At the outset, let me say how encouraged I was to those who read my first blog entry and wrote a response. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I so enjoyed hearing from you even if you disagreed with me!! I had quite a few ideas floating around in my head for this next blog, but decided upon sharing a story with you, instead.
Recently, I was listening to a conductor of a national all-state high school band during the band’s final performance as he addressed the audience which was mostly filled with parents, friends, and family members of the very talented performers. He began by comparing athletics to music, a daring move. In baseball, a .300 batting average is considered very good; (that’s getting a hit fewer than 1 out of 3 times at bat…). In football, if you’re not successful in scoring a touchdown, you get to punt the ball, and if you stop the opposing team on their next try, you get the ball punted back to you to try again. In basketball, there is a bench of reserve players waiting to come in if a certain player commits a foul or just isn’t getting the job done. As a member of a performing ensemble, we do not have these luxuries. At our performances, we have to get it right…the first time. There are no times out, no reserve performers waiting to come in “off the bench” – no second chances. He admonished the audience that music performance demands perfection…the first time. He then went on to compare music to academics, yet another daring move. He noted that in most academic classes, 95% would get you an “A” grade. He then asked the band to perform an excerpt from an arrangement of Shenandoah playing only 95% of the notes correctly. It sounded like a train wreck! He then stated, “And that would get you an “A” in most, if not all, classes.” Who would want to listen to a band or choir which performed 5% of the notes incorrectly? Who would want to be part of such an ensemble? What a sobering thought!
The fact of the matter is that music performance, whether choral or instrumental, is indeed something which stretches performers in ways that academics and athletics simply cannot. First, it requires usage of both sides of the brain, simultaneously. Second, it is a “team” activity, but it’s also an art form, again simultaneously. One could argue that catching a 50-yard pass is also an art form, but it is only one person who has to catch the ball, not the entire team. Because music performance demands perfection, our mindset as performers cannot be just one of athletics or academics. It must be athletic, academic, AND artistic. When this occurs, music then makes life more beautiful, more meaningful, and more fulfilling in ways other disciplines alone cannot, both to consumer and performer.
Recently, I was adjudicating a choral festival, and it was my turn to work with the performing choir in a clinic situation. When I arrived in the room, the choir singers were waiting impatiently and seemed to be somewhat unfocused. I worked with them, trying to improve several aspects of their performance, but there seemed to be little enthusiasm toward that end. I then asked, “How many of your math teachers are required to take their math classes to a competition where the class must work as a whole, solve problems, and be rated on the level of their success? How about your science teachers? English teachers?” I then stated, “But, this is what your choir director has to do with you! Your success is a reflection on you, your choral program, your school, your community, and your conductor. What you and your director work toward IS special and requires a tremendous amount of effort, dedication, and commitment….from everyone, if it is going to be a performance of which to be proud!” They got it! The fire was lighted!
What we do in LACS is special too! Choral music requires each individual to do his/her part to the very best of his/her ability. The continuation of the choral standard for which we set day in and day out, performance after performance, and year after year is at stake. It is not an option for us to “hit .300,” or to have the mindset that 95% is good enough. As we move closer to the first concert of this 31st season, I urge you to let the fire be lighted in you to strive for your very best. Singers in your section and I are expecting this of you. The legendary, late choral conductor, Howard Swan, wrote in his book, The Conscience of a Profession, “Only the best is good enough.” I interpret this to be my best and your best…after all, this IS a team activity…one in which we all count on each other because there is no “bench.”