How to become excellent

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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.

I was delighted to come across an example of this when I did my numeracy test last month: at school in maths examinations I'd always get a score out of 100 from the low to high 80s, and wasn't bothered about doing better, while my teachers were. Revisiting that, I could see how inefficient the arithmetical skills I was using were and had always been, but that this had never been so much of a problem because I was both inefficient and quick! So I wondered how much quicker I'd be if I learnt those skills more thoroughly... et voilà.

Spiritual bungee-jumping is, of course, why I love sight-singing so much.

Love the analogies!! Will take this concept to chorus on Wednesday and see how the bungee jumping idea goes down!

Thanks for such informative and inspiring blogs Liz

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