Monthly Archives: March 2016

Music Behind the Madness

I can see two new Kindles, boxed; a cut glass relish tray; six scarves, hand knitted; a fancy black teapot; a form from a fellow with a vacation place in New Hampshire; gift cards from Trader Joe’s; and a basket of children’s books. And that’s without turning my head. I’m not a hoarder—it’s auction season.

The donation deadline for the Fairfax Choral Society silent auction gala is just days away, and the goods are piling up faster than I can enter them in my spreadsheet, write descriptions (“Treat yourself to a new hair style for summer!”), photograph them, and send the info to my volunteers who upload it online. It’s a ton of work, and a lot of it is fussy. And annoying. Not to mention that I’ll be working on the setup for the event and being the point person for the college kids I booked to perform Shakespeare improv that night.

It makes me crazy, so why do I do it?

It’s partly for selfish reasons: I love to sing and I love to sing with the Fairfax Choral Society. My chorus needs money and I am good at cheerleading people into giving, organizing stuff, making it look enticing, and cajoling my friends to attend.

But it’s also for bigger reasons. I want other people to have the chance to sing great music with excellent conductors. I want adults (120 of us at last count) to have a symphonic chorus that works on pieces like Aaron Coplands’s very tricky “In the Beginning.” I want kids across my county (250+ at the moment) to get to learn about singing and sing in a strong chorus, near their home, that challenges them and plants the seeds of love for music. Music is good for us—that’s a fact.

Wooster Chorus seniors in 1990.

I have always been a singer. I can still whip out the harmonies to songs from fourth grade—“I hear a forest praying,” anyone? The best singing time of my life was my years at the College of Wooster, where I sang with the Wooster Chorus (that’s some of us, above). We rehearsed four afternoons a week, sang everything from memory (trust me, when you rehearse four times a week, you know that Bach cantata cold), and spent spring breaks on tour. Rather than partying in a beach town, we rode buses, sang in churches and concert halls, and slept at the homes of generous strangers. And it was magical.

Once I graduated, I discovered, to my sorrow, that immersion in making music together like that just doesn’t happen for adults who are not professional musicians. No adult chorus can rehearse four nights a week. In spite of this, we carry on, we who love to sing and who know personally all the good that singing brings to our lives—the breathing, the being together, the intense focus, the music itself.

I want more people to have music in their lives. That’s why I’m surrounded by the stuff for a silent auction, and it is worth every bit of the effort.

Your Professional Words: 7 Tips for Looking Good

Words matter. Every communication that you send—e-mails, letters, reports—influences others’ impressions of you, for better or for worse. We keep this in mind when we’re interviewing for jobs, but we tend to become less careful over time. We’re busy, we’re working quickly, and maybe we don’t have someone on hand to run an eye over our words before they go out into the world.

Your words matter.Some of the shortest and simplest work I do for clients is also some of the most important. I call this service document review. I read over clients’ important e-mails, proposal cover letters, or PowerPoint presentations and make sure the grammar, spelling, and punctuation is correct. Do their plurals and singulars agree? Are their commas in the right places? Did they leave out a word?

Without getting paralyzed by worry that your grammar is making you look unprofessional, you can take some easy steps to feel confident about your writing—both in everyday work and for more important projects.

  1. Read it out loud. They tell the kids that in middle school and it works for any of us: if you want to catch a wording error, read that e-mail or letter right out loud.
  2. Don’t try to be fancy. Use simple language and make your points clearly. If your sentence goes on and on, break it up into separate sentences. Impressive words won’t make you look smart if you use them incorrectly.
  3. Curb your enthusiasm. Use exclamation points sparingly (and only one at a time!) and save emojis, text smiley faces, and LOL for Facebook.
  4. Read over your titles. Now do it one more time, slowly. So often, even professional editors miss obvious errors in titles, headings, headlines, teasers, or captions. Double-check everything—and read it out loud just to be sure.
  5. Make a style cheat sheet for yourself. Do you regularly misspell certain words? (I can never get recommend or embarrass right the first time.) Are there rules you can’t remember? (One Post-it on my desk says “Toward not towards.”) Look them up, write them down, and keep the list where you can see it. Spell check helps, but it won’t catch everything.
  6. Apostrophes cause trouble for a lot of people. Here’s a handy (and funny) guide to using them.
  7. If you need help, hire an editor to put together a short style guide (or cheat sheet) just for you. Have him or her read through a few of your letters, e-mails, or other short items you’ve written, note your common errors, and make a list for your reference. And for those times when a project really matters, working with an editor can help your writing shine.

I hope these steps will make you more confident in the writing your business requires and help your words work for you rather than against you.