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Magic Choral Trick #247 The Game of Excellence

This is an email I wrote to a member of my men’s Barbershop chorus, when he asked me why I continue to be optimistic when the guys are still not doing everything we’ve worked on.

It’s a hot topic right now, because both the men’s and women’s Barbershop competitions will soon be upon us – which gives both choruses a focal point for some self evaluation.

In any group, there are always well developed bad singing habits – and it can take a while to turn those habits around.

The secret is to view the development of excellence as a lifelong and really wonderful challenge – a game really. As long as we are working towards excellence, the game is fun, and absolutely worth playing. It does take a willingness to embrace change – change in the physical way of doing things, and change in the mental processes.

I do this because I love the game of the pursuit of excellence. And as long as I have friends who want to play the same game, it doesn’t matter to me where we are on the continuum. (If my sons are anything to go by, video games have tapped into this basic human need for the thrill of striving.)

I think my men’s chorus is now singing at about the “C” judging level. Much of the time, we’re mid C, sometimes we’re low C and sometimes there are flashes of something truly lovely, which would be closer to a high C or low B level.

The judges will tell us this. They’ll also share with us the revelation that we need to make all the good habits more consistent.

I think it was when the judges told my women’s chorus, for about the 16th year in a row (under my direction), that we needed to be more consistent, that something finally kicked in and every individual started working as if excellence were really important. Not surprisingly, that was the turning point for membership numbers too. Four years later we continue to reap the rewards of the non stop focus and hard work.

We built it, and they came. And perhaps not coincidentally the women won the regional championship last year for the first time in their 42 year history.

They have no superstars – no Harmony Queens, and no regional champion quartets (yet). Exactly as the Harmony Inc. slogan puts it “Ordinary Women, Making Extraordinary Music”

This is all possible for every chorus or choir. Everyone just has to want it enough, and to recognize the true value of the work.

Competitions really help with this – but therein lies the paradox.

When all is said and done, how you place in the competition, and the marks you’ll get, really matters for months beforehand, and then for about half an hour afterwards. What you realize afterwards was that it was actually the flat out, no holds barred striving – all of us together – for a common goal, that made a huge difference to the quality of our lives.

And THAT’S why I do this.

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