know because the work will get easier. The discussion will be more efficient. You will, finally, start to Get Shit Done. And it will feel good.
You should also talk to other directors. A lot. Talk to other new directors, and experienced ones. Tell them what you are experiencing and chances are, the same issues you are facing, someone else will have gone through before you, and they may have come up with a solution already! It’s nice to find people that you have things in common with, and I guarantee you, even the Masterest of Master Directors don’t have 100% perfect rehearsals as well as all the answers. At least that is what I keep telling myself. But, you know…I’m new.