On Thursday night, after a 10-year break, I re-joined my church choir.
On the way to rehearsal, the butterflies in my stomach were working overtime, and I kept wanting to turn around. The two years I’d spent in the soprano section in the late aughts had carried some stress, which I now realized was enabled if not initiated by the leader of the group, the former music director.
As a composer, arranger, and performer, he was brilliant; as a manager, he had shortcomings. The music he composed and/or arranged for us to perform was magnificent, we rehearsed relentlessly, and we sounded great. But there was always at least one elephant in the room any rehearsal or performance, an elephant unrelated to the reason we were there – to produce choral art. Sometimes it was internal bickering or drama, sometimes a section lead who would build himself/herself up at the expense of his section, there was often political bickering or sniping (both choir/church politics and bipartisan politics of the usual kind) – none of it was ever acknowledged. It festered, and from time to time, it caused internal mayhem, division, and loss of members.
He was a perfectionist, which was fine, but he didn’t always correct us softly when we strayed; sometimes he got frustrated and I felt like he thought we deliberately weren’t trying or were being lazy, which was never the case.
As someone without great range, a soft grasp of reading music, and a strong dependence on my section leader and the others in the group to help me contribute my voice to a part (I can only follow, not lead), I often felt like an imposter, a poser, a pretender. I left for other reasons (increased responsibilities elsewhere) but I left with some relief that I wouldn’t have to feel that way for a voluntary gig again.
I’d braced myself to deal with some of this stuff this time around. A decade full of life events and lessons makes a big difference to perspective, so I was optimistic that this time would be different.
And it turns out, I was right. I found no drama, no harshness, and no judgment – only love, laughter, and acceptance. That’s down to leadership. Our music director is also brilliant and talented, but she leads with humor, humility, compassion, respect, and recognition of the value that each member brings. And that makes all the difference. I don’t feel judged; I feel that my contributions (even if they aren’t spectacular) have worth, and that I should stick around and keep contributing.
It’s said that people don’t leave jobs – they leave managers. The flip side is that people treasure jobs or commitments that are well-managed – and they keep coming back. This has been true for me for the past four years at work, where staff are treated with kindness and respect and their contributions and unique voices recognized. Now I’m grateful for another commitment to keep coming back to – for compassion, and for recognition of a new voice.