Respecting Conductors
© 25 Oct 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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Reflections on choosing expectations over direction.


A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents and attended church with them. The conductor of the music was quite young and did not project confidence as she lead the congregation, but she did a find job nonetheless. On one of the hymns she quite firmly and clearly conducted a conclusion at the end of the penultimate verse, and began to return to her seat. The congregation hesitated, and then decided to keep singing anyway. She, flustered, re-opened her hymnal and tried to catch up with the congregation.

Everyone in this story was in error.

The conductor made a mistake in stopping the hymn before she intended to do so. I see this as an accident. Quite possibly there was a lack of proper attention that precipitated it, but I’m inclined to call it an innocent and harmless mistake even so.

The congregation, on the other hand, consciously and deliberately chose to go with tradition and expectation instead of following the conductor. I expect this was of good intentions; a sort of “‍how embarassing; let’s help her out‍” response.

My own reaction (even as I followed the congregation) was “‍This is wrong. She stopped the hymn, we should follow her lead.‍” I still feel that way, but as I find it hard to put my finger on why.

Perhaps what I want to say is “‍obey‍”—do as your leaders direct even when what they direct is not what you think is optimal. Or perhaps it’s “‍don’t give responsibilities without rights‍”—don’t ask someone to lead without committing to follow. Or maybe “‍don’t waste effort correcting people who knew their error‍”—save correction for when it can instruct. Or it could be “‍give people the benefit of the doubt‍”—don’t assume that just because something is unexpected it must be a mistake.

I suppose all of those are reasonable lessons to learn, but I have a nagging sensation that somewhere there is a single principle that my own singing past the conducted end shows I have not mastered. I only wish I knew what principle it is.

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