Behold Jim Fetzer, Milwaukee’s “Chocolate N@zi.” He’s an artist who requires that people treat his passion with the respect it deserves.
And he’s not always nice about it, either. Some of the more interesting quirks about Jim and his Northern Chocolate Company store:
- If you’re wearing fur, you’re not allowed in.
- You have to take off your shoes when you come inside on a snowy day, or you’ll be handed a towel and mop so you can clean up your mess.
- Don’t expect free samples. Don’t even ask. And don’t ask for discounts for buying in bulk, either. You will be told you should have called ahead. Useless to inquire about a website; there isn’t one. (He’s a self-proclaimed Luddite.)
- Handle the cellophane-wrapped molded chocolates in the display baskets with care. If you drop or mishandle one and it cracks or breaks, you bought it. In general, keep your mitts off and respect the choco-art. Treat the pieces as if they were on display at a museum.
- Only eight people are allowed in the store at one time. There’s only one employee (the owner), and eight customers is all he feels comfortable handling. The door stays locked. If you’re customer #9 and it’s 5 degrees below zero outside, bring your parka, because you’re waiting on the sidewalk. No exceptions.
- He will win every argument about his policies, because he knows his business and he doesn’t care what you think about how he runs it. He’s not there to kowtow to the public.
This is a delightful — if slightly dichotomous — oddity to me. I am often characterized as somewhat of a tyrant in the rehearsal room, and I bristle at this label because I deal with subject matter that is extremely open and inviting and personal and meaningful (choral music), and tyranny and artistic slavery really have no place in that scheme. However, other, more important issues prevail.
Like Mr. Fetzer, I offer a service (high school choir) of which people may choose to avail themselves, or not. In other words, it’s an elective course: like Fetzer’s chocolate-buying customers, singers choose me, not the other way around. And while there is always wiggle room for discussion and new idea submissions, choir rehearsal is unlike a literature or current events class, where open discourse is encouraged. Hence, I just might be justified (or at least not alone) in my borderline-authoritarian rules, which are not dissimilar to the Chocolate N@zi’s:
- I do only one thing really well: this. That’s why you have to trust that I’m doing right by you. Don’t, as a 15-18-year-old, try to tell me my business. I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive.
- If you don’t like the way I run the railroad, don’t sign up for the class. I know I’m not everyone’s favorite flavor.
- No one argues. Ever. If I tell you to be quiet, then you will be quiet. If not, you can sacrifice your after-school practices and plans and come see me for an hour instead.
- If you don’t like one of the pieces we’re rehearsing, fine — but I don’t want to hear you yammer on about it like a whining, mewling, diseased feral cat.
- Give the music the respect it deserves. Or else walk.
- This little world is not a democracy. When the student-teacher ratio is 90-1, there can be only one boss.
These rules occasionally cost me “sales.” Moreover, my singers, by-and-large, do not talk to me much; most can’t separate the dictator behind the piano from the basically easygoing, nice (I hope) person who loves classic rock and jazz, and is somebody’s Grammie. So yeah, there’s a price to pay for my militant discipline policy. But it’s all right. My hope is that the students who do stick it out in my program are honest when many of them share with me that in spite of the strict rules, they had a great experience in choir, replete with memories that will last them a good long time. For other students, I’m sure they’re glad they jumped ship when they had the chance.
I’m also not saying that my way is the only way to run a successful program. I’m just saying it works for me, and my modus operandi is a continued risk I’m willing to take. I hold to the maxim of “respect the art, and you can participate in the decadent experience.” Don’t touch stuff. Don’t make a mess. Behave. Defer. Do all that, and the beauty will have an open stage for its grand entrance.
Otherwise, no chocolate for you!