And Gutenberg Lived Here: The Crocodile On The Bank

There is a strange high-pitched hoop-hoop-hoop sound

(An exercise to get vocal beginners to find the area where they project best.)

Then a quartett bursts through the door

And sings a very funny,

and often slightly raucus,

version of some very serious song.

In this case, with lyrics to do with the US political campaign.

They are from Wisconsin.

Then the next group-


One of the first in yells “hide your women, booze, and money, men. Musicians are in the town.”

They are from Holland.

And wear tight striped diplomats’ pants, a huge bow tie, and have their hair gelled into the old “Grease” ducktail and forehead cascade.

And if you haven’t guessed by now, this is a convention for choir directors.

Who spend one weekend each year drinking with the best,

at least the ones who are not tee-totalers,

(who often are the better singers. Probably because they sing sober more often)

And singing from morning till night,

exchanging ideas,

and tones,


life-saving vital info.

Like who is on the job carousel now-

(everyone who is a freelance conductor  rides the carousel at least once per year:

your choir had to work too hard for a concert, but it was brilliant?

Word is put out they are looking for someone new,

and you have six job offers before you even know they are thinking of dumping you.

And your choir council has six new conductors in view-

from the choirs that are now looking at you.

and voila-

the medieval slave market known as:

the carousel.

And then, of course, the real reason we are all there:

technical info.

Newest music and arrangements,

what to do as an a capella choir, since only groups with bands can fill a house.

Answer: do occasional modern pieces with mouth percussion,

seminars available,

or put together concerts with at least five choirs.

At at least two tickets per singer…

Then there is the “hi, where you from?” hidden info exchange:

Like how to handle someone who really really really wants to sing solo,

and sings loud

and shrill,

and agressively,

or just on the high edge of every tone,

till you and the choir haven’t got a clue where you are singing,

in the hope of blackmailing you into giving up and working with them-

Or the one who picks a totally trivial minor point-

like that the scarves aren’t as nice as the ones they could make,

since they once studied design,

for six months before they got pregnant,

to tie up all musical work that needs to be done until you let them sew their little hearts out.

The answer, of course, like the answer to any of these kinds of situations:

if it is a church choir, you have a pastor and a council.

Consult them.

If it is a private choir,

you have a council,

with president,

and they probably know the person well.

Let them talk them into quiet.

Or it is your choir.

And your job.

At which point the answer is,

keep distance no matter what.

Or they will try to pick up little details by stalking you, till they can spread gossip and lies to kill your image,

Or let everyone know they are your personal friend,

and you will lose half your choir.

Or, worst of all, decide to come calling,  knocking on your door at three a.m., daisies in hand. (It really happened)

And thus, one weekend per year, you absorb new music,

and technic,

and job gossip,

until suddenly, it is the last day, last hours, last social meeting.

And the stories come out.

Having to find white theatre paint at the last minute and sing in bed sheets from the hotel since the costumes were lost,

Pinning a six-foot six substitute into a costume, carefully slit up the back seam and with darts and extra pleated material, originally meant for a five foot four ill tenor,

(remember to put the substitue in the last row)

singing a requiem with a suddenly very ill star soloist,

who hangs on the railing trying not to throw up,

and marks his lines since his voice is gone,

and still, darn it,  is more brilliant than anyone you have ever worked with.

And then,

the, for me, most magical moment of all:

the prize for the wackiest, goofiest, most bizarre choir- related thorn in the side of a conductor,

a tin for throat discs,

now containing a small golden tuning fork left behind many years ago,


this year,

to moi.

The one who once directed a police choir who all left,

on a nearly weekly basis,

for training in some bizarre,

but necessary to know how to handle,


Like the week an official at the customs inspection harbor here in the city opened  a crate that was making funny noises,

And was attacked by a monstrous sized crocodile.

And since my choir had to turn out for the emergency…

At least they were honest about it.

Part of my agreement with them was that I get paid no matter how many natural or man-made catastrophes disrupt the proceedings.

Like I said, it took the tin.

Copyright 2016

2 thoughts on “And Gutenberg Lived Here: The Crocodile On The Bank

  1. wow. How incredibly kind, Bun. Yes, to handle a choir is tough some times, especially since music opens the heart and breaks up emotional blockages that have sometimes been there for years. And the fascinating thing is, when people turn to music, they are often afraid of psychiatrists, and trying to find something, anything, to heal themselves. So it is desperation time. You have to have a heart, but you also have to walk a line, since there is a common goal to meet, and others’ feelings to watch out for. A girlfriend of mine once did a opera where the soprano was so upset by her treatment by another singer on a stage, she grabbed a steel door, and pulled it off the pins. And this was not a large woman. Rule number one in stage work, always know where something to hide behind is.


  2. My goodness, managing a choir sounds like trying to keep the various members of the United Nations from each other’s throats. It must require amazing people skill over and above the musical ones.

    Liked by 1 person

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