Today the Boston Globe printed a Letter to the Editor that my wife and I wrote in response to their front page article about our chorus.
The letter reads:
Your article on James Burton and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus was disappointingly one-sided. Your quotes from choristers came mostly from those who have left the chorus, all of whom are naturally hypercritical of James Burton’s approach to this transition. The article suggests that their inflammatory language (“snarky,” “rude,” “insulting,” “condescending,” “toxic”) is representative of the chorus’s reaction as a whole.
If you had dug beyond spurned choristers eager to avenge themselves by embarrassing the organization, you would have found many choristers who strongly disagree with these characterizations. We believe that James sincerely wants to make the Chorus the best it can be. He is a brilliant musician and communicates what he wants concisely. He makes singing exciting and fun, and many of us find rehearsals an absolute delight. While there’s consensus that the communication of audition results needs improvement, we believe the audition process and requirements are on par with what other choruses of this caliber ask of their singers. We enjoy singing with James as much, if not more than, any other conductor we’ve worked with.
Jeff and Katherine Foley
The writers have been members of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus since 1998 and 2000, respectively.
My last post (“Transitions and Trust“) was an olive branch asking all of us to find a way forward. This letter, however, is a direct rebuttal of the original article’s portrayal of the situation, to inform bystanders who might otherwise believe it’s truly management vs chorus. It is not. It takes a lot to get me upset, but to see an organization which I care about, and can hopefully continue to perform with, get that unbalanced treatment publicly… well, it reminded me that unlike in other situations, there’d be no bravery in silence. We decided it was worth the risks of alienating disgruntled members and any accusations of sycophancy. We’re not trying to convince other chorus members. Most have already decided — they’re either looking for a way forward together or they’ve already “flipped the bit.”
Meanwhile, another letter to the editor appeared, in the Berkshire Eagle, from Ronny Feldman, a conductor and cellist with the BSO. Its conclusion:
…the choral director, James Burton, and the BSO management handled the new audition policy clumsily, with little regard to the consequences of treating devoted members so shabbily.
Dealing with orchestra members is the single most important responsibility of every conductor. A 300-member chorus is no different. I learned this valuable lesson at the beginning of my conducting career. James Burton is a seasoned, well-traveled choral conductor. He should have known better.
After digesting the first letter, readers may be surprised to learn that I completely agree with this letter. Don’t mistake my proffered praise of James’ conducting style, musicality, and character with a defense for the proceedings. As I detailed earlier, whether intentionally or not, the management team broke the group’s trust. It’s just as Ronny Feldman described in his letter with his story about abruptly not re-hiring three orchestra members:
The decision reverberated throughout the entire orchestra. The relationship was never the same.
I’m hoping that, properly chastened in private and in the media, the BSO management team will take steps to correct these errors and rebuild the relationship between them and the volunteers who make up the chorus.