Life is a series of transitions. We fear them – yet, they are the meat and potatoes of our existence. Each transition represents a point of arrival and a point of departure on our journey through this world. It is the journey that defines us and gives us the right to call our accomplishments “excellence.”

I am proud to be a choral director in Minnesota, because great role models surround me every day. These wonderful human beings are musicians who have demonstrated the power of excellence through their own journeys in our profession and in life.

I want to philosophize briefly about excellence and the way that I hope you view yourselves and each other. We live in a society that places status on being elite and reaching pinnacles that are not always attainable, rather than placing value on the strength of the journey.

When we step in front of a choir, there is no hierarchy to the significance of our roles. Whether we step in front of a big choir, a small choir, a balanced choir, a young choir, an old choir, a professional choir, a beginning choir – we are choral conductors, and we must believe that our roles are equally important and impressive so that we can concentrate on the journey.

Our journeys come with obstacles and roadblocks, but society is depending on us to teach our citizens empathy, collaboration, compassion, communication, and, most importantly, expressive music. When we do this, we will not always be in the spotlight or reach the pinnacle. We will not be in control of the obstacles that will pop up along the way. We can only control our training, preparation, and attitude. We decide how we manage the transitions and obstacles while moving forward on the journey.

Many of you know that my sister-in-law, Karen, attempted to swim across the English Channel in late July. This was a major undertaking that required years of training, preparation, going outside of her comfort zone, taking risks, and dreaming big.

Karen is an amazingly fit open water swimmer. She swam in 62-degree water for over 12 hours in the English Channel. She endured jellyfish stings, cold temperatures, and the strong tides from the Blue Moon, getting within 1000 yards of the French shore. As the sun set, she became dangerously hypothermic, and to save her life they had to make her terminate the swim within sight of the finish line. She had the training, preparation, and attitude. She could not then, or ever, control the obstacles that an unpredictable body of water like the English Channel would throw at her along the swim.

Coming close, but not actually touching French soil does not diminish the excellence of her swim that day. Her journey was long, challenging, and epic. She experienced and learned many fascinating things along the swim that changed her for the better. It is disappointing not to be documented as completing the crossing, but I believe she is entitled to call herself an English Channel swimmer, just like I believe we are entitled to call ourselves Choral Conductors regardless of the type of choir we direct. Each of our journeys is long, challenging, and epic—but we learn fascinating things along the way.

We must view ourselves as practicing excellence when we work with our choirs, regardless of who they are, or where they are. We give all of our singers courage and a new quality of life when we teach them to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I encourage all of you to join me this fall in challenging singers to go outside of their comfort zones, dig deeper into their souls, and dream big. Embrace your transitions, and enjoy the next step on your journey. Have a great year!