How to become excellent
There is a gospel tune that has the hook line: Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.
In choral performance, everybody wants to get better, but nobody wants to change.
This is partly about comfort zone of course: it’s just easier to keep doing what you’ve always done. But I think that understates the significance of the problem to people’s personal experience. What you’ve always done is a big part of how you understand who you are. Changing your vocal and musical habits undermines your identity; it’s scary, even if the change is for the better.
I think this is what is meant by the phrase ‘the excellent is the enemy of the good’, which I always used to find a bit cryptic. In order to become excellent you have to actively abandon behaviours and attitudes that got you to being good. As my friend Toby Balsley put it: the techniques that get you to an 85 will prevent you getting to a 95.
I’ve written longer and more developed posts on change – as it is so fundamental to the rehearsal process in particular and to excellence in general – but today I want just to suggest one way to help people embrace change. That is, acknowledge that it is scary, but reframe that as an adventure, as something exciting and fun, like sky-diving or a rollercoaster. (Actually, I’m a terrible physical coward – I like indoor sky-diving, but I’d rather take a choral rehearsal than ride a rollercoaster any day :-)
To become excellent, we need to experience the rehearsal as spiritual bungee-jumping.