Confession of a ward choir prima donna

February 22, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 6:26 pm   Category: Life,Mormon Culture/Practices

The choir in our ward is excellent. We have a well-trained director and gobs of talented singers. As with every ward I’ve been in for the last 15 years, I’m a member. And as with every ward choir I’ve been in for the last 15 years, I don’t really love it.

Here is the problem: I’m male, I have a degree in music, I have a pretty good vocal range so I can cover bass or tenor parts, I can sing in tune, and I can sight read the vast majority of music they throw at me. It’s a bad combination really – I feel too guilty to keep my musical training a secret (too many lessons warning against “burying my talent” I guess) and every ward choir needs more men who can cover the parts. The problem is that while I find performing with choirs enjoyable, I don’t really dig rehearsing with choirs.

So you can already see why I call myself a prima donna; by my musical self-description I probably fit the general definition as “A temperamental, conceited person”. But it is worse than you think. Over the years I have concocted a coping strategy that I probably should feel guilty about but I don’t: Basically I ditch most rehearsals and just show up for gigs.

When I first concocted this strategy several years ago I thought it would work to get me out of singing in the choir all together. I usually come up with excuses why I can’t make rehearsals and then explain that I will completely understand if my non-rehearsing means I shouldn’t sing at the gigs. But it has never worked once. The choir directors always still want me to sing at church with them (rehearsals or not). I suppose this mostly has to do with the fact that male singers are hard to come by. It is a supply and demand thing.

The sad thing is that I am not even the best singer in our marriage. Kristen’s voice is a beautiful instrument (she successfully competed in vocal competitions as a young woman) while mine is probably best suited for punk rock. But not once in our nearly 14 years of marriage has she been pursued for a ward choir. There are always gobs of women lined up (talented or not) to sing in the choir. And since I always get recruited and we have little kids she can’t even volunteer without creating logistical difficulties for our family.

So I continue to chip in. And I continue to ditch too many rehearsals. I actually did feel guilty that the temporary choir director had to stop by the house before church this week to give me the music to look at before the performance later that afternoon – but then again I also really liked staying home with the fam instead of going to rehearsal. I chalk it up to the family filter. So far it is working out – I miss a few rehearsals and they still get a solid tenor or bass at performances (depending on what they need that week). I’m still half-hoping one of these days they will get sick of my prima donna behavior and just not invite me anymore. (I’d probably come crawling back if that happened… especially in this choir because it happens to be exceptionally good…) But if history is any indicator, I won’t hold my breath…

PS – In case it is not clear — this is just a tongue-in-cheek poke at myself for being a lazy slob… The folks in our current ward choir are loads of fun and highly talented. The fact is that this ward choir is the best I’ve ever been in or even seen in my time in the church so if any of y’all are reading (and I sorta doubt anyone in my ward will read this) please take this as the self-deprecating joke it was intended to be and don’t actually kick me out of the choir!

26 Comments »

  1. It’s not your fault that you’re a winner. They get what they want, you minimize your pain. The rehearsals aren’t the good produced by choir, the performance is. If you can deliver the goods, feel free to do what you want.

    On the other hand, if the other members of the choir are becoming irritated with your insistence on staying at home during road series in which you aren’t pitching (er, singing), perhaps you should consider throwing your weight around the ward to preserve the status quo.

    Comment by D-Train — February 21, 2006 @ 11:36 pm

  2. The only people who I can think really getting hurt are the other choir members, who lose the benefit of your stong voice and strong sight reading at practice. I consider myself a moderately strong singer, who did a lot with music in HS (multiple choirs, jazz/madrigal/choral, regional/allstate etc), but pretty much stopped in college. It was allways helpful to have the “leaders” in the group, who could really pull the others along. I have been in both positions, and can see the benefits.

    As far as not getting invited, good luck with that. It won’t happen.

    I wonder what the real reason men don’t sing as much as women. Perhaps it has to do with masculine attitudes, perhaps it has to do with the different training we give to YM & YW regarding music training. (Perfect example, see the Deacons leading the Priesthood opening song – up and down, up and down)

    Comment by Jay S — February 22, 2006 @ 12:04 am

  3. I sing in choir mostly out of obligation. We have a small ward and my wife is the choir director. Our kids run wild in the gym mostly (we do not share the building) when we rehearse. I am a mediocre singer at best, but for this ward and the men in it, I am the glue. There have been times when I was the only man, or only bass in the choir. When we have tried to recruit people – ouch. More isn’t necessarily better.

    I doubt anyone has a grudge with what you are doing. It sounds they have enough to practice with anyway. We have people in our ward who only show up for the performance who are terrible singers, so it could be worse.

    Comment by Eric — February 22, 2006 @ 6:41 am

  4. I did the same thing for a while, albeit for different reasons. I don’t have a spectacular voice and have little range, but I sightsing well, and can hold a section of men together if they’re unsure of themselves. The choir director was a very good friend who lived right next to us, and she would often drop the music for a performance off at my place the night before so I could sing the next day if she felt like one of the men’s sections needed bolstering.

    I really liked going to ward choir practices. The type of people who show up tend to be the kind of people I like to hang out with. Unfortunately, the core group of friends whom I used to sing with now all have many young children, which coupled with ward and stake callings that require us to attend extra meetings each Sunday keep us all from singing together for a season.

    Comment by Bryce I — February 22, 2006 @ 9:14 am

  5. D-Train – Nice. I’m a sucker for a sports analogies.

    Jay – Sometimes I think sections can do better if they don’t have an anchor to lean on in practice too. But in this case, there are already plenty of really strong singers anyway. I just serve to beef up the choir in performances, not carry the section.

    Eric – Yeah that would be a lot worse.

    Bryce – I like the people in choir, I just don’t like choir rehearsals. Here is my beef with basically all ward choir rehearsals. They always seem to focus on little things like diction instead of important things like, you know, singing the right notes and singing them in tune. Drives me crazy. I would rather hear an in tune choir hum or even scat to a classic hymn than hear an out of tune choir sing it with perfect diction. On top of that, choir practice feels like another unnecessary church meeting to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 22, 2006 @ 9:34 am

  6. Geoff, I’m sure your contribution is appreciated. I can’t carry a tune in a dump truck, I’m embarassed to sit next to my son who is an excellent singer (no, not you Rusty)…I love to listen to our ward chior, they are good, at least from my point of view. “I wish I had your talent”, but I really don’t because if I did I’d put forth the effort to learn. For now I’ll just enjoy Bret and our chior…oh and Geoff I’ve heard your punk rock musick…I don’t know what to say ;-)

    Comment by don — February 22, 2006 @ 12:10 pm

  7. You’re lucky. I can’t sing tenor; only bass. which means, I have a low range of the bass clef. The problem I have is that the songs the women choirs always pick have notes in the bass clef that are actually in the treble clef (or the high end of the bass clef at best). After straining my voice for so many years, I’ve finally just given up singing in choirs. Besides, I hate people telling me what to do.

    Comment by Kim Siever — February 22, 2006 @ 12:56 pm

  8. Besides, I hate people telling me what to do.

    Lol! Classic Kim. You’re on a roll lately, bro.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 22, 2006 @ 12:59 pm

  9. I’m a first tenor so I am always in demand for ward choirs. Some are better than others. Our current director is a bit of a perfectionist but he’s very good about thorough rehearsals. Notes first, then dynamics, diction and phrasing. It makes it a joy to sing.

    If you’ve got a choir that’s got the chops, I heartily recommend Rutter’s setting of the 23rd Psalm. Tight chords, haunting melody. Well worth the trouble it took to learn.

    Comment by Chad Too — February 22, 2006 @ 1:20 pm

  10. I suppose I would feel grateful they want you to sing with them, were I in your able vocal cords, but then again, I know what it’s like to have miserable choir experiences. Mine, however, stem from my inability to sing well.

    My first LDS ward choir attempt ended with the choir director gently trying to tell me I could serve the choir in many ways–by watching children during practices, talking up the choir in meetings–in short, anything other than singing.

    Now that I’m serving in Primary again I escape the overbearing Relief Society chorister (well-intentioned in her efforts to have our entire RS be a RS choir, but still leading to hell through what is no longer ‘music appreciation’ for anyone in that room).

    I’d like to add that I know I’m not tone-deaf, but apparently tone-mute =)

    Comment by Téa — February 22, 2006 @ 2:48 pm

  11. Geoff, you need to show up for practice and either sing a horrid contralto or an entirely too deep gravely bass. If you stink, then won’t ask you back. Stuff some tissues up your nose or some cotton balls in your mouth. Or chew a huge wad of gum and pop it with your mouth open, spraying other choir members with saliva. If you are really brave, pick your nose and wipe the boogers on the libretto. Freedom awaits. Or, are you hoping members of your ward will read your blog and just stop inviting you?

    Also, quick tangential question: Why do ska bands seem to gravitate to names with “pie” in them?

    Comment by Kurt — February 23, 2006 @ 9:00 am

  12. i’ve never been in a ward choir. in college i sang in a choir, for which I got academic credit. i’m not a terrible singer. mostly, i learned to sing in that choir and at the MTC, though. Never sang parts before I was 18.

    So that’s where I’m coming from.

    whenever the Elder’s Quorum or a group of people I’m in gets assigned to sing, I happily practice and participate. Like I said, I’m not a bad singer. If you sing the bass or tenor line for me once or twice–or even if you sing standing next to me, I can hit all the right notes.

    Howevever, if left to practice without the good singers, I’ll sing abysmally. so I, for one, and everyone in the ward that listens to me sing, for others, benefit greatly from your practicing with us.

    for me, this is a mini-example perhaps of needing the example of a Savior. In some areas of my life, like singing, I’m completely helpless for direction, whereas others (or myself in other areas) are fine fending for themselves.

    (of course, as I said, I’m not in the ward choir).

    Comment by Norm — February 23, 2006 @ 9:43 am

  13. I’m the opposite of Geoff. I like to sing, but I don’t necessarily care if we perform. Our last ward choir was mostly made up of older people in the ward that had sung most of the songs before, so rehearsals were mostly singing. It was great. I don’t think the audience gets much out of a choir performance–especially if the piece is not a familiar hymn. It is pretty much for the singers in most wards.

    In our current ward, we are not in the small choir. It is something that we can’t share together because of the children. Instead, we invite friends over once a month to sing free music or hymns with us.

    Comment by Bradley Ross — February 23, 2006 @ 9:56 pm

  14. Yeah, Kim, that cracked me up, too. You’re definitely on a roll.

    Geoff, if you were in my ward choir, I would so slap you. I get really irritated at the prima donnas who only show up for the performance. They aren’t as good as they think they are. No offense.

    I think, “hell, why do we even have a choir, I have better things to do. Why don’t you just get up and sing once a month and we’ll have more time.”

    Comment by annegb — February 24, 2006 @ 5:21 am

  15. Well, Geoff, it could be worse. I got done out of being choir director for years because of a policy decision that said they needed tenors more than they needed competent direction. That’s not a lot of fun.

    Luckily, I’ve gotten back to direction now and again, and like annegb, I’d hit you upside the head because I’m not nearly as concerned about hitting the right notes as I am about finding the music inside the notes and expressing it with uniform blend, expression, phrasing, etc. And those things you can’t sightread; you have to BE with the group. At least I never waste time with mah-may-mee-moe-moo exercises; I used to come late when I had a choir director who thought those were good things.

    Comment by Ebenezer Robinson — February 24, 2006 @ 10:33 am

  16. Dang — why can’t I have Ebeneezer or annegb as my choir director? I’d be able to just listen from the congregation again!

    Well for what it is worth, I admittedly do attend rehearsals before bigger performances like our stake conference gig or the Christmas program. I’m not as much of a prima donna as I let on. It’s just for the one-off choir numbers between speakers that I pull the gig-only move.

    Kurt (#11)- Dude, if I wanted out that bad I would just say no. I wouldn’t resort to booger tactics! (ewww) As for ska bands with pie names — I think it is just coincidental. Pie is fun and ska is fun so maybe there is a subliminal connection or something…

    Comment by Geoff J — February 24, 2006 @ 11:04 am

  17. The problem with most ward choirs is that the chosen music stinks. It’s no fun to perform the music, let alone practice it.

    Comment by Ben S — February 24, 2006 @ 11:26 am

  18. geoff, i have to admit i wouldn’t let you in my choir either. having directed choirs and been in them, it royally ticks me off when people don’t show up to practices and think they can just join at the last minute. even if they know it. it takes a lot of work for the choir, director and pianist to prepare and have practices and well, anyway…that’s just me.

    oh and ichoose good music. however, i haven’t had a chance to direct choirs in many years, so…

    Comment by mary siever — February 24, 2006 @ 12:36 pm

  19. For the Christmas program, we had a lady who admittedly has an excellent voice show up just to one or two practices. Accordingly she didn’t know very many of the stops or pianissimos or fortissimos or any of that junk, and she literally ruined the song with her lovely voice. I’m not sure I cared all that much–you get the performance you pay for in our church–but some of the women in the choir (i.e., my wife) were pretty ticked.

    How do *you* get around dynamics, Geoff? Or are there few for most of the songs you sing?

    Comment by jimbob — February 24, 2006 @ 1:06 pm

  20. Mary – Yeah, on some days I wish I would get kicked out (but not always). But the fact is that as long as I get invited ask I will say yes (to performances at least). Apparently it is all about supply and demand. I should note that I’m not the only dude to ditch a lot of rehearsal in this choir. As I said, there is plenty of talent in this ward.

    Jimbob – Well as I admitted earlier, I actually do attend rehearsals before the bigger programs or gigs so I get the dynamics and stops that way. For the day-of performances I always bring a pencil and ask the director for all of the nuances before the performance so I can mark the music. Plus watching the conductor covereth a mulititude of sins.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 24, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  21. Heck, Geoff, are you sorry you ever said anything? I still like you, hon. My best friends do the same thing you do.

    I think Ben S. is right, too. I don’t like singing hymns from the hymnbook, unless it’s a new arrangement. I don’t like listening to a choir sing them, unless it’s the Mormon Tabernacle one.

    Being a good choir director takes skill and often–at least in my ward–it’s a leftover calling. Either it’s given to someone who is too busy or inactive. I’ve had good ones and bad ones and there is a world of difference. I guess ultimately, I would say the director is key. Sort of the same as in scouting. Neither calling gets the attention it deserves.

    Comment by annegb — February 24, 2006 @ 6:12 pm

  22. Hey, buddy, I compensate for you.

    I’m an awful singer, so I show up for practices, and skip the performances.

    The Practical Mormon
    ldessays.com

    Comment by The Practical Mormon — February 25, 2006 @ 1:50 pm

  23. I should note that the musical selections are also excellent with this choir — that’s not a problem. On top of that I’m friends with the director! I am just a lazy prima donna when it comes to rehearsing… I feel guilty enough to confess here but not guilty enough to attend rehearsal every week.

    Comment by Geoff J — March 21, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

  24. I found a new website thats perfect for finding music for our ward choir. The site is ldsmusicnow. It’s kinda like iTunes, but you download sheet music instead.

    Comment by James — July 16, 2006 @ 8:28 am

  25. There are lots of websites that offer free music for choirs. Sally DeFord and Craig Petrie are among some of the best. And don’t forget to check out http://www.freewardchoirmusic.com

    Comment by Linda — November 22, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  26. Another free choir sheet music site…
    http://www.ashleyhallmusic.com/
    (this time with the link:)

    Comment by Ashley Hall — October 2, 2009 @ 9:10 pm

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