Wooden Wednesdays: Enthusiasm

Note: this is the second of a series of posts investigating the leadership style of John Wooden and its applicability to choral music education.

John Wooden made ENTHUSIASM the second of two cornerstones of his Pyramid of Success.

Here is where John Wooden differentiates hard work from INDUSTRIOUSNESS.

Wooden says, “Hard work is transformed into Industriousness when joined with Enthusiasm.”


Enthusiasm is excitement about the hard work you’re about to do. For me personally, it’s the joy I wake with on Monday mornings, knowing I have a two-hour rehearsal to prepare and run that evening.

Hard work can be enjoyable, but only if your heart is in it. Progress from that hard work can go through the roof if you are enthusiastic about the work being done.

What can be sources of enthusiasm in a choral rehearsal?

  • The music you’re rehearsing. (Don’t program it if you don’t love it.)
  • The people you’re rehearsing with. (Don’t conduct if you can’t see the innate worth of your choristers.)
  • The process. (Don’t tackle a huge challenge if you don’t enjoy being in the weeds, struggling).

In addition to holding yourself to the personal standard of enthusiasm, it’s important to teach enthusiasm to your students. Here’s the lowdown:

EXAMPLE: Be enthusiastic. It can seem “uncool” to show enthusiasm, particularly to teenagers. Show it anyway. Make it cool to have passions, at least in the safe space of your rehearsal space.

EXPECTATIONS: Provide ample opportunities for students to show their enthusiasm. At first, make it wide enough to share all enthusiasms, whether musical or not. Eventually, they will be comfortable enough to be enthusiastic about the music they’re doing.

EXPLANATION: I don’t think it’s as important to define ENTHUSIASM as it is to define INDUSTRIOUSNESS. Students know what enthusiasm feels like, even if they’re aren’t used to showing it in public. Your challenge is to create a safe space for them to be enthusiastic.

One more challenge that Wooden might not have experienced in his particular circumstance. Every basketball game is, at its core, the same: the same rules, the same court, the same players from game to game. Creativity exists within those structures.

In choral music, profound differences might exist from one concert to the next – the particular repertoire programmed, the exact makeup of the choir. It can be hard, in the face of this, to remain universally enthusiastic. If a chorister doesn’t respond to a particular piece, that can turn into two months of flagging enthusiasm. In the face of this, it’s important to draw attention to the big-picture items of the choral process: harmony, intonation, camaraderie, process. If you can encourage enthusiasm in these things, the day-to-day repertoire takes a lower prominence, and students will remain more consistently enthusiastic about their work.

John Wooden is right: day-to-day enthusiasm for my work is what makes it a consistently joyful process that transcends work into industriousness. Our lockstep schooling is almost perfectly designed to disregard enthusiasm as a human trait, making it all the more important that we teach, encourage, and exemplify it in our choral rehearsals.