These past few weeks have been a whirlwind for all of us, I'm sure. The start of school, a new year, new classes, some new teachers, a fairly large unfinished structure hulking over all of us just waiting to be finished and utilized next year, oh, and auditions for a new a cappella program. All in all, it's been quite a September!
Many of you have spent the past few weeks agonizing over numerous questions revolving around the a cappella program: Will there be cuts? How many groups will there be? What will the group's name be? Will there be cuts? What kind of music will we sing? When will we rehearse? Will there be cuts? I'm hoping that most, if not all, of these questions have been answered over the past week. But I also hope that you now have new questions, possibly the most important one of all being: "Ok, I'm in an a cappella group...now what?"
Allow me to offer a few suggestions as you enter this week's schedule of first-rehearsals, first-meetings, first-discussions, first-warmups, first-arrangements, and other "firsts":
Commit & Show Up
Contrary to what you might think, the easy part's over. Now the real work begins. You know that old saying about how 50% of life is showing up? Or maybe it's 75%...percentages vary depending and you get my point, I'm sure. The bottom line is that the groups' successes depend on YOU showing up to every rehearsal. Sure, things come up, people get sick, family emergencies spring up suddenly much to our despair, but YOU know the difference between an emergency and an inconvenience. Your presence at rehearsals is essential, not just from a musical standpoint, but a personal standpoint as well. Part of being in an a cappella ensemble is the collaborative aspect of putting 12-16 different voices together in a room and making them harmonize, not just musically, but personally and logistically as well. If one voice is missing from that work on a regular basis it's almost impossible to find any kind of rhythm or groove with each other because we're constantly trying to catch people up, or fill people in, or re-teach things that have already been taught.
In short, one of the first things you need to do is commit to the group you're in and show up.
Not all of us are public speakers, natural leaders, or feel comfortable being the contrarian in the room. However all of us have an opinion that is valid, important, and needs to be heard. Being the silent person in a group is sometimes safer, or may seem easier, but your opinion may be the one thing people need to hear to take a musical moment to the next level, or prevent the group's choreo from near disaster. People may not always agree with you, and you may not always feel your opinions are adopted after they are attempted, but without being an active participant and contributing you're not a member of the group, you're just a passive observer.
All of us come at this experience from different places, different skill levels, different perspectives, and different motivations. Not everyone is singing for the same reasons and not everyone intuits creativity as well as others. For that reason staying open-minded, flexible, and kind is essential for our success. It's easy to watch a reality-TV show and assume that to get a certain product you have to demand and expect results, but remember that reality TV is the product of hours of production, editing, and careful selection of moments to show the public. In a lot of ways it isn't really reality at all...it's sort of a manufactured reality. At the end of the day the best ensembles have people who have mutual respect for what they do and see things from multiple peoples' perspectives.
This goes without saying, but one of the reasons we all sing is because it evokes feelings within us that we want to communicate to other people (usually our audience). Without the ability to communicate this way, many of us feel as if there would be a void left within us impossible to fill with anything else. Therefore it is essential that you go into every rehearsal passionate about singing and completely unwilling to accept anything from anyone that doesn't evoke or express some kind of emotion! Remember that, above all else, music is about communication and expression. Talent, skill, theory, history...these are all important elements to a solid musical foundation, but if you're not saying anything when you sing, well...then you're not saying anything.