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A Joyful Noise

I have received an unsigned letter from the Head Office concerning Choir Safety.  I am including it here with no edits.


Dear (then a blank underline with the words “Choir Director” hastily scrawled on it with what looked like a mini-golf stubby pencil). I am certain you are aware of the recent incident at Saint Gummarus of Belgium Church in (city name redacted). Thankfully, no one was killed. This time, anyway.

This is why the Head Office has asked that I contact every church in the Diocese about the need for vigilant Choir Safety. Catastrophes like the one at Saint Gummarus are avoidable and preventable when standard Choir Safety Rules are followed.  It is tragic when one thinks that disasters like this could easily have been prevented.

Here is the post-disaster interview with Saint Gummarus’ choir director.  “CD” stand for “Choir Director to preserve anonymity, “Me” stands for the interviewer.


Me: I am so sorry to have to interview you so soon after this disaster, but it is policy after a situation like this one.


CD: I understand.  I’ll help as best I can.  I’m still a little shaken. I don’t want anyone else to go through something like this.


Me: Why don’t you start at the beginning, tell me the incident in your own words.


CD: It was a routine Sunday.  We were still in Ordinary Time for goodness sake.  No one was expecting something like this to happen.


Me: We never do.


CD: The Prelude went fine, there was a little turbulence in the Bass Section but nothing we haven’t experienced before.  I adjusted for the turbulence, holding up my hand and raising my eyebrow in their direction.  They settled down immediately, I didn’t know…who could know…


(Indistinct sniffling)


Me: Do you need some water?


CD: No, I’m ok.  After the Prelude, during the opening welcome I noticed the Altos whispering and pointing to each other’s music.  A warning light went off in my head.


Me: Go on.


CD: It turns out that they had different versions of the opening hymn.  Some has the octavo and some were reading out of the hymn book.


Me: Were both the the same arrangement?


CD: There we’re some minor differences but the harmonies matched so I didn’t worry about it.  We were well within Choir Safety Standards.  I followed standard procedure in situations like this.


Me: Did you glare at them menacingly?


CD: Yes, yes.  I even went to step two and put my finger to my lips to shush them.


Me: Good shushing technique is essential in situations like this.


CD: Don’t I know it?  In fact, I had just attended the Silencing Your Choir Workshop in Cincinnati last month.


Me: Great workshop.  Did you attend Dr. Rammikin’s seminar on Back Row Management?


CD: I wanted to but it was at the same time as the All Eyes On Me Meet and Greet.  Anyway, I went to step three with the Altos, delivering an assuring look and hand gesture to stabilize them before the Basses got involved.


Me: You’re obviously an experienced Choir Director.


CD: It’s not my first pony ride.  I have over 10,000 hours in the “Hotseat”.


Me: Impressive.  Many wash out long before that.  What happened next?


CD: The announcements had ended, the congregation were greeting each other, I looked at the organist with a “prepare for take-off” glance - and…and…I didn’t think it could happen…who would have thought?  (indistinguishable muttering)


Me: Take a deep breath. Tell me the facts as they happened.


CD: I gave the count off and the organist and instrumentalists began but the instrumentalists had their music in a different key!


Me: Different key?!?!  Why was there a different key?  Within the same music books?  Do you realize how volatile different keys can be when mixed together?


CD: Don’t you think I know that?  We’ve done that piece a hundred times without incident.  The second key was to keep the tenors below high A flat.


Me: High A flat?  Pretty risky territory for tenors.


CD: I had a few Altos helping out and we had a Hotdog Tenor installed who had some professional experience.  He has A flats and then some.  The other tenors knew to let him do the heavy lifting during the A flats.  Then there was the Alto assist.


Me: So why did the instrumentalists have the wrong key?


CD: They didn’t have the wrong key, the organist had the wrong key.  The instrumentalists noticed that the Hotdog Tenor was offline getting coffee so they went to the other key, normal procedure.


Me: How did the organist not get the signal?


CD: He was in “Automatic Mode”.  I should have switched to “Manual” but I didn’t notice the Hotdog Tenor was offline.


Me: Unusual for a Director with your amount of flight time.  What about the Pre-Mass Check?


CD: We didn’t have a Pre-Mass Check.  We don’t have morning rehearsals anymore.


Me: What?  Are you insane?  There are a thousand details which can cause catastrophic failure.  The Pre-Mass Check is essential!  Next your going to tell me you don’t have regular maintenance checks!


CD: We haven’t had regular maintenance checks in years.


Me: No Choral Warm-ups?  No Breathing Exercises?


CD: Not even Stretches or Head Rolls.


Me: And you call yourself a Choral Director.


CD:  The choir seemed to be doing fine without all that.  We had settled into a routine that was working for the congregation.  They were content.


Me: Settled into a Routine.  If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times.


CD: Such a basic mistake, I didn’t think it could end like this..


Me: Tell me the end.


CD: The organist and instrumentalists played the entire introduction in the two keys, sounded like the entire building was coming apart.  The congregation gasped and there were a few screams.  Couples clung to each other in fear and all the children were crying.


Me: Oh, the humanity.


CD: I didn’t know what to do so I unplugged the organ.


Me: System wide shutdown.


CD: The instrumentalists played through the intro, half the choir came in.


Me:  The other half?


CD:  They we’re already unconscious.  We limped through a verse with choir members dropping like flies until only Helen Flores was singing by herself.


Me:  Was she your lead cantor?


CD:  No, I didn’t realize until that moment she was deaf and couldn’t hear the disaster occurring.


Me: Deaf?  You have a deaf choir member?


CD: She always seemed so happy singing.


Me: So easily preventable with Regular Choir Maintenance.


-End of Interview-


Catastrophic failures like the one recently seen at Saint Gummarus of Belgium can and do happen .  By adhering to Standard Safety Choir Protocols we can minimize and perhaps even stop tragedies like this from occurring  in the future.


Thank you for your attention to these important issues and…


…Happy Singing!


Your Friendly Neighborhood Choir Director

Eric Alexander


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