“Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.” Robert Louis Stevenson
I hate whiners. When my boys were young, they knew I would not “hear” them if they complained in a whiny voice. They could complain about life not being fair or that someone got a bigger piece of cake or more broccoli (never happened) then they did. I would be sympathetic, but once that whiny tinge crept in, I turned off. I think it has something to do with coming from a large family. It’s one of my pet peeves.
I get about two to three Choral Ethics emails a week, about one “whiny” email every few months. I have to confess it’s tough for me to focus on the actual problems of the “whiners” and disregard their tone. I attempt to hone in on their problem and leave out the “it’s not fairs” when I reread the email. I don’t tell them their presentation of problems is a problem for me because it will confuse the issue. And many of their problems are confusing enough!
This brings me to the subject of this blog; making the most of the situation you are handed, fair or not. It is an art unto itself; turning lemons into lemonade or blooming where you are planted or any number of cliché laden wisdoms. We all have occasion to feel put upon or feel we are being treated unjustly. Sometimes things are just not fair. It may be true, it may not be true, but how we handle the situation and make the most of things, which in the end, determines our success.
Ray* recently retired from a high school district where he was held in some regard as an innovator. He started out in the district at the “worst” of three high schools. His predecessor had left in disgust, feeling he could not do anything to improve the situation because of lack of support from administration and parents. The students seemed not to care and it was a “real mess” according to Ray. Yet he retired with a program considered to be one of the best in his state. What was his secret? He made that proverbial lemonade from lemons!
When he applied for the position, he believed it would be a step up from his last job but it was not. With a wife and young baby, he had to make it work somehow, at least for that year. He had no tenors, few basses and three altos TOTAL when he was hired 25 years ago. Ray says there were also plenty of the usual high school soprano-types who didn’t want to sing anything but show tunes or whatever was popular. Behavior and attitude was a challenge and he hated to go to work. He admits he felt sorry for himself for about the first five weeks of school. But then he went to a Friday night football game to help the band director and everything changed.
One of their school’s home halftime traditions was to have the football team sing a Doo-Wop version of their school fight song as they came back onto the field. It was unaccompanied. And it was good! So Ray hung around after the game to talk to the coach and asked if he could talk to the team at the next practice. Long story, short; he did and so begins his story of a successful choral program. And not just for his school, but for the whole district.
Ray tells me if he hadn’t gone to the football game, he doubts he would have stayed more than a year. He had lost hope and was discouraged just weeks into the school year. Hearing those big brawny football players sing in close harmony, some singing falsetto, convinced him vocal music was valued at that school, just not in the ways he was used to. His challenge was to adapt to the culture.
It took a few years to get his ideas up and running, but it did happen. Several football players always enjoyed singing falsetto so he usually had counter-tenors. When he retired, he left a mixed chorus of 90 strong singers, a men’s chorus of 40, a treble chorus of 50 (including counter-tenors) and a swing chorus of 30.
Ray’s advice when you don’t have the ideal situation? Look beyond the obvious. The solution is out there, you just have to be open to it. Feel sorry for yourself if you must, but then get over it!