Thursday, November 17, 2005

Being not the boss

There's a problem with being competent and having energy and a lot of ideas: you end up being boss. For the last quarter-century I've been boss or manager of almost everything musical in my life. I found the repertoire, made the arrangements and/or transcriptions, bought the source recordings, did the musical library research. When I thought it was time for a Christmas Revels type annual show here in the Triangle, I started one. I auditioned singers and created two (why did it have to be two??) choirs. I found instrumentalists, I arranged rehearsals and wrote publicity and got photos taken and took comps to the radio station and did interviews. I sent the promo packages and made the phone calls.

I chose the music for the cds, and arranged for the recordings, helped the engineer and did the mixing and post-production. I either arranged for album covers or did them myself, I wrote the liner notes and negotiated with the suppliers and paid the bills.

As performances approached, I'd be driving around delivering keys, picking up extra mic stands, renting equipment; moving sound systems; putting up posters I'd designed and printed.

Sometimes I was in the backyard at night fall happily making gigantic ass's heads (or Boar's Heads) out of paper maché or sewing medieval garb and making hennins, several at a time, at a furious pace. Sometimes making props was the best part.

The night of a show I'd be watching anxiously as the crowd trickled in. Would the people who told me they'd be sure to come actually do it? I took every empty seat personally. Often, often I moaned to myself: "Why do I do this?"

I sometimes felt jealous of, for instance, Ken, who often said:

"Just tell me where to show up and what instruments to bring."

Or Robbie, who would say:

"Just tell me what the first chord of the song is."

However, when Zed got sick five years ago, all of this stopped. I lost interest in making things happen for my band Mappamundi and since then we've just floated along, limply, enjoying whatever opportunities still come along of their own accord.

When Zed went off to college this fall, I developed a new goal: "to be involved in some musical activity of which I'm not the boss."

One day there was a listing on Craig's List for an a cappella early music group and so I joined the Duke Collegium Musicum.

I don't work at Duke any more so on rehearsal nights I stand outside the door knocking till somebody in the music building lets me in. I am almost the only non-music student there and am older than all the singers - and older than the conductor (who has a multiply-pierced ear), too.

I've enjoyed watching this nice conductor struggle with the same problems I have with my Triangle Jewish Chorale. She never knows who will be at any given rehearsal, for instance. Only at ONE rehearsal was everybody present!

She gets thrown when people complain, even little itsy-bitsy complaints. She says, with a stricken voice, "Oh, I'm sorry, I can't do anything right." I've thought this wretched thought so often! And I, too, agonize pointlessly over little kvetches.

She has trouble figuring out how to say "LEARN YOUR PARTS, YOU LAZY SLOBS!" in a nice peaceful way. I have that problem too.

Saturday night we presented a concert of music by William Byrd. I got to stand in the back row amongst the basses and tenors. This is the place to be: the cute young lads in the back row have strong young voices, strong and beautifully in tune, it's Perfect-Fifth City back there, ahh they made me so very happy.

Reasons why not being boss is great:
  • You can stand in the back row with the basses and tenors;
  • No need to prepare the score, just learn your own part;
  • Other people who haven't learned their parts are not your problem;
  • You just have to show up for rehearsals and performances. No worrying about publicity and interviews and photo shoots. No worrying about whether other people show up on time.
  • If the crowd is scant, not your problem;
  • Don't have to buy the treats for the post-concert party.
As an example, here's the Duke Collegium Musicum's very out-of-date website - I pointed out to the conductor that it hadn't been updated since 2003 and she looked vague and worried, and told me she doesn't know how to fix it - but that's just one more thing which is not my problem!

This is a very successful experiment. And the music was beautiful.

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At 4:26 PM, Blogger kenju said...

I am learning (in my old age) that is is much more fun to not have the buck stop with me anymore. Just showing up and being told what to do and where to do it is preferable to running the show.

At 5:30 PM, Blogger Shaula Evans said...


I, too, am a responsibility magnet. Getting sick myself has taught me the error of my way.

I've also sung in different groups for years...and I recognize all of the rehearsal pathologies you describe.

Enjoy yourself. You're a model to us all.

At 6:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a Where I Am From poem to add to your collection ...

At 3:40 AM, Anonymous Kimberly said...

*sigh* I find myself in the position of organizing - for the fifth year - the musicians for a weekend dance camp (hey, you wanna come play part of an ECD weekend in Seattle in May?), and the band for a dance performance group. Each year, during planning/ sending out music/ rehearsals, I tell myself Not next year!. Then the dance leaders say how great it was, and ask will I do it again next year... and I say yes.

Oh, to sing in the back row with the cute boys!

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Jack said...

It really is wonderful not to have to be in charge, isn't it? Glad that you decided to stay with it after . Becky and I have really been enjoying singing with the Collegium...hard to believe that the concert is only a couple of weeks away.


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