A few days ago I celebrated my 45th birthday. I'm not big on parties, so this birthday was low key as usual. I received a few phone calls and about a million birthday greetings on Facebook. My Tea for Two partner treated me to lunch. Aside from that, about the only thing I did was win the music director job at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. That was a pretty nice way to celebrate my birthday.
Another finalist and I auditioned by rehearsing the choir. I've stood in front of the Northwest choir many times as a substitute conductor and an interim director, but this was different. My heart was pounding! The choir took a break after the first candidate finished. As I was waiting in the library for my turn on the podium, I overheard someone say "I really liked him." That didn't do much to sooth my nerves. When it was my turn, I did my best NOT to impress or show off. I knew the choir would soon be singing at least one of the audition pieces for a service, so rather than try to dazzle with my brilliant knowledge of whatever, I treated this as a regular rehearsal, with the intention of helping the choir prepare for their first service of the new choir season, regardless of who ultimately got the job.
A couple hours after rehearsal, the committee chairman called me to let me know that the choir enthusiastically endorsed me, and that they would recommend me to the board of trustees, who would then vote yes/no and extend me an offer.
The most visible part of the job will be directing the church choir. Aside from that, I'll oversee all the musical goings on at Northwest, playing for services, scheduling musicians to play on my Sundays off, and helping to plan services.
This is a part time job with a time commitment of 10 hours per week, leaving ample time for music engraving and guitar performance aspirations. There are sacrifices to make. I gave up my guitar chair in the Atlanta Swing Orchestra because they rehearse the same night as choir. I won't be actively recruiting students anymore, although I'll be happy to schedule lessons with anyone who approaches me. It'll be important for me to budget my time so that I only commit to 10 hours per week. This is partly for my own sanity, so I can resist the urge to overcommit, but it's also important for the music director who follows me. It wouldn't be fair for the next director to be expected to work 20 hours a week for 10 hours pay.
This is a new chapter in my musical life, and it's be a prime opportunity for personal growth. While I'm thrilled to get the job, I'm also a little nervous. I've been a freelancer for so long that I haven't had a real job in nearly 15 years! I haven't had to deal much with workplace relationships, because it's just been me sitting at home in a t-shirt for over a decade. Having to answer to more than just my clients will be an adjustment, although I think I'll manage to survive. I'll have buy more than two pairs of dress pants.
This is also a golden opportunity to grow as a musician. I'm a competent choir director, but not a great one. I've had experience and training as an instrumental conductor, but the only formal training I've had as a choir director is a choral conducting class I took as an undergrad at the University of Illinois many moons ago. I've learned quite a lot about choral conducting through observing other good directors, including former Northwest music directors Sarah Dan Jones and Kathy Kelly George, as well as Jerid Morisco, who conducts the Marietta Master Chorale. I've also had experience working with the choir the three times I was interim music director at Northwest. Now that I'm in the position of choir director, I'm about to get a whole lot more experience! I plan to seek out conducting workshops and other opportunities to grow as a choral conductor. I can speak with great authority as an instrumentalist, and I look forward to speaking with the same authority as a choral conductor in the not too distant future.
This blog is called Adventures of a Young Musician for good reason. The past few years have been an adventure as I have pursued excellence as a musician, sought out performance opportunities, and experimented with different projects. Those endeavors will continue, and with this new development, I'll soon have another series of adventures to write about.
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.