What we can learn from John Wooden XI
Date: December 5, 2013
Early in his career (mostly in place with a few later adjustments by 1932), John Wooden developed his "Pyramid of Success" This was meant to be a guide to how one builds success--a road map, if you will, including not only short-term goals along the way, but character traits important to success. Remember Wooden's definition: "Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable."
As Nater says, "With his definition of success at the top, the structure consists of 15 blocks and several additional traits placed on the outside of each side of the triangle. . . . Each block in the Pyramid of Success is a milestone, providing students/players with a succession of achieveable goals."
Again, I'd recommend you read Gallimore and Nater's book, along with some of Wooden's.
As Nater says, "Condition, skill, and team spirit are he heart of the Pyramid of Success." For us as choral conductors, this is true as well.
Nater mentions that there are several aspects of conditioning: moral, mental, and physical.
Moral conditioning is learning to resist those things (staying up late, not getting sleep, drinking too much) that will undermine one's ability. If music students are to achieve success and make true progress they have to be able to practice regularly and effectively. One's voice is directly dependent on physical health. This is something we can work on with our choirs, but might be more important if we notice destructive behaviors in our individual students. Outside of that, we can look for alternatives when temptations are present (on tour, for example--what kinds of rules/enforcements do you use?).
When I first came to PLU I inherited a program on the first orchestra concert in October celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birth: Bach's Cantata 80 and a commissioned piece by faculty composer Cindy McTee on the Frau musica text (which Paul Hindemith also set). This was a difficult assignment to come in to a new job and have to immediately do this challenging a program! But it was made more difficult in that the program took place the day after the re-establishment of a football game with the cross-town University of Puget Sound. The two university choirs were to sing the National Anthem and all would attend the game. Clearly, I didn't want them to do any yelling, screaming, or any other abuse of their voices! So I bought a large number of noise-makers of all kinds and passed them out to the singers with the instruction that the could blow their brains out blowing on the noise-makers, but they weren't to yell or scream. This was to give them an alternative which allowed them to use energy to make noise, but not to abuse their voices. It seemed to work and they sang well in the concert the next day.
Mental conditioning is also incredibly important. For us, I think this is building the choir's ability to focus/concentrate and stay on task. As I've said in earlier blog posts, this is part of building much greater rehearsal density. This will depend on the level and age of your choir, but no matter whether they're elementary, high school or college students; a community choir or professional choir, their abilities can be improved. This has to be built gradually, but is important as you build the culture of your choir.
Physical conditioning is a part of it, too. Partly this means that you have to make sure you don't blow out voices in rehearsal. I'm just finishing the fantastic new biography of Robert Shaw by Keith Burris (which is well worth several blog posts itself). Shaw emphsized singing at soft dynamics during the learning process and, in fact, restricting the biggest dynamics until very late in the rehearsal process, or even until the concert itself. This was a part of what Shaw called preserving, "vocal gold." This is important and something I need to be more aware of in my rehearsals. In addition, you have to find ways to gradually build the vocal capacity of your students through teaching proper technique.
There's much more for us to learn from Wooden's Pyramid of Success, but I'll leave that for you to explore.