Friday, July 11, 2008

The Great Church Job Firing

Well, now that we've thoroughly documented the M drama, let's move on to #2, shall we?

Yep, the Great Church Job Drama.

Well, as I've previously posted, there was a BIG upheaval at church last year. Our pastor (who was there when I was hired 11 years ago) received a job promotion-that of Vicar-General of the Archdiocese (for those of you who aren't Catholic, a VG is like the second in command to the Archbishop in whatever diocese you're in-read more about it here if you're interested) back in February of last year, and his replacement in our parish just happened to be the former Vicar-General. It became apparent that this guy was a total tool job-he rushed through the Mass, started talking more about money than faith, was less personable, and sent out a "survey" to the parishioners to see what needed to be changed. Now, the survey came back with the music ministry having a 86% approval rating from the parish, and, of course, there were a few negative comments listed (as there always will be in situations like these). Monsignor decided to listen to these negative comments and began instituting changes to the music ministry. He wanted the service quicker, music "simplified" (ie. more cheesy hymns and more "modern" things performed), and wanted the music director (my friend A) to "streamline" the program. Well, A is not a "streamline" kind of guy. He doesn't feel that the Mass has to be 45 minutes or less, that music is an integral part of the worship, used to enhance and bring home the message that the presider is trying to send to the congregation. He used to plan the music a year in advance, using the lectionary and making sure that the music corresponded to the readings (something not a lot of directors do, trust me), or with whatever Sunday was being celebrated. We used to get SO many responses from parishoners about how beautiful the music was, how it helped them to pray, that it gave them the courage to sing from the pews-hell, we even had a Jewish woman who would come to the choir mass every Sunday just to hear the music.

Well, A could only take so much, and back in October he gave his notice, with his last day being the week before Thanksgiving. He could see the writing on the wall, and he knew that if he stayed he probably wouldn't have his contract renewed in June. Some people left with him, but most of us stayed, to try to make a go of it. The assistant was named as Interim director, but it quickly became fairly obvious that this guy was in way over his head. He's also a "yes" man, so whatever Monsignor wanted, he started to get-starting with the cheesy hymns at Communion, and rushing through stuff. People stayed through Christmas, then started dropping off (Sean and G among them). We quickly went from almost 50 members to around 20.

Now, A is immensly talented-as both a musician and a conductor-and, realistically we knew that it would be hard FOR ANYONE to fill those shoes. But, you'd think that the Interim, who A hired (and who he worked with at the Archdiocese Cathedral), and who'd been with us for 8 years, would have AT LEAST payed attention, and would be competent. The only competency I saw was in his big organ pieces (pre-and postlude), but with anthems and hymns it sounded like he was throwing in an elbow on the keyboard. He also didn't rehearse on his own with the organ enough, because at our weekly rehearsals he would spend almost an hour going over the Sunday music, not for the choir's benefit, but so that he could play it on the organ (which he invariably couldn't and would then switch to the piano for the rest of the rehearsal). I can only describe his conducting skills as one who is slapping away a cloud of flies-there was no clear downbeat (or upbeat, for that matter), no cutoffs, no entrances. In other words, it was starting to look (and sound) like a hot, steaming pile of mess.

But, I didn't leave-I wanted to give him a fair chance-and, let's face it, A didn't have a job and I didn't want to part with the money. However, I wasn't sure how long musically whoring myself would last, because I felt myself getting sloppy and developing bad habits......and as a teacher, those things just wouldn't be acceptable. The Interim also covered up his inadequecy by lying about things (for example, if I questioned where the choir should cut off on a sound, he would start babbling about the "English" vs. "American" cutoff.......huh? WTF???). Of course, I would constantly question him, because he would say one thing, then do something totally different. And succeeded in confusing everyone, and pissing them off.

Now, why didn't anyone speak up (besides me), you wonder? Well, because, to be honest, Catholics aren't usually the type to speak out. We're usually guided by the parish and by the priests-it's not like the Episcopal or Lutheran faiths were there's a council made up of congregants and clergy. Even though a Catholic parish is supposed to be about the people, unfortunately there's a "sheep mentality"-just following the herd. And, this church wasn't about that-it wasn't a Mass Factory, where you got in, put your money in the bin, got Communion, and got out. But, it was slowly becoming that.

Well, at the end of the year it all came to a head. We were asked to sing a Mass celebrating a Cardinal's (who was the former Archbishop before he was elevated) 50th anniversary of his ordination, which was to be held at our parish. We had a month to rehearse, but of course the Interim didn't really prepare and subsequently, we were rushing at the last minute. The Interim, unbeknownst to the choir (with the exception of a select few-the other section leaders and others who kiss his butt), hired ringers-professional musicians-to sing the Mass. And, we didn't know until an hour before the Mass, when they all showed up for the warm-up and rehearsal.

People were pissed-I was pissed! Two of these ringers were in my section, and I was the section leader, and I had NO IDEA! People were coming up to me and questioning me, and I had nothing to say to them. So, after the Mass (which I cantored, btw), I spoke to the Interim privately and told him that people were upset over this (me included). I told him that I had no problem with ringers-I've even done it myself, but if he needed extra singers, then they should've come to a few rehearsals beforehand, not the day of. I told him that the choir volunteer their time every week for two hour rehearsals, and that it sent them the message that he didn't trust them or their abilities, and it just causes bad feelings, and we couldn't afford to lose people.

I guess he didn't like what I said, because two weeks later (a week after he was named full-time director) I was fired by Monsignor (with the director looking on), after singing two masses. After being there 11 years, being married there. Just like that.

Well, as you might guess, I didn't go quietly. I told both of them off in the sacristy-I called Monsignor ignorant and told him he was running the parish into the ground, and I called the director incompetent and sneaky. Then, I proceeded to send an email to the entire music ministry (two choirs) and told them EXACTLY what happened. There was NO WAY that these people were going to make it look like I walked away, or that it was my fault. I was going to call them out on the whole thing, and let them have to explain themselves.

Here's the email I sent (and I'm leaving in the names of the guilty to expose them for who they are):

Hello all:
This is just a note to let you all know that today, after the 12:30 Mass, unbeknownst to me, was my last day as OLS as cantor/section leader, after an 11 year tenure.
In other words, I've been fired (or, as I was told "we'd like today to be your last day"). Why, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, I was told by Msgr Emery (NOT Glenn, surprisingly, since he WAS my superior, but I suppose one must let someone else do one's dirty work) that I wasn't part of what the parish needs in order to make "positive" changes to the music ministry. When I pressed as to EXACTLY why, since I felt that in my time there I have gone above and beyond what was in my job description as a section leader and cantor, I was told that it was because I'm not a "team player", not because of my work ethic. In plain English, because I refused to let our "esteemed" new director get away with incompetence, I was asked to leave. (I was also told that, given my non-salaried status, the parish needs no cause to let people go, so BEWARE anyone who gets paid-you might be next!!)
Now, I'm going to relay EXACTLY what I said to both of them. I told them that, although according to the parish survey (which was unfair to begin with) there was an 80+% approval rating for Allen and the music ministry, he decided to listen to a minority of parishioners who wanted changes. Although, as pastor he has the right (although an uneducated "right", but I digress) to make whatever changes he felt necessary, the PASTOR is representive of the PEOPLE of his parish, and ideally if the parish was happy, it seemed to be a case of "if it isn't broken, why fix it". I also stated that, in the many times that Sean has been out sitting in the congregation since he left the choir, almost NOBODY sings. Of course, Msgr disagreed, so I asked him if HE was sitting out there every week to hear it (of course not!!)-he said, of course, that he is going by the "feedback" of whoever has his ear (probably the same "people" that wrote negative comments on the survey....although now I'm beginning to wonder if there are any actual "people" to begin with and it's simply a case of autocracy at work). I also told him that by making changes for the sake of change has UNDONE 11 YEARS of work that both Msgr. Doran and Allen Artz worked so very hard to achieve. Of course I was told that it was "my opinion", but many of you have expressed the same concerns. Look at the travesty of the Carol Sing dress rehearsal, when this man had THE NERVE to try to give us a "pep talk" that only resulted in insulting people and alienating the Canticum Novum singers. Haven't you noticed the slow slipping in of the Gather Hymns at Communion every Sunday? Remember him saying to the choirs back in December that these changes were going to happen "only at the 9:30 Mass" (which was ludicrous to begin with)-but that THE 11 AM CHOIR MASS WOULD NOT BE AFFECTED by the changes. That didn't last, did it? The writing was on the wall well before Allen's resignation-we, in trying to be charitable and to give someone the benefit of the doubt, let this happen to the parish. And, this is coming from a man who, according to Msgr. Doran, "chose" OLS because of the music and liturgy? Why, so he can rip it all apart? He very clearly cares NOTHING about the music OR the liturgy.
As for Glenn (who was actually "hired" much earlier than he wants you to believe, and I know that for a FACT since he told someone that directly back after Christmas-another case of subterfuge, perhaps?): I told him that if I was being fired simply because I challenged him, then it was extremely unfair. Since Glenn has taken over as Interim, there has only been communication between him and select section leaders and cantors, and I was apparently not "privileged" to be amongst them. Let's take June 1st travesty as an example. How many people knew ahead of time that there were "ringers" coming in to sing the Cardinal's Mass? Not many, I'm sure. I can say that I, as the soprano section leader, WAS NEVER INFORMED. Why should I? There were only two of them in my section! I was as surprised and upset as others (I know that a few of you spoke to me about it), and I spoke to Glenn about it after the Mass, when I told him that, although I had no problem with ringers, I DID have a problem bringing them in AN HOUR before the Mass, when there are people who VOLUNTARILY give up their time every week to come to rehearsal. Why not have the ringers come to the last rehearsals? I felt, (and yes, it's MY opinion, however since other people voiced it I guess I'm not the crazy one) that bringing in ringers is demoralizing and insulting to people who, again, VOLUNTEER THEIR TIME EVERY THURSDAY NIGHT to sit through rehearsals. Quite frankly, it's not a good way to build morale in a group that is in desperate need of it, considering everything that's happened this year. I was told that it was okay because "they're musicians". I guess that was my final nail in the coffin-because I, not only as an employee, but AS A FELLOW PARISHIONER, dared to question, and dared to voice, yet again, what others were saying. I also told Glenn that even when Allen was director there were times that I didn't agree with things, yet EVEN THEN I voiced what I felt. And, although what I said didn't necessarily influence his decisions, Allen never shot me down or treated me as if what I said was inconsequential or invalid, which Glenn did not only to me, but to others (unless they were the select few). If that is a by-product of his insecurity as a musician, then so be it. I also said that he does not know how to effectively communicate (which is obvious since I was kept in the dark about things), assumes that OLS choir is a paid group in that he blows through music and refuses to teach parts (since there are quite a few non-readers in the choir) and assumes that choir members can just go home and plunk parts out on the piano. THAT is why people have left, and why people will continue to leave-because it's clearly a step back. And, once you've had the best, it's awfully hard to go back.
Basically, what I have said has fallen onto deaf ears, since I was told that it was my opinion. I was also told by Glenn that he, as a paid singer for 8 years didn't agree with Allen at times, but didn't say anything as it wasn't his place. I guess that's because he was too busy talking during rehearsals to notice (which is probably why his music was never marked either when we asked questions). But Glenn, is that true of JUST ME, or do you allow the other section leaders to have input? Or, do you take into consideration only CERTAIN people's input (and we can list them here, for we ALL know who those people are)? Not very fair of you, is it?
We have all known since Emery's tenure that there was a possibility of this happening-a "dumbing down" of the music program at Sorrows. Now, it's a reality. Allen, as an accomplished musician, teacher and director could ONLY TAKE SO MUCH of the watering down of the music, so he left (regardless of whether or not you agree with how it was done, many of you DON'T KNOW what went on behind the scenes to lead up to his resignation, so it wasn't a decision that was made spontaneously). And now, with Glenn being hired full-time, Emery has exactly what he wants-a yes-man who will water it down to not only make the boss happy but to make it easier for himself (which we've also seen slowly happening-pulling out music that we could do in our sleep for totally new music nobody's seen before that we're supposed to "wing"). A music director who cannot effectively get what he wants from his choir, because he has NO IDEA how to bring it out in them-he won't (or can't) teach parts, his conducting skills are subpar, his playing (with the exception of his prelude and postlude) is unrehearsed. How many rehearsals did we have to go through a piece over and over again not for OUR benefit, but simply because Glenn couldn't play it due to not rehearsing it enough with the organ? And, how many excuses did we have to hear as to WHY he didn't, or couldn't rehearse it? You know, for someone who is getting paid the salary that Glenn is being paid, it's HIS JOB to know that music, just as it is the paid singers job to have notes learned for a piece once it's been introduced. And, it's obvious that the parish isn't getting their money's worth with Glenn.
How about how he's treated the children's choir? I'm sorry, but as AN EDUCATOR, I would never talk to children as he has done. Yes, they were unruly at times, but a lot of it was due to Glenn and how he spoke down to them, and treated them. Going down from 50+ children to 19 at the last mass they sang with us is proof enough of that, regardless of the stunt he pulled about making those two girls get up and apologize to the Parish Choir. Way to go, Glenn-what a good way to build self-esteem........by embarrassing children.
It saddens me that, after 11 years at Sorrows, it has to come to this. At one time, I really felt as if Sorrows was my "second home" Sean and I were married at OLS, and felt as if we were in a community of people who were caring and compassionate, but that has, sadly, gone off into the horizon. The reason that I'm writing this to you is that I don't want anyone to either hear untruths or come back in September and think that I resigned VOLUNTARILY in any way. I don't want Emery or Glenn to mislead anyone into thinking that it was my decision to leave, since we already saw that Glenn can do that (i.e.. assuming that George resigned and hiring another cantor BEFORE even speaking to George about it). I'm NOT going by my own choice. Of course, I will no longer be calling Sorrows "my" parish. I can't call a place "mine" when they basically chew you up, use you, abuse you, then spit you out. I got a double slap in the face - as an employee, being fired is bad enough, but, as a parishioner, being told that your services are no longer needed is like saying that Sean and I are no longer welcome in the parish. And this is coming from a CHURCH, which is supposed to be a "faithful" and "charitable" place to worship? Then again, there has been no worship in that beautiful building since Msgr. Doran left last February. It's just been a case of "get in, get out, get it done quickly and get the collection in". We've all felt it. Some of you have even said it privately. I was just the one who vocalized it, openly. And I got punished for it.
Whether or not you decide to stay at Sorrows is, of course, your choice. But, know that there will probably be more changes in the horizon, and they more than likely won't be good ones, given Emery's track record. If you can deal with it, and still feel as if you're still worshipping (since isn't that why there is music at Mass? To enhance and supplement worship?), then I give you a lot of credit. I wish you all of the best that life has to offer you, and those of you who want stay in touch with Sean and I, will hopefully do so. But, I can no longer be a parishioner in a place that was once unique and has now become just like every other parish. As much as Emery likes to say that he is celebrating "diversity", what he's doing is conforming to mediocrity by taking away the richness of the music, which allowed me to worship in a way that I hadn't felt in years, and which was also what kept me there for as long as I did. Whether that means that I find another Catholic parish that will fill that need, or make my way to a faith that will be truly "of and for the people" is my own journey to begin.
Please pass this on to anyone of importance that I may have missed in this email.
Thank you,
S

Am I upset? Sure-for a long time, this was my second home. I loved singing there. I loved the sense of community I felt there, not to mention the quality of music we did there (which is NOT the norm in most churches). But, really, it hasn't been the same there for a long time, and it created stress in my life when I didn't need it. It, quite simply, wasn't worth the money. Sure, I can always get another singing job, but I think I'll take a nice loooong break first. As for where to go to church.....well, that's a bit harder to delve into. I think that my expectations of the Catholic Church are too high, but I'm not sure switching faiths is the answer either. I guess I'll have to slowly get my feet wet and go to other parishes and see what calls to me.


5 comments:

Isabel said...

Wow, what a messy situation. I'm so sorry, it sounds like you stayed as long as you could and I commend your loyalty. What a pity your old music program got so shredded, it sounds like it must have been pretty cool at one time. What a shame, but you're well out of it. Hope you find a new church home and a good choir to be a member of!

Anonymous said...

I'm very curious to know what the recipients of your email have to say?...I would think they'd be as angry as you are....good for you by the way!!

Jessica said...

WOW seems like you are going through a lot of BS lately. Things should be a LOT more comfortable in church. I know for me it's like family and I am open to speak with my pastor and he respects our opinions etc. Go and find a church where you can feel that way. Many would be blessed to have you part of their congregation I'm sure.

Melzie said...

Oh my goodness... I can't even imagine. I thought my church-drama was bad, but it's not like this, we've only lived here almost 3 yrs.

Many thoughts--- wow... and I'm curious too-- any feedback from everyone?

Erin said...

Just dropping a line to say that I made my blog password protected. If you would like to be able to read it, email me your email address. emmhollar@yahoo.com.