Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Everything You’ve Got

During one of my sixth-grade chorus rehearsals earlier this week, I called on a raised hand that obviously had a question behind it, and not a bathroom-break request. (With regard to the bathroom break, I paraphrase the main character in the wonderful musical show I recently blogged about: “whatever you’re asking … the answer is no.”)

I hoped that the young lady’s question was going to have something to do with the topic at hand. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, it did.

“I’m on the track team, and …”

No really, it actually had something to do with what we were dealing with in Chorus that day …

“… our coach said we should save our full-strength work for the actual competition.”

It was one of those questions camouflaged by an assertion. Why don’t we operate like the track team? (I’m going to be a Pollyanna and assume that the subtext of the question wasn’t “why can’t we chat whenever we want?”) And here’s why the question was appropriate:

I had been noting that a few of our rehearsal techniques were probably not going to help us come concert time. That is, admittedly, a gentle way of putting it.

“If you chat while the piano introduction to a tune is going on, not only will you not know what it sounds like, therefore not have any clue about when to start singing … but you’ll get used to chatting during the intro. And when you get on stage, that’s what you’ll do.”

I debated going to one of my favorite Starred Thoughts, the venerable “practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent.”

Instead, I suggested sagely, “If we practice the way we want to perform, we have a prayer of doing well on the actual stage. There are going to be enough things that are different when we finally do get on the stage – you’re blinded by the stage lights, it’s dark out in the house, there are PEOPLE out there, you’re on the risers, there are no ‘re-starts’ – that you don’t want to also be thinking ‘we should have practiced more … we should have practiced harder’. So put everything you have into rehearsing what you want people to be impressed by. So that what you do out there is what you normally do.”

That was when the track coach’s philosophy was invoked.

In that moment, I held to my own philosophy, the better to continue encouraging my sixth-grade singing charges to Not Slack Off. Not that I’m intractable; but these kids, sweet darlings though they were, did not need another excuse to lose focus.

But on the way home, I got thinking.

First, did the track coach really say that? Sometimes the journalistic skills of eleven-year-olds can be a wee bit suspect.

Second, if he did really say that, does that mean that there’s a fundamental difference between the preparation strategies of athletic teams and those of musical ensembles? Or just between his and mine?

It’s true: on occasion during the “final run-through” I have looked at my trumpet section, or my church choir sopranos and tenors, and said something like, “Sing/play wisely; don’t spend it all in one place; it’s going to be a long day.” Sometimes you do have to concede the game, if not the match, to the physical demands of musical performance.

But I got to wondering: as an athlete – which I’m not, which is why I’m asking (maybe not so rhetorically) – if you don’t lay it out there, if you don’t practice “with pads on” at least some of the time …

How do you know what “putting everything you have into it” feels like? How do you know what you need to do, when you need to do it?


March 21, 2014 Posted by | arts, choir, music, sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment