Finding Comfort Through The Voices of Others

Posted on: February 28th, 2017 by Jay Baumgartner GALA Articles No Comments

Odd things happen in isolation.

When my eyes pop open in the middle of the night as I am jolted awake by some disturbing thought (and there are plenty of those these days), those scary thoughts take on monster proportions. That is one of the keys to therapy. When you talk through the scary whisperings in your head they suddenly become manageable. There is no better way to cut those babies down to size.

Chorus boards can be like that. When we sit in isolation we can start to think that the tasks ahead of us are insurmountable. NO one has it as bad as we do! NO other chorus in the history of person-kind has ever gone through what we are going through! We deserve a medal—NO! Sainthood!

Prior to the recent GALA Symposium in Palm Springs I was experiencing this. I serve on the working board of a relatively young chorus. We recently brought on an experienced Artistic Director (AD) who has revolutionized our group. As I sat, slack-jawed in awe and wonder, I thought, “How are we ever going to keep up with this man?”

As a member of the board, I have a responsibility to our singing members and other stakeholders to ensure that we practice our mission and create an environment and structure that helps each person be as successful as possible. My overarching fear was that we would not be able to keep up with our AD or that our collective inexperience would frustrate him and result in his heading for the hills without a backwards glance.

After my second session at Symposium my head jerked back as a light bulb exploded over my head: nearly everyone else in my sessions had shared experiences that were far worse than ours! No one had told me I was going to be attending group chorus board therapy.

Not to glory in other’s misfortunate, tragedy, or mismanagement, but this information brought HUGE comfort. And lest my AD worry, we are still driven to excellence! But now I know that others have had it worse, we are not the first—nor will be the last—to experience shortfalls in budget income, a lack of first tenors, or the need for more volunteers to make the mission happen. Instead of wallowing in our perceived shortcomings, I realized that I have to look at ways to verbalize them, break them down into bite-sized pieces and then address them—preferably in daylight.

Sadly, Symposium does not happen every time I need it. Therefore I have realized that I need to create my own Symposium group chorus board therapy opportunities! Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. Talk to other board members—even if they are on boards that do not deal with the arts. We all have similar issues and challenges.
  2. Don’t be afraid to look stupid. Sadly, I do this a lot! Yet the freedom to ask questions and seek mentors is what helps us grow. When someone brings an issue for you to solve, ask, “What would you do in this situation?” (Yes, that is an old management trick—don’t bring me the problems; bring the solutions!)
  3. Bring non-chorus members on to the board. We had not done this (and are seeking to remedy it). Outsiders bring fresh ideas, balance, increase the group’s integrity, and help us balance out areas of potential weakness on our board.

The worst thing we can do is suffer in isolation. When there is dysfunction in an organization, know that it will spurt out somewhere—and at the worst possible moment. It festers, burns out members, de-moralizes the group, and threatens everything you are working towards. Find ways to share your scary thoughts in the light of day and seek feedback. It is all manageable—and remember, you are doing better than you think.

And get a good night’s rest!

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