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Bullying in Music Groups


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#1 Norway

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 14:42

I wonder if anyone has ever encountered bullying in instrumental groups or choirs, and if so, what happened and how they dealt with it? It seems that some groups have a policy document on behaviour, while others do not.


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#2 lubylu

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 21:48

To a minor (no pun intended) degree, yes.

I joined a community choir just before Christmas. They are mostly older people and non music readers, I am probably 20 years below the average age and one of the only members who can sight sing. I pick up and hold the part very quickly but am one of the only members in my section who does. This becomes fairly evident when we are learning new repertoire, sometimes I am the only one singing! This has led to some hostility from front row members who appear to consider themselves the "leaders" in the section. There are a couple who never speak to me or acknowledge me. I sit in the second row, to be diplomatic!

There was one particular rehearsal where I felt very uncomfortable when we were learning a tricky new song. After that, I emailed the conductor (who I like very much) to say I couldn't continue. He was really disappointed so I stuck with it, for him more than anything. It has now got a lot better. There are still some members who don't speak to me but I let it go. There are others I get on well with so it makes it manageable. I really enjoy the singing so it's worth it.

The conductor said he'd never had a situation like it before. I asked him not to speak to any of the culprits. I'm sure there's no policy or anything like that. For me, the best way to deal with it has been just to rise above it.
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#3 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 05:55

Funny you should ask: after watching a Rattle/BPO Beethoven concert and seeing friction between some of the woodwinds, only yesterday I was going to post a question about experiences of the realities of orchestras and choirs, and manifestations of envy, simmering dislike, bullying etc between players/singers.


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#4 Norway

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 08:40

Lubylu I'm sure that rising above it is the best way. I left one wind band because of nasty comments from a couple of people, although this particular band wasn't really for me so I don't feel like I lost anything. It's interesting that your conductor said he had never had a situation like that before. Through my conversations with musical friends in various bands and choirs, it seems like there's an awful lot of it about! I think alot of people move on and don't say anything.

 

Gosh Ligneo, could you actually pick up problems from a live performance? You would think they could bury the hatchet for the short time they are on stage!


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#5 sbhoa

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 10:16

Funny you should ask: after watching a Rattle/BPO Beethoven concert and seeing friction between some of the woodwinds, only yesterday I was going to post a question about experiences of the realities of orchestras and choirs, and manifestations of envy, simmering dislike, bullying etc between players/singers.

I wonder whether woodwind friction is partly as a result of the one one a part thing?

I'm pretty sure that at an amateur level it's what makes it so difficult to learn orchestral playing as a woodwind player. Existing players seem largely opposed to encouraging anyone who just wants to get experience. Woodwinds are somehow meant to arrive with experience or be a lot quicker on the uptake than strings who can get their experience in the middle or at the back of a larger section.


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#6 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 10:25

Maybe it is just me but, for example, I felt Emmanuel Pahud looked annoyed with Fl.2, the oboes and at one point a cellist.


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#7 Tenor Viol

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 10:26

OK, apologies, but this will be a longish post and may be a bit of a surprise if your choir/orchestra is a registered charity.

Yes, I've encountered it, more later.

First though, if your society is a registered charity then you really need to visit the Charity Commission web site and get yourself up-to-date on various governance issues. Why do I mention it? Because the CC got a serious kicking over its failure with certain well-known charities, it is getting very heavy handed with even small charities like the ones that many of us belong to and run (I speak as a trustee of two).

You will discover when you go to perform your annual submission of report and accounts that you will be quizzed on the web site about whether your organisaiton has various policies and controls in place. There are 27 (yes TWENTY SEVEN) of them. Some you can cover off with a single paragraph, others will need a lot of thought. You have to have a demonstrable audit trail to show that they are actively monitored (i.e. minutes). They also need to be written policies and they need to be regularly reviewed.

Amongst the policy documents you need are: care and management of volunteers, policy on children (if applicable) and vulnerable adults, managing conflicts of interest, payments of expenses, managing risk (that's organisational not just financial) etc etc.

My undertsanding is that you don't have to have them all in place immediately, but you will have to demonstrate that the work is underway. In my opinion, whilst good governance is of course needed, this is overkill for small groups and I suspect many will cease to be charities - and that present problems if you have any accumulated reserves. I suspect this will get reversed in due course, but for the moment we have to comply and it will be a huge effort to get it all in place. 

The good news is that Making Music are working on drawing up various templates to help simplify the process for groups. The workload for trustees just got a lot heavier. It's complete overkill as you hardly need the same levels of governance for a group of 75 with a turnover of £20k as you do for one with a turnover of £20m.

So, the point is, ALL groups (whether or not they are charities) should have processes in place for bullying, harassment, and vulnerable adults.

 

On to the OP question. Yes, I have encountered it and it takes various forms. Good socieities make sure they are welcoming and positively encourage newcomers. Poor ones want new members and struggle because of the cliquey behaviour of existing members who are resistant to change and who feel threated by newcomers. This behaviour has to be challenged and called out. Sometimes, people don't realise what they're doing, sometimes it's all too calculated. However, unless you have a proper policy in place it is difficult to manage.

Often the behaviour stems from insecurity because they worry that 'new person' is better than them and regard it as a challenge to their established authority or position. One group that I was in and which is usually well run acquired a new chairman. As an ex-chairman I offered some advice on an issue to avoid trouble which I knew would follow from her rather heavy-handed tactics. Rather than accepting the offer of advice and assistance, she took it as a personal affront and proceeded on a grotesque bullying campaign (the cause ultimately being her lack of relevant experience and therefore I was a 'threat'). The MD and the long-standing committee members were horrified at her stupidity. The behaviour was so vile I walked out and I won't go back until there's a change of chairman, which will be next year.

One orchestra I was in for a while was very cliquey and the other two cellists didn't like having another cellist and made it very clear I wasn't welcome (I'd been invited to join by the MD who knows me quite well). I left after a few months.

 

Choirs, orchestras etc always complain that recruiting new members is one of the hardest tings to do. If you're serious about it, then you must have proper policies in place and you must make sure your society is welcoming and looks after new members.    

 

 


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#8 MusicMatters!

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 11:48

OK, apologies, but this will be a longish post and may be a bit of a surprise if your choir/orchestra is a registered charity.

Yes, I've encountered it, more later.

First though, if your society is a registered charity then you really need to visit the Charity Commission web site and get yourself up-to-date on various governance issues. Why do I mention it? Because the CC got a serious kicking over its failure with certain well-known charities, it is getting very heavy handed with even small charities like the ones that many of us belong to and run (I speak as a trustee of two).

You will discover when you go to perform your annual submission of report and accounts that you will be quizzed on the web site about whether your organisaiton has various policies and controls in place. There are 27 (yes TWENTY SEVEN) of them. Some you can cover off with a single paragraph, others will need a lot of thought. You have to have a demonstrable audit trail to show that they are actively monitored (i.e. minutes). They also need to be written policies and they need to be regularly reviewed.

Amongst the policy documents you need are: care and management of volunteers, policy on children (if applicable) and vulnerable adults, managing conflicts of interest, payments of expenses, managing risk (that's organisational not just financial) etc etc.

My undertsanding is that you don't have to have them all in place immediately, but you will have to demonstrate that the work is underway. In my opinion, whilst good governance is of course needed, this is overkill for small groups and I suspect many will cease to be charities - and that present problems if you have any accumulated reserves. I suspect this will get reversed in due course, but for the moment we have to comply and it will be a huge effort to get it all in place. 

The good news is that Making Music are working on drawing up various templates to help simplify the process for groups. The workload for trustees just got a lot heavier. It's complete overkill as you hardly need the same levels of governance for a group of 75 with a turnover of £20k as you do for one with a turnover of £20m.

So, the point is, ALL groups (whether or not they are charities) should have processes in place for bullying, harassment, and vulnerable adults.

 

On to the OP question. Yes, I have encountered it and it takes various forms. Good socieities make sure they are welcoming and positively encourage newcomers. Poor ones want new members and struggle because of the cliquey behaviour of existing members who are resistant to change and who feel threated by newcomers. This behaviour has to be challenged and called out. Sometimes, people don't realise what they're doing, sometimes it's all too calculated. However, unless you have a proper policy in place it is difficult to manage.

Often the behaviour stems from insecurity because they worry that 'new person' is better than them and regard it as a challenge to their established authority or position. One group that I was in and which is usually well run acquired a new chairman. As an ex-chairman I offered some advice on an issue to avoid trouble which I knew would follow from her rather heavy-handed tactics. Rather than accepting the offer of advice and assistance, she took it as a personal affront and proceeded on a grotesque bullying campaign (the cause ultimately being her lack of relevant experience and therefore I was a 'threat'). The MD and the long-standing committee members were horrified at her stupidity. The behaviour was so vile I walked out and I won't go back until there's a change of chairman, which will be next year.

One orchestra I was in for a while was very cliquey and the other two cellists didn't like having another cellist and made it very clear I wasn't welcome (I'd been invited to join by the MD who knows me quite well). I left after a few months.

 

Choirs, orchestras etc always complain that recruiting new members is one of the hardest tings to do. If you're serious about it, then you must have proper policies in place and you must make sure your society is welcoming and looks after new members.    

agree.gif Human nature is what it is and we need to have practices/policies in place to deal with these situations. I like to look at these things in simple terms. Am I enjoying this experience? Is it worth my time, worth fighting for or a waste of my time? Once I've answered these questions, I have to actively improve my lot...either by getting out of a situation and finding a better one or digging my heals in and working to improve it. "Music culture" is no excuse for anything. i wish you the best of luckhighfive.gif


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#9 Norway

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 12:04

Dealing with human nature can certainly be a challenge! What do people think of the following scenario (not actually bullying but more sleaze). Let us call the music group the Mongolian Horse Fiddle Philharmonic (MHFP). This is run by a couple of organisers without whom it would not exist as they have put in many hours of work over several years. There is a regular perk which has always been enjoyed by the horse fiddle players, but it is suddenly announced by the organisers that the perk is not available anymore. The horse fiddle players think this is a shame, but accept it. Then it turns out that the organisers have continued to receive this perk, without telling everyone else. Word spreads, and the organisers know that everyone knows. They don't show any remorse or apologise, and just carry on like it didn't happen. Where can the rest of the group go from here?


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#10 Norway

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 12:47

It's not about the perk though. It's the dishonesty. If they had said they were going to continue to have it in the first place then I'm sure people would not have had a problem with it. As a result of this incident, I feel that they have lost respect, and that the group is not really a team anymore. Some members are more equal than others, and all that...


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#11 GMc

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 13:17

 LubyLu- the answer to this is to recruit a few younger models for support who can sing as well and make an even better back row!    Do not give up - that is letting a small group of bullies win. Small town machinations...have you seen/read The Dressmaker? Made me think of the amdram debacle in that.

 

I belong to a community orchestra which struggled for a long time (ancient conductor with very bad temper) to recruit strings - especially  cellos.  After a very difficult transition (old one not interested in resigning) a new far more talented model came in - himself a professional violinist. String membership rose exponentially as people left similar groups around town to get the wisdom of his advice which he generously gives at rehearsals.   Our problem was that we say on the website grade V and up (which is about Grade 6 ABRSM) and no auditions.  But nearly everyone is far better than that and the repertoire is often pretty tricky.  

 

 

So a new recruit comes into our section who clearly meets the Grade 6 standard.   But no orchestral experience and severe non- verbal (at least with us) ASD.  Cant count/watch conductor and doesn't appear to have any dynamic below forte.  Various stand partners have tried - talking to him, shoving his mute on for him when he forgets it, writing PPP all over bits and circling it wildly.  Usually other people around him drop out or mime  to try and balance things out.    In fact I don't think he uses the music much - he forgot his the other day and was late so alone at the back and he seemed to know all the notes (Sibelius Symphony!).  He has a teacher that various members of the orchestra have had words with -  asking her to do some duets with him and try to up his ensemble skills.  A year later - no change.  Conductor keen to sack him -  understandably -  but our section is not unanimous on this by any means - the majority (including me) said no - we are  after all supposedly "community" and I think this is his only community experience for the week.   There is nothing in our regulations about sacking for lack of talent or insight!  Never a problem when the section went down to 1-2  members for quite some time in the past... but now we are 9.... 


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#12 Norway

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 14:08

That's tricky. I've been next to someone in a group who played so loudly that I couldn't hear any of my own notes and was starting to fear for my hearing. I changed instrument and moved to another section to get over that problem and keep the peace, but that's not really the answer as the group was still very unbalanced.


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#13 Tenor Viol

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 15:07

Some people are utterly oblivious to balance and/or unable to control volume
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#14 sbhoa

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 15:45

Some people are utterly oblivious to balance and/or unable to control volume

Yes and also oblivious to keeping in tempo, but in a truly community group it's about being inclusive. 

If there's more than one on a part it's possible to solve this in more delicate passages by the conductor asking for one on a part.

Some of those people will learn to listen and will be more able to control these things as they learn. Some will never get that level of awareness.


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#15 Norway

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 16:53

Has anyone ever played in a group where an individual or the entire group doesn't think tuning is important/ doesn't realise how out of tune they are? And won't take advice? headdesk.gif


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