Monday, 30 January 2023

Careers Syndromes 11: Choirs

To try to do something which is impossible is always a corrupting enterprise. (Philosopher Michael Oakeshott) 

Had he ever tried to turn a group that doesn’t audition into an a capella outfit that sings in public for money?

In the 80s and 90s, there were many “community choirs” with lovely ideals. One was that you didn’t “teach” people to sing, you “enabled” them. Unfortunately some singers interpreted this as “Let me sing in a group in public without making any effort at all”. 

Arts Council funding gave many a distorted idea of commercial realities. It gave money to street festivals which ticked a box saying “involved local people” or “contacted other cultures”. This is not the same as being paid in the real world. The group never twigs that they were just a means of ticking the box.

Some groups became a cargo cult version of the real thing.

The group doesn’t audition, but thinks they can have a uniform and give concerts because that’s what choirs do

It tries to attract enough sight-readers to sing Fauré's Requiem, because that's what choirs do. Group members continue for years expecting to turn into an SATB choir that performs with an orchestra, even though they never even approach this outcome.

Some members think they have joined a "choir", which will eventually sing Fauré's Requiem despite consisting of 12 women and two men, and singing only short folk songs, because that's what choirs do.

A person goes to one singing workshop and thinks they can now join a choir that performs Fauré's Requiem.

As a performance approaches, the group defaults to "white blouse, long black skirt" and "Stand rigidly straight with arms at sides" – again because that's what choirs do.

Some groups are started by an untalented core who act as the officers. They hire a musical director, who drafts in enough genuine musicians to carry the core through a performance of Fauré's Requiem. These singers may stay a couple of years, but will eventually move to other groups because they can. Meanwhile the core stays and the MD repeats this procedure over and over again. It never occurs to the core to have voice lessons or learn to read music.

Or else the musical director gets an amateur group to struggle with Fauré's Requiem even though it's too hard for them, because that's what choirs do.

Why do people who mutter shamefacedly “I can’t sing at all” join singing groups? Why do people who join singing groups have such fixed ideas about what such groups are and what happens there? Why are their ideas so hard to shift, eg:

Warm-ups are just a waste of time.

Singing lessons are for people who want to be professional opera singers.

Singing is just for fun and I don’t want to progress or learn anything.

Everybody should be allowed to join in, even if they’re tone-deaf.


Have blue-skies aims, but sabotage progress at every turn.

Appoint a leader and then challenge everything she does or says, or refuse to follow instructions because autonomy. Make it impossible for her to lead.

Say you want to record a CD of new material, but refuse to work on the new material for more than five minutes at a time.

Manage not to see how much work the MD does between sessions.

Constantly critique her management style – when she's trying to get a concept across.

The group is run by a committee, so all musical questions must be decided in committee. 

The group ethos is to prop up weaker members, but nobody is allowed to refer to the fact that not all are equally talented


Query instructions, but don't listen to explanations.

Assume the instruction is just for this week, not all time.

Comply in tiny increments week by week. 

Send up the instruction and act the class clown.

Ignore it, thinking the MD will get bored eventually. Or throw a huge tantrum so that she'll never ask you to do anything again.

Displace: open a window, put the kettle on, pass round your wedding photos, start a debate, suggest that the MD is politically incorrect – or didn’t say please.

Invoke another authority.

Follow another instruction you were given 20 years ago that you disregarded at the time, have never put into practice, have misinterpreted and half-forgotten.

Interrupt as the altos are just about to get it, and only need another repetition.

Assume instructions are for the others, not you.

When in doubt, come out with: “You have to remember that people are here for different reasons.”

Put an equal emPHASis on every syllABle. Have a conniption every time there is more than one note per syllable. Eventually remember there are two notes on THIS syllable in THIS song, only.

Mistakes get fossilised, or become more extreme with time.

Have a set of unwritten rules, eg: “If one person objects to a piece, we don’t sing it”.

When the MD says "Emphasise the vowels" assume she means "Emphasise the consonants".

When she says "Breathe!", assume she means "Don't breathe!".

Turn up late and miss the breathing exercises. Send up the exercises and then say you don't see the point of them. Ask how you can sing a long note without having to breathe.

Claim that you are built differently and breathe using your own patented method.

Refuse to go to a vocal coach or singing teacher.

Scream "Are you telling me I can't sing!?"

If in doubt, cry.

Pull in different directions.

Refuse to go the extra mile.

Try and learn your part in the warm-up before the performance.

Talk all the time and you won’t have to listen.

Some singers drag, so you help things along by rushing

Decide that the MD is taking a piece too slowly, and rush on, hoping others will follow.

When colleagues struggle, helpfully shout the notes into their ear, stop listening to anybody else and go flat. That's what they learn. 

Insist on singing music that's easy enough for the untalented – that nobody will want to listen to. 

Have a pocketful of objections to everything.

Anything slow or sad is "terribly dirge-like". (Some of the best music is slow and sad.)

Refuse to listen to "theory", while leaning on colleagues who've learned some.

Pretend not to know what "gradually" means.

Throw around the one technical term you know.

Read the score literally,
without giving yourself time to breathe at the end of a phrase.

Withhold attention, concentration, beautiful sounds.

Sing badly as a protest until it becomes a habit – and everybody copies you. Fail to see that if the wind changes you'll get stuck like that.

Adapt the group to yourself, instead of yourself to the group.

Find objections to almost any piece the MD produces. Complain that the sheets aren't stapled together.

Whinge if the MD works out harmonies on the fly.

Expect every piece to consist of three lines that start at the same time, move together and end together. Imagine this is all there is to "singing in harmony".

Claim that if the group gets too good, newcomers will be put off. Fail to see that the opposite is true.

Promise "I'll do it in the performance".

Live anywhere but in the moment.

Turn any rehearsal into a committee meeting.
If you manage to get away without singing at all, you've won.

A performance is coming up, so you take up all the rehearsal time with other activities.

Be outraged when required to sing. Be outraged when you have to sing music.

Insist the rules can be rewritten until it’s OK for you to sing out of tune.

Ask "But WHY is this note middle C?" Ask "But what if I hear a different drummer?"

Listen to your yoga teacher, but not your MD.

Remain confused about the difference between a press release and a flyer; and recording a CD, a showreel and a learning tape – no matter how many times this is explained.

Every week, ask if bars always have the same number of beats, no matter how wide or narrow they are.

Everyone arrives later and later, but going-home time never changes.

Rehearsals start with a half-hour chat, with tea. There’s a teabreak half-way through. 

Cultivate the MD’s friendship, thinking you’ll be able to lead from behind. Take her out and pressurise her to return the group to the way it was when you joined. Ask why the group can't do "more challenging" music, by which you mean "less challenging".

Spend all your time and energy trying to keep the group at your own level, and none on learning how to sing in tune, in time and as if the music meant something. One way to achieve this is to import disruptive, untalented people

"Collaboration, democracy, equality, arts-for-all, inclusivity" can all be invoked to excuse any bad behaviour. Make plain, ordinary bad behaviour undiscussible.

The musical director is determinedly positive, but it's never enough.

One by one, disruptive members leave. Reasons for quitting are never “It’s getting too hard for me”.

(Email and MP3s have happened since then, and group leaders send them round and expect members to learn words and listen to the music between sessions.)

The CIA may like to add the above to its instructions for sabotaging meetings.


The Originators
of the group are the group no matter who joins later. They love to waltz down memory lane and relate their origin story.

The Tourist: The group is the group and I can drop in and out at will. It will always be there for me, despite my rather lofty attitude towards it. 

The Passenger: The others will do the singing for me.

The Homing Pigeon: Leave the group and drop back in without even wondering what everybody has been doing in the intervening years. In fact you can drop back in and tell them all what to do.

The Hamster: Keep everything, including extra copies of songs that are never sung, plastic cups, names on the mailing list of people who came once, disappeared and have since moved.


Some people are convinced they can’t sing because at school they were told to stand at the back and mouth silently. Schools can make mistakes and often do – but the misdiagnosed go into a permanent huff.

A musical man with a lovely voice claims he can’t sing because he doesn’t want to be dragged into some worthy activity – he’d rather go to the pub. And what would his mates say? And he doesn’t want to spend his evenings propping up non-singers. Quite rightly.

A woman says she loves singing in a big group – she can't hear herself and likes to pretend she alone is producing that huge sound. Meanwhile she doesn't know whether or not she is in tune, singing the right notes, or producing her voice properly.

A woman wants to be a diva. She has a voice, but less of an ear. She won’t take direction or have lessons. She doesn’t bother to learn a repertoire. She doesn’t listen to music much – she doesn’t like it. She makes sure she is never tested in real-world conditions.

An amateur singer has been to one Balkan workshop and is now an expert.

The concert programme devotes several pages to the history of the choir's uniform, explaining how they finally decided on diamanté bow ties.

After being dropped when your choir re-auditions, you spend the rest of your life complaining to anyone who’ll listen about the awful musical directors who insulted you, and the workshop leaders who were no good at their job (they went too fast for you).


(PS A lot of the time we had fun and sounded wonderful.)

Part One.
Part Two.
Part Three.
Part Four.
Part Five.
Part Six.
Part Seven.
Part Eight.
Part Nine.
Part Ten.


Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Grammar: Hyperbole 10


You may think exaggeration will help – but it hinders. 

Open the news pages today and you’ll struggle to find a policy that isn’t a flagship policy, a ruling that isn’t a landmark ruling, a speech that isn’t a landmark speech, a criticism that isn’t damning, a negotiation that isn’t frantic, a blow that isn’t devastating, a large company that isn’t a giant or a majority that isn’t vast. (Andy Bodie, Guardian, 2014)

The excess of apparel and the superfluity of unnecessary foreign wares thereto belonging now of late years is grown by sufferance to such an extremity that the manifest decay of the whole realm generally is like to follow. (Law of Elizabeth I, 1574)

Ministers took to the pulpit to warn that wearing crinolines was akin to renouncing Christianity.

The Monkees – a new nadir in Western Civilisation. (Evelyn Waugh)

Library closures are “violent and vile” says Edmund de Waal.

Schools are killing curiosity. (Guardian, 2020)

Meghan has kicked us in the teeth – and disrespected the Queen! Meghan single handedly tried to bring down the British monarchy. 

Science isn’t perfect, therefore it’s promoting lies.

Is having a baby in 2021 pure environmental vandalism? (

My teacher said that cartridge pens were for heathens. (@honeythewitch)

Prostitution is bad because it’s defining people by their genitals.

Tory Councillor Colin Davie is against renewable energy because it will “affect tourism”.

If we only let people play exactly who they are, it’ll be the death of imagination. (Andrew Garfield)

There is no joy in anything any more.
 (Commenter on the John Lewis ad that features black people.)

Fun Fact: Tweeting just once, on any given subject, counts as overreacting and going on and on. (@dimwittedly)

Christmas could be ruined by mince pie shortage. (

The day that refugees are not welcome in Britain is the day we lose our soul. (@serliamholman)

The writer of a book debunking historical myths “hates his country”.

The Olympics has been Disneyfied! (Translation: Skateboarding is now an Olympic sport.)

Any MP voting for vaccine passports is an enemy of our civilisation. (Neil Oliver)

Modern architecture is a deliberate attack on our spirit.

Our obsession with performance is changing our sense of self. (

Mob rule has infiltrated all of Scotland. (Translation: A crowd stopped officials taking away two men for deportation, May 2021.)

The prime minister can't be expected to live in a skip. (Sarah Vine on the renovations at No. 11)

The Guardian is full of nothing but lies. (Translation: The Guardian has issued some corrections and retractions recently.)

They’re bringing back Section 28! (Suella Braverman points out that it is illegal not to provide single-sex toilets in schools, 2022.)

People who say “Happy Holidays” are trying to erase Christmas.

A friend says “They’re trying to kill the language!” because he can’t switch Word’s spellcheck to UK English.

When you said we should be kind to children, naturally I assumed you meant that we should mollycoddle them and give in to their every whim!

If Disney isn’t stopped from imposing a ‘woke ideology’ it will destroy the country. (Florida governor Ron DeSantis, headline)

Loved ones who express concerns or doubts are accused of “denying the existence of trans people”. (

Prejudiced parents think this trans person shouldn’t exist! (Translation: Parents don’t want this trans person in their female children’s changing room.)

JK Rowling has conducted a hate campaign against trans people for years. (She tweeted: Dress  however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who'll have you. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?)

I’ve been in A&E with my daughter since 5.45 am. Finally got a prescription at 9.00. She’s not got anything serious but we’ve now had to wait over 25 minutes to get the medicine from hospital pharmacy. The NHS is not on brink of collapse, it is collapsing. (@MannGeorgia)

Had to cancel a hospital appointment because of work. The next one available is five and a half months hence. This country is collapsing. (@Seanchuckle)

The ubiquity of body art is born out of an existential crisis of humanity in the post religious world. (Melanie Phillips, paraphrase by Times sub) 

Kevin Daly on Twitter posts the Golden Girls script pages that show the trio were not improvising the herring scene. @Gary_Mylazycat responds: “Why do you hate fun?” (And @KevinGe48316476 asks: Who cares if people want to think this?)  

"Where’s the hope from the government?” asks Conservative MP Steve Baker, about new rules telling people to wear masks. “Where are we going as a society and as a civilisation? Where will be our redemption and our salvation? How will we provide that hope for our future?"

When you disagree even in the mildest of terms with people younger than a certain age, or of a certain ideological persuasion (read: woke), they fully believe you are invalidating their entire existence. (@GabeBlessing)

We have to rid ourselves of our obsession for highly processed foods. (Great British Christmas Menu. Perhaps he means “taste for” or “addiction to”?)

Anything claimed to be a “uniquely 21st century phenomenon” probably has its roots in the Roman Empire. And anything that “never happened before social media” happened before social media.

Watching Labour MPs queue up to condemn the free expression of opinion, to shut down debate, and to treat their former leader as an outcast and "enemy of the people" is truly sinister. It is actual Stalinism. (@peterde_de)

A coerced responsibility is not a responsibility, it is a burden. A coerced duty is slavery. (Vaccine passports again.)

A memorial service for a cathedral cat? The Church of England has adopted pantheism! (Doorkins Magnificat was official rodent operative at Southwark Cathedral for several years.)

Most coups begin by capturing the airports, seizing control of the TV studios, suspending democracy and arresting opposition leaders. Not by asking people to wash their hands and refrain from coughing on strangers in the Co-op. (@RussInCheshire)

Due to the pandemic, the Last Night of the Proms was instrumental. This became “The BBC are dropping patriotic songs!

A study claiming that the results of recycling plastic had been disappointing becomes: “Recycling is useless and just virtue-signalling! I told you so!”

All the folk going to beauty spots and "wild camping" and leaving all of their litter, in a lot of cases just deserting their tents, make me particularly despairing for the human race. (Via FB)

I taught my ‘bubble’ about names of groups of animals yesterday! None of them could name a group of geese! Nor the sound a donkey makes! Why don’t children read anymore? (Michelle Garner)

Queen Victoria once said “We are not amused,” therefore nobody made a joke or laughed for the entire Victorian era. 

There is 'compulsory homosexuality' in Ireland, suggests Polish right-wing weekly @DoRzeczy_pl, which also warns that 'Marxist-lesbianism is well on its way to becoming a state ideology' in Ireland’.

How the iphone rewrote the teenage brain ( headline on story claiming that teens now prefer Fortnite and Instagram to drink, smoking and drugs.)


The classic is "There are no grand pianos in Japan".

Everyone’s autistic now!
The Guardian says all men are bad.
Pedantry is always regressive. (Laurie Penny)

What is millennial culture? There’s no writing. None of them read books. (Bret Easton Ellis)

To look back is to be spiritually dead! (In the early 70s, a movement arose to perform early music – medieval, Renaissance, Baroque – in the original, “authentic” style, as far as it could be determined. This really upset some people. The above objection is from a TV discussion.)