It’s surprising but choir is often kind of a political experience. You would think it’s all about the joy of song, but it isn’t. Members don’t like some members. Some are considered great, some useless.

The choir I joined in January is specifically supposed to avoid this kind of stuff. It’s a women’s choir. We don’t use written music, instead, we have lyrics and recordings of parts. We sing arrangements of pop songs from the sixties and seventies. Members are a range of ages, with more people in their fifties and sixties than in their twenties and thirties, as is usual for activities like this. Twenties and thirties are busy with careers and families and have nothing left over for hobbies.

I quickly decided this was easy. The songs were catchy and I kind of knew some of them already. So I switched sections, which you can do at will. There’s a very small ‘response’ section which is a middle voice with some harmony and echo type effects. This has turned out to be much more difficult than I was bargaining for. Without music, there’s a lot of stuff to remember, a lot of bebopalula type phrases which you have to remember to fit into the right places of the song.

In addition, we are to memorize everything, which it turns out is close to twenty songs for our upcoming June concerts. Yikes! I’ve never been strong at memorizing, making up for the deficit with a good ability to read music. Since there is no written music, that ability isn’t helping me.

For the last few rehearsals, the politics of this have also struck. One of the ladies of this very small response section (last night there were three of us) is extremely devoted to getting it right. In her enthusiasm, she only includes the ‘best’ singers in her comments, saying things like it’s up to the two of them, or if there are more, praising the two she considers good and completely ignoring myself and another new member who has ventured to sing in this section.

It makes me feel two inches tall to tell the truth. I suspect it also bothers the other ignored new person, though she is quite outgoing and so has others to talk to. Still. To be singing our hearts out and then completely ignored, in a small section of 3-5 people, is painful. We do get most of the notes. And I’m not sure that these longer time members are completely wonderful all the time.

I was surprised though how angry this made me, especially once I was back home. So this is obviously hitting at a weak point in me. I don’t need to be so upset when someone doesn’t include me. I know it says quite a bit more about how this woman looks at things than about me and any abilities I might have. I mean, this is not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or anything. We’re explicitly there to have fun in an informal choir.

The fact is, what the section needs is not one or two people getting every note perfectly, but a few more singers who will venture into out section. The choir has about forty to fifty members on average, so two or three for one section is not enough. My guess is this woman’s perfectionism is scaring women away from trying our section. Maybe not, but I suspect it is.

Anyway, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to let things roll off my back in low stakes circumstances. Last night, I’d thought both of quitting and of moving off to another section to avoid this whole scenario. But now I’m thinking, I was to be secure enough in myself not to let this crap bother me.

I’m thinking back to the way I felt I had to quit a full time job I had two years ago. I was genuinely falling apart under the mistreatment by a strange boss. But I think I didn’t need to let this upset me to the extent it did. I want to be able to bounce back, to not be thrown off every time someone doesn’t treat me nicely. The world is a mixed up place and I don’t want to retreat every time there’s a problem.

The choir practices in a neighbourhood church, and it is really quite lovely to stand at the head of this grand old building with the arched ceiling, stained glass and dark wood, and sing out, surrounded by other voices. It has it’s moments. It’s a nice thing to do. So I’m not going to quit the section, I’m going to go back even though I’m angry, I’m going to suck it up and sing out. I know I have worth. I don’t need to be validated.

At the end of practice last night, this woman kind of came after me. Maybe she sensed I was irritated and leaving abruptly. She came up to me and said, don’t worry, you’ll get it together eventally. Don’t worry.

So then I felt mightily condescended to. I was keeping up my part. I didn’t know what she was trying to say. So I retorted that I actually wanted to sing with the sopranos, which I do, because this part is too low for me, but that I’d felt sorry for the response section, as there were only two of them. Then I left.

Then I went home and stewed about it. And decided to go back and not be intimidated, condescended to, or made to feel less than. The stakes are low, and it’s good practice.

  1. leb105 said:

    wow, E, that’s great! I get to the part where I think – gee, this bothers me more than it ought to – and that’s where I stay.

    • Ellen said:

      Thanks. I find it is work to try to move beyond habits but awareness is a good first step.

  2. DV said:

    I’m really interested in all of this, because this is the sort of choir I have been thinking of joining myself. I’ve found one nearby but haven’t been yet because I was waiting to see what day of the week my new therapy sessions would be so there’s no clash, and also to have the emotional backup of a therapist before I venture into a group activity again after the bullying of the last one.

    I had hoped that it would be a setting free of the dramas I’ve had in more results-driven groups, I’m a bit sad to see the reality that there is a always a potential for competitiveness and snark. I get your anger. Just reading the words of what that woman said made me instantly feel like slapping her. You did well to stand up for yourself and to focus on what you enjoy about the group and decide to stick it out. I hope you keep posting about how this turns out.

    • Ellen said:

      Well, this is far from bullying. I wonder if I wrote it more strong than what it is. It’s more being overlooked. I don’t think this woman is actually doing this specifically to hurt me. It’s some kind of complicated thing where she is trying to be as perfect as she can, and that somehow translates to bonding only with other perfect people. And when she came after me, there was some aspect of genuinely wanting to be nice, even though how it came out was patronizing.

      This plugs right into my own issues where in my family everyone is constantly judged to some standard of excellence and I was found wanting almost all the time. For me this is unbelievably painful for that reason. And for whatever reason, people do find it easy to patronize me in particular situations – I must be sending out some kind of signal perhaps. Though this woman is also doing this to my fellow new person, so it’s not just me.

      This is just a pretty common situation in life IMO. I want to develop a thick skin and not let these people’s issues bother me. Bullying would be something else again, but this is just garden variety silliness.

      I think you’re fairly safe joining a choir. The good thing is it tends to be a very limited type of activity, once a week, so anything triggering wouldn’t grow and become unmanageable. Presumably. Most people in a choir are just there to have a nice time. There are issues there because we are human basically.

      Thanks. I will keep you posted.

      • DV said:

        Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that it was bullying. I meant more that my tolerance for *any* sort of negative interaction is now very low, and I guess I’ve been indulging in wishful thinking that there’s a group out there somewhere that is drama free – this is a bit of a reality check 🙂

  3. It’s wrong, what she’s doing. I think these things can be especially painful, because we grew up unable to think about them or talk about them. The unfairness isn’t talked about or allowed into the family’s collective awareness. That’s what I find, anyway–the things I sense I am not allowed to feel or think about spiral into bigger feelings. I suspect you are right: her strategy to avoid feeling ashamed is perfectionism and to ally herself with people she sees as being superior to others, but it makes people not want to be around her. She condescended to you, and you did the same thing right back to her. It’s counterproductive for her, but it’s what she’s used to doing. She knows no other way to be. But, of course, the question is what do you do about it? I don’t have any answer to that. People matter to me more than what I am doing. I’d join another section in hopes of being around people I enjoy more. But I tend to do that.

    • Ellen said:

      I agree with your point about how in our families, we weren’t allowed to talk or even think about our feelings about what anyone else did. It still happens to me, like with my sister suddenly yelling at me – I couldn’t even think about that until the next day, it was somehow blocked out.

      I think what I’m going to do about it is to not let it bother me too much, and to keep asserting the fact that I’m there, with comments or any way I can. In this case I don’t want to run. This is something that happens all the time in life – I want to stay and master the situation. I get why that would be appealing though for sure.


  4. I think your attitude is awesome. Yea for singing your heart out. Hugs.

  5. For some reason she pushes your button. I know the feeling. You need more people in your group as you say: any point in asking the director to appeal for volunteers? Hang in there. At school I had a terrific friend who would just laugh if any one tried to push her around. Even the Principal didn’t dare. How awesome to be like Ailsa

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