Monday, April 16, 2012

You're My A cappella Lobster

Kudos to BOSS. I attended the festival this weekend and was very impressed with the organization, content, and performances. If you missed it, you should make every effort to go next year, as this will become a great tradition in the canon of a cappella festivals.

Special mention should go to the University of Chicago Voices in Your Head. Their arrangement of “Titanium” was one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen. And a moment they shared on stage is the focus of this week’s rant.

After winning the BOSS competition, Voices in Your Head were given the opportunity to open the Saturday night professional showcase. At the end of their number, the MC presented them with their championship trophy…a small plastic lobster. As clever as this moment was, this was actually the moment in the festival that resonated with me the most. No, not because I have a strange sense of humor…though I do. I was reminded at this moment of one of my favorite television quotes:

“You’re his lobster!”- Pheobe from Friends

This particular line refers to love- two soul mates (in this case Ross and Rachel) are destined to be together- because lobsters mate for life. A bizarre reference to compare to a cappella, I know, but take a moment to answer these questions:

-Is your group made of lobsters- in that everyone fits and every rehearsal gels as if every group member was meant to be together?
-Are your rehearsals run effectively and smoothly? Does actual work get done?
-Is there drama between two people who would rather talk about someone behind their back than to them?

I posit this suggestion- If you don’t feel like every member in your group is a lobster, then something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. And rather than dwell over the drama, open up a calm, rational, and friendly dialogue with the group that addresses these concerns. Here are some suggestions:

- Don’t become emotional. Anger, depression, and frustration lead to saying the wrong thing without thinking.
-Organize your thoughts before you say them. Be concise.
-Educate your group- Show them examples of what you are talking about by playing videos of other groups on youtube, reading testimonies from people who you’ve emailed, or listen to groups who embody the characteristics that you are looking for.
-Talk to the person who is the problem, not behind their back.

In one of the many workshops, I overheard one student ask the following question:
“What do you when one member of your group is not as committed as everyone else? You have a performance and she can’t make it because of dinner plans that she could have easily cancelled and you can’t be angry with her because she’s a good friend?”

An all too common problem in collegiate groups, I imagine. I’ve been in a few groups and this problem has occurred in every one of them. I argue that if this problem exists, the overall issue lies far deeper than this one incident. A group needs a leader, and a leader needs to decide how the group will run. Are you a democratic leader, a dictator, or a mix of both?

Pros: Every person has an equal voice. If a choice is made that some disagree with, you as the leader do not get the full force of the grumbling, because it wasn’t your decision, it was the group’s. Majority always wins, so every decision is made with the majority of the group’s intentions in mind.

Cons: Much like this countries congress, decisions take FOREVER. Every suggestion has a system of checks and balances, and unless a decision is unanimous (which it will be 0.000000000000000001% of the time) someone is going to fight for their idea and delay making the decision that much longer. Oh, and don’t even start me on song selections- yikes.

Pros: One person, one decision. You like it or you leave. If the leader of your group is a knowledgeable dictator with tons of a cappella experience, you can bet that the decisions they make will almost always be good ones. If your group leader is a sensitive person, then every decision will be made with the group’s intentions in mind.

Cons: More than likely, your leader is probably a jerk. What he/she says goes, and he/she probably has no idea what he/she is doing. Plus, group members are not group members, they are subordinates, so the dynamic is not a “friends first” atmosphere- it’s a “you’re here to get work done and get out” atmosphere.

Mix of both- the best solution

Consider the way our country is run. Congress doesn’t control the temperature, the president does. The most effective leader is one that guides- he/she imposes his desires, delegates tasks, and allows decisions to be shared. It would be wonderful to strike a balance where one person is in charge but everyone feels they can contribute. You as the leader have to decide which choices can be made by yourself, and which can be made by the group.

If every decision is made by everyone, nothing gets done. If every decision is made by one person, a lot more grumbling occurs and a revolution will most likely occur. You have to decide what your group leader is in charge of, and your group has to understand and accept the fact that every group needs a decisive leader who is sensitive to the group’s intentions.

This particular model is the one I’ve found the most success with. The group is happier, they actually want to come to rehearsal, and they feel like everyone is a “lobster.”

I don’t eat lobster. I go to Red Lobster for the cheese biscuits….mmm…

Marc Silverberg

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