Stephanie Schumacher

Today I’m tasked with writing about “the spectrum of success in our ensembles.” I think we can all agree that we are talking about a WIDE spectrum here. So, in an attempt to narrow my focus, I turned to good old Merriam-Webster and this is what I found:

success (səkˈsɛs): noun

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

I’m a planner. A list-maker. I take great satisfaction in checking the little boxes on my to-do list, whether it’s chores around the house, running errands, or planning and executing my rehearsals. So naturally, the part of this dictionary definition that resonates with me the most is “the accomplishment of one’s goals.”

In my choir rehearsals, I always have the “plan” on the projector screen behind me and rarely deviate from the plan (that’s my type-A side shining through). But in recent years, instead of just posting the “plan,” I’ve started posting goals, too. What has grown out of that habit is my singers giving their input on what our goals should be. Now they’re truly OUR goals, and not ones that I’ve imposed upon them. And what’s really exciting about OUR goals is we work together as a team to reach them. Achieving mini goals throughout the rehearsal process brings lots of “mini-successes” along the way.

This is all fine and good for goals such as “memorize pages 1-5,” or “unified articulation in the opening section,” etc. But what if our goal is something less tangible? Even as a type-A, check-the-box person, I would argue that the most meaningful successes in our ensembles are ones that can be felt but not always measured. Those transcendent moments we’ve all felt when every voice in the room is perfectly in sync. Or the audible gasps from audience members after the final chord. Or hearing from a listener after a concert that a particular piece touched their heart in a very specific way. These are the types of successes that make all the hard work worth it.

Recently, I asked my 5th & 6th grade singers what it means to be successful in our choir. Quite a few did mention setting and reaching goals–great! But the recurring theme I heard over and over was that success means feeling PROUD. So how do we ensure our singers feel PROUD of what they’ve accomplished? Well, we can set musical goals and check the boxes of pitch, rhythm, phrasing, dynamics, and more. But additionally, and maybe more importantly, we must build a community of trust, understanding, high expectations, and constant support. And help them see and celebrate each “mini-success” along the music-making journey.