Share Your Insights

Too many people worry that their insights aren’t worth sharing.

Don’t worry about that. Worry that if you don’t share your insights, someone else may never learn them.

Share what you know, as often as you can.

Specific Reunions

Are reunions a thing anymore? College reunions can be pretty meaningless for a graduating class of thousands: who do you really know from the class? And as we move through college, our close connections are more likely developing across classes, based on common interest, rather than based simply on age.

That’s why I love specific reunions. Reunions that transcend a particular graduating class, to celebrate the common bond of a particular activity.

It can be a choral reunion, a reunion based on departmental anniversary (50th anniversary of the Latin department!), or a social society reunion. These are more special for the attendees, and mean more than the glorified donation-requests of many institutional reunions.

I’m not going to attend my 20th College Reunion. But I wouldn’t miss to catch up with my fellow Gold Company Alumni this weekend, as the vocal jazz group celebrates its 40th Anniversary. GC40 is a reunion that I can get behind.

Fired Up

Music students should receive written warning when their teachers are coming back from a conference.



Don’t worry, students: we’ll settle back into usual routines and energy levels soon. We’re just so excited about all the amazing ideas, performances, and connections we’ve just made.

Looking the Other Way

Wanting to win can be a powerful influence. It can make you want to look the other way.

You could look the other way on student health, institutional failures, ethical oversights. You can look the other way in small ways and massive ways. You can look the other way intentionally or not, benignly or malignantly.

Wanting to win is that powerful. There are daily news updates about the man whose unconscionable behavior was overlooked by people who wanted to win. They might not believe they overlooked it intentionally, but the drive to win blinded them. And while athletic competition is the most likely place to see this kind of oversight, it’s equally present in all other competitive fields: politics, business, and, yes, music.

It’s why I am so glad that virtually all of my choral experiences festival experiences have been non-competitive. In a non-competitive festival, such as MSVMA choral festivals or the World Choir Games, every choir can achieve the highest rating by meeting objective criteria. Of course, special honors can be given to the most-outstanding choirs heard, but there are no ranking lists, no “winners.”

I’m glad that the motivation to win is not on my mind or on the mind of my students, because I know that I, like everyone else, am susceptible to the failures that come when pursuing a win.

I don’t want to look the other way and fail my students. That kind of failure is not worth success in any other realm of life.

Make Notes Right Away

Make notes right away.

When you’ve just wrapped a project, don’t wait to recover before making notes on what you could have done better, what you’ll change for next time, what you thought went well. Make them now, while you’re still exhausted.

While you’re still in it.

Wait a couple of days (that often turn into a couple of weeks), and suddenly the details aren’t as fresh. What plans worked, and what approaches needed the slightest tweaks, are no longer fresh in your mind.

Wait and risk not capitalizing on the knowledge you just gained.

Make those notes now, and be rewarded later when your next project benefits from all the perspective you have right now.

Knowing You Can’t Catch It All

Conferences always offer too many good sessions. You can’t possibly catch everything of interest to you – particularly if you are also using a conference as a chance to catch up, debrief, and share insights with your colleagues from across the state or country.

It’s easy to be frustrated with this truth, though. “If only they hadn’t scheduled these back to back!” “Why didn’t they make it a three-day conference?” “I don’t have time to eat!”

Frustration doesn’t get you anywhere, though. And when you simply acknowledge the truth that you can’t catch it all, you are freed to choose carefully, with attention to your own state and needs.

Once you know you can’t catch it all, you can stop trying to. Then, you get more out of the conference because you’re experiencing the parts you most want to, and you are freeing your headspace of negativity and stress.

There’s a lot of the Michigan Music Conference I will miss this year. That’s OK, though – I trust my choices.

Honor Choir Goals

What do you hope high school students take with them when they finish an honor choir experience?

Here’s some of the things I hope for:

  • A transcendent musical experience of higher caliber than they can have day-to-day.
  • Social connections that continue to strengthen.
  • A sense of what’s possible in music, and how their life might include music in the future.
  • The deep tiredness that comes from immersing yourself in the hard work of making music.
  • Stories to tell.
  • A desire to do it again.

What about you?

OK With Not Knowing

Doing something for the first time requires you to be OK with not knowing.

  • You don’t know where potential pitfalls are.
  • You don’t know what you’re overprepared for, and what you’re underprepared for.
  • You don’t know what obvious mistake you made in your preparation – the first thing you’ll change for next time.
  • You don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, and how the other participants will view the experience.

Being OK with not knowing these things doesn’t mean you don’t prepare. You prepare more the first time, because you try to cover every possible base. Even so, never forget that there are things that are impossible to know, and prepare to react to them when they arise.

Right Place at the Right Time and Ready

We say “I was in the right place at the right time.” But that’s only two of the three elements you need to succeed. You also have to be ready.

All of the stuff we teach and learn: personal responsibility, historical knowledge, reading of literature, to-do list management, music theory, physical fitness.

We don’t teach them because they will help you achieve. We teach them because they will help you be ready.

Right place. Right time. Ready.

Connect with all three, and you’re all set. Have just two, and you’ll never reach your dreams.

Struggle and Balance

There is this paradox of us – of our species – that we do come more alive when we struggle. Boy, there’s a real balance in talking about this, because you don’t want to glorify struggle. Because in these situations, whether it’s an oppressive country, or a war, there are many people who don’t make it through. There are many casualties. But it also awakens the poets and the prophets in us.

– Krista Tippett on The Ezra Klein Show

Finding this balance is the job of every teacher, and I think it’s especially difficult for choral educators.

On the one hand, you want to push your students to achieve their potential. Drive them to make more and better music than they thought they could. You want to awaken the future musicians and set them on their road to achievement.

On the other hand, you do not want casualties. You don’t want students to leave music behind because they don’t make it through the struggle.

I understand that these stakes are not comparable to the struggle of East Germans during the Cold War, which she was discussing, or the Rohingya refugee crisis in Southeast Asia now. Compared to the humanitarian, political, and social crises around the world, we’re talking small potatoes.

And yet. There are small tragedies every time a choral educator fails at finding this balance. On the one side, students can have their musical flame extinguished through too much struggle. On the other hand, future musical leaders might never reach their potential without a struggle to clarify their art.

Where do you fall on this balance? Who is best served by the balance you choose?