Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cake Is A Lie

I was having trouble motivating one of the college groups that I currently direct. They didn’t have the desire or the energy to go and learn the notes on their own, even though I knew they could.
At first I thought they were getting tired of the same songs being rehearsed over and over again, so I tried to give them new repertoire on a weekly basis.
Next, I tried motivating them by taking some of the rehearsal time to listen to great a cappella recordings and watch some groups perform.
Then, I tried forcing them to hang out socially after rehearsal.
Nothing worked. They still had no desire to come in and sing.
I like to think of myself as separate from the group…an overall present force pulling the puppet strings…a GLaDOS if you will.
GLaDOS, for those of you nerds living under a rock, is the main villain of the wildly popular Portal video games. She’s sarcastic, she teases you, and she lies.
The biggest lie that she tells you is that if you complete all of the training exercises, you are rewarded with cake. Yummy, yummy cake.
But as you progress through the game, you begin to realize that perhaps, the cake does not exist. The cake is a lie.
That’s what I promised my group when I helped them form it. I promised them that at the end of a long, torturous rehearsal process, they would be rewarded with a fantastic prize. They would get the chance to put on a concert of their own design and all the hard work and sacrifice would be worth it.
So we put on the concert. And people cheered. And then…nothing.
Wait…what happened? Why did the momentum suddenly drop after a big performance? Why, after knowing the prize ahead, did we suddenly stop caring?
It’s because we directors were GLaDOS. We promised a reward that was never there. We promised (or more appropriately I promised) that after months of hard work, the concert was going to make it all worth it. They would feel like rock stars and the glow would carry them all the way to the next concert.
But I was wrong. One reward isn’t nearly enough. You need multiple rewards to feel satisfied. You may have one slice of yummy cake, but you always crave more.
So learn from my mistakes. Rehearsals are not the motivating factor in an a cappella group. Nobody “likes” to rehearse, and if you like it, you’re not doing it right. Nobody likes putting in the grunt work and the time. Performances are what motivate us to rehearse. Without a goal at the end, rehearsal time is misspent. And I’ve learned that one goal every four months is nowhere near enough to motivate anyone (Choral directors...I'm looking at YOU)
If you really want to educate your group on why a cappella music is awesome, then they need to experience it for themselves, and they need to do it often. One giant reward at the end of four months of slogging through the mud is not enough. You need a giant reward to work towards, and lots of little rewards to keep you motivated.
Don’t promise your group cake. The cake is a lie.
Marc Silverberg
Follow The Quest for the A cappella Major:

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