Monday, February 25, 2013

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose...Right?

The Quarter-final rounds of the ICCAs are almost over. Dreams have been fulfilled...and shattered. Tears have been shed. Voices have been lost. Complaints have been tweeted.
I’d like to draw your attention to a television show that illustrates this point very well, one that I’m sure you’ve criminally never watched, Friday Night Lights. The basic premise revolves around a high school football team and the ENORMOUS pressure they are put under to win.
Without spoiling anything (seriously…go watch this show…) I almost feel as if there are a cappella groups out there who put this kind of pressure on themselves, or receive pressure from their peers to take home the ICCA gold. (Why are you still reading this blog…the show is FREE on Netflix)
Let’s do the unthinkable and start a dialogue…Is it better to compete or not to compete? (Kyle Chandler won an Emmy...go watch him be awesome)
1) If I were to invent an equation that would equal success in a competition, it would be the following:
(Drive to win) + (Hunger for success) + (Diligent work ethic) + (Visually stunning) + (Priority given to musicality) + (Group cohesiveness) + (Dumb luck)= WIN!
Unfortunately, this is the equation I tend to see at competitions:
(Hunger for success) + (Dumb Luck)= Praying for the win
This is a complicated equation, and some groups have still never found the ICCA success they’ve been looking for. The point is, if you want to win, your set must reflect this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
The equation for success
Pro- This could really motivate your group to advance to the next level
Con- If your group is happier not competing, then this equation could be your group’s downfall.
2) The Next Step
Nobody tends to think past the immediate competition, but it’s a very important decision and for an obsessive-compulsive like me, the next step is key. There are three possible outcomes:
Outcome 1- You win a quarter-final or semi-final competition.
Congrats! You won! Now what…
You have to know that the next step will be twice as difficult as the last. Winning the quarter-finals means you’ll now be competing against…winners of the quarter-finals, so your “A game” needs to go to an "A+ game." Take the judges comments seriously. They are only trying to motivate you.
Outcome 2- You win the final round.
Congrats! You are the champions! Now what…
Does it make sense to go and defend your title? What did winning the whole competition do for your career? Your credibility? Did it help you reach new heights of musicality? Did you make life-long friends? Did you book bigger and better gigs? Couldn’t you have done all those things without winning the ICCAs?
From my perspective, the title of champion really only comes with one great prize…pride. ICCA champion doesn’t get you a record deal, a significant cash prize, or a legion of fans who will swear you are the greatest. It gives you an internal prize- one that lets you bask in your hard work, team unity, and school pride.
Outcome 3- You lose.
Okay. You’ve lost…Now what?
Let’s say for a moment that the ICCA was your single, motivating goal for the last few months. Now the competition is over and there’s nothing new on the horizon. What do you do? Give up and call the semester a wash?
You learn from it. You analyze what you did right and what you did wrong. And you keep singing.
Does losing hurt? As someone who has lost a lot, I can say with experience that yes, it hurts. No one is denying you the chance to be hurt, angry, sad, etc.
But you need to let it go and you need to use it as fuel for the fire. Losing a competition shouldn’t create rivalries, bitter feelings, or shame. You are singing a cappella music. You are participating in the single greatest form of musical expression (in my opinion) EVER! You are part of the evolution that will one day be studied and documented. Regardless of how well you did or how well you didn’t do, no one can take away the fact that you are a worthwhile musician.
The moral here is, whether you win or lose, the competition should teach you something about working hard, singing beautifully, and improving your performance. If the only drive to win is to “bathe in blood of your defeated adversaries,” maybe competing is not for you.
The outcome of the competition
Pro- You could learn your most valuable lesson from either winning or losing.
Con- Losing sucks, plain and simple.
3) Develop a Thick Shell
Now we come to the hard question…How harsh should judges be at competitions?
Here’s my opinion. If you are going to put yourself out there to compete in a national competition, whether it be the ICCAs, the ICHSAs, the Harmony Sweeps, American Idol, X-Factor, The Voice, etc., then you have to be able to be criticized harshly.
Judges can sometimes be harsh and mean. But beneath the scathing comments, there are some very useful suggestions. Remember, this is a competition. And like a football game (have you watched the show yet?) there is a winner and a loser. And the spirit of competition sometimes gets the better of us, to the point where we let our emotions overtake the rationality that we were just not ready to win.
There is a stark difference between reality singing shows and a cappella competitions. Television shows don’t care about fair. They care about ratings. They will deliberately put someone on camera who sings off key, because they know you will be talking about it the next day. So if we watch enough of these shows, we begin to make the connection that losing a competition means we’re only as talented as the off-key singer whom everyone is laughing at.
But this is totally untrue. A cappella competitions are not televised. Ratings don’t matter. And speaking from experience, the producers care if you have a good time, because in the end, the evolution of a cappella music is all we really care about. Just because you get some negative critique does not mean you are ever being laughed at, mocked, or degraded.
Pro- Competitions give you the necessary feedback to improve your overall group.
Con- Negative criticism hurts, and it takes years of experience and patience to read between the lines of negativity to find the constructive critique.
There are pros and cons to competition. The next time you compete, think about all the factors in advance. And watch Friday Night Lights.
Marc Silverberg
Follow the Quest for the A cappella Major

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