Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From the Yin to the Yang and Back - Chapter 3

My Chorus

In 2001, I joined the Buffalo Choral Arts Society.  I was finally able to expand my musical horizons while safely tucked away among 120 people.  Perfect for someone with untapped talent and all the self confidence of a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  I loved it.  I loved it a bit too much for my husband who didn't seem to appreciate the time I was putting into rehearsing with the chorus and on my own.  It was the first time I had indulged a passion since we were married.  And... it was the first time that I didn't really care about him being bugged.   Did I mention that I loved it.

The Music Director was charismatic, extremely talented, passionate and temperamental.  She was unlike anyone I had ever met, and if I'm going to be perfectly honest, she fascinated me.  I spent the better part of two seasons striving for perfection.  I was like a giant, red-headed sponge soaking up every new piece of musical knowledge thrown my way.  I joined the music committee.  It seemed like a way to get to know more people and, more important, to get my hands on the music ahead of everyone else.   I would take it home and pour through it prior to the first rehearsal.  As my second season wore on I was less content with blending in than I was when I first joined.  In what seemed like a natural progression,  I agreed to run for the Board of Directors.  Once again, I made the safe choice and ran for Secretary.  This position came equipped with very clear, very well-defined duties.  I was warned that there were a lot of them.... duties, that is.  That was ok with me - they were all mundane and clerical in nature.

For the next four seasons, I tackled the duties put before me.  The job was largely done on paper, and I dedicated myself to computerizing it.  This gave me a fine sense of accomplishment for a while.  I was not serving on any committees, as I had been told that the Secretary job was much too big to allow for committee work.  I continued to thrive on the music and grew dependent upon it to fill in the emotional gaps in my life.  Marcia continued to be an enigma.  As I grew more confident in my role as a Board member, I would occasionally dare to question her or the Board President - a man whose long tenure on the Board had given him the aura of a benevolent dictator.  Yet there was no benevolence in his manipulation of the other Board members.  Month after month, he craftily presented proposals for our consideration - proposals whose wheels and cogs were already in the works.  He convinced us that we were contributors rather than the rubber stampers that we, in fact, were.  She often seemed to be "in cahoots" with him. It was my first experience as a member of a Board of Directors.  I had no basis for comparison and it never occurred to me that it should have been functioning differently, I guess.  There was really nobody to keep either of them in check.  Out of sheer boredom, I joined the Marketing Committee in 2006.  But it was more of the same, as the Board President was on this committee, which consisted of the Marketing Consultant, the President, the "Marketing Committee Chair" (a.k.a "puppet of the President") and a couple of random members.  We met once a month to rubber stamp the purchase of ads, agree to the Ad and Patron campaign mailing dates,.... and that was about it.  I look back at the publicity that we did for our 40th Anniversary concert and I cringe, because it could have been so much better.

I have decided that Marcia and I are more alike than we are dissimilar.  We are both prone to spontaneous acts that sometimes come back to bite us, we both tend toward having a short fuse, and if we have passionate feelings about something, we are very vocal and often simply cannot control ourselves.  We differ in our career backgrounds and our approaches to problem-solving, and I believe that this is where some of the problems lie.   Another obstacle is that she does not always understand my sense of humor.  This in and of itself is usually the kiss of death. If someone doesn't get my sense of humor, I generally write them out of my existence, as it just takes way too much effort for me to suppress it.  It was different with Marcia, because I respected her talents so much.  Our relationship was, and is to this day, very cyclical.  Weeks would go by where I could do no wrong, but what happened most often was that I was lulled into a false sense of security and would say something or ask a question that would tick her off.  And I had zero tolerance for her aversion to one-on-one confrontations - be it with singers or with members of the Board.  I believe that is what caused what I will refer to as "perpetual winter" with her, which began in January of 2008.   Mike, the President/Dictator decided that it would productive?....... divisive?..... to take idle gossipy chit-chat and turn it into a grand conspiracy on Marcia's part.   After a Nazi- ish discussion at a Board meeting where Marcia was absent, I was commanded to put a rather painful directive in my minutes.  The following month, Marcia delivered a blistering condemnation of the Board and of my minutes that could go down in history as being comparable to anything uttered by any President of our country... or any country.  I was so devastated that I don't even remember how I drove home.   I was furious with Mike, but mostly I just felt utterly betrayed by Marcia.  I felt that she should have known that I was forced to record the nonsense, and in fact, had I included more details, it could have been much worse.   Worst of all, I saw at the February meeting that she knew how upset I was and not only did she not care,  but she seemed to feel as though I deserved it.   I felt betrayed and belittled.

This incident did not prove to be rock-bottom, however.  We entered next into the grand realm of the re-audition.   Under the guise of improving our quality both individually and as a group, we planned a re-audition of the entire chorus.  The real goal was to shed ourselves of some of our older, less-trained singers.  Marcia was quite clear on multiple occasions that there would be singers who would be asked to resign.  None of us believed her, mostly because of her aforementioned aversion to confrontation.  Mike, in particular, banked on this since some of his longtime buddies fell into the "older, less-trained" category.  He did give himself one level of protection against reproach, however, when he retired as President after the 2008-09 season.   Lo and behold, singers were indeed asked by Marcia to resign. I recall returning in July from a glorious concert tour of Quebec City and walking into a firestorm less than a month later.  Other members resigned in protest.  Letters of condemnation were written.  Some came to me, to be funneled to Marcia.  Most members who had been with BCAS for more than 10 years were angry or confused.  To summarize, this is what the 2009-10 season consisted of if you were a Board member:

- newly retired President turns on Marcia and the Board, taking no responsibility for the re-auditions or their aftermath, in order to rally behind his wronged friends.
- Marcia responds to this by also turning on the Board, including the first-time, newly-elected Board members, and scolding us for "not foreseeing the angst that the resignations would cause and not being proactive enough to make efforts to  try to minimize this angst."  Yes -yet another scolding and finger-pointing Board meeting.  This time, however, it was unwarranted and largely undeserved.  I did not cry after this one.  I felt nothing but pure, burning anger.
- retired President also abandoned the Marketing Committee that he had previously agreed to chair in the upcoming season.  Seeing as how he did absolutely everything in previous seasons, the committee was like a rudderless boat and we were left adrift and on our own.
-bumbling fool on the Board agrees to be our "Music Library Coordinator".  Part of his responsibility was to make sure that the place was cleaned, per our agreement with the owner of the building.  Apparently, this was beyond the scope of his limited capabilities.
-bumbling fool #2 on the Board becomes the chair of the Marketing Committee and decides that it is to be a one-woman show, with assistance from the Marketing Consultant.   I will assure everyone in the known world right now that marketing and publicity is not a one-woman show.  If I hadn't  believed this to be true in September, I certainly did by May.
- new young President of the Board, elected by the most slim of margins, is a very talented and personable young man who is very interested in leaving his mark on the Chorus and in putting a big mark on his resume.  Unfortunately, he is not interested in doing a lot of work in order to make those things happen.  In one election, we went from having a President who did virtually everything but conduct the Chorus to a President who is only interested in being a face.

I may have left out one or two other unpleasant points.  Suffice to say, I entered the 2009-10 season questioning my desire and my capability to continue serving on this Board, and none of the events that occurred in the first half of the season made me feel any better.  After marathon Board meetings, many angry e-mails between Marcia and the Board, and her general insistence on blaming the entire Board for the actions of one or two Board members, I had had enough.  I was already carrying around so much anger because of the other things going wrong in my life.  This seemed like the only problem that had a swift and almost immediate cure.  In December, I announced my intent to retire from the Board at the end of the season.   I felt an immediate sense of relief.

It was a sense of relief that, I feel most fortunate to say, did not last.

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