“Well-ordered self-love is right and natural.” Thomas Aquinas
The choir year is winding down. We end this year while we begin our plans for the next. It’s a tough time for many of us as we look back on what we’ve accomplished, or didn’t accomplish. It is often painful. The right, positive mind frame is important as we plan. I believe we need to be good to ourselves as we evaluate so we may be MORE successful next year.
Let’s ask ourselves some specific questions. As you look back, do you feel proud of what you managed to accomplish with your choirs? Or do you focus only on what you failed to do? Does the good you actually did, get cancelled out in your mind by what you perceive to be your failures?
We are taught as musicians and artists to be self-critical. When we practice, we are taught to be aware of wrong notes or sloppy technique or inaccurate rhythms. As conductors, we are taught to listen and to be critical in rehearsal but are not always taught to be objective with the Big Picture. We are encouraged to be humble, but some take that to such a degree as to be self-deprecating.
While it is good to be self-critical as a choral director, it is also important to look at a situation from an objective viewpoint. Having some way of measuring what we accomplished often helps to evaluate our programs. What improved this year with your choirs in ways able to be measured?
Going back to my first question in this blog post; do you feel proud of what you managed to accomplish with your choirs this year? Objectively, what specifics are you pleased about? Did your recruitment strategies work and now you have more singers? Did you manage to teach part singing to a previously “strictly unison” group? Did your two part chorus manage to sing something in three or four parts for your concert or special worship service? Did a choir who has previously only sung with piano or organ sing something unaccompanied or with other instruments? After much trepidation, were you able to sing a piece in Latin or German or some other foreign language your choir is not familiar with…and they liked it?
Do you focus ONLY on what you failed to do? Instead of the ten new singers you had hoped to recruit, you had only seven; does that mean you’ve failed? Your “unison only” group sang one two-part piece for the concert, so you must have failed in your goal to sing in parts. While you wanted to get the two-part group to sing in four they were not able because of lack of tenors, but nailed the three part music they did sing, does that mean you’ve failed? The chorus who sings with piano only tried to sing unaccompanied and did, but not at the same difficulty level of music as usual, so you’ve failed. Your choirs sang in Latin for the first time but you are disappointed because they were not able to sing in German, so that means you’ve failed.
Does the good you actually did, get cancelled out in your mind by what you perceive to be your failures? For every successful goal, do you see failure? You did not accomplish the ideal, the absolute most you could and that means you’ve failed. You feel the glass is not only half empty but has a leak in it! This view colors your perception of the whole choir year. Instead of looking at what you did do, you dissect what you didn’t and second guess and judge yourself. You look at what you didn’t accomplish and beat yourself up.
I believe in self-evaluation as much as the next person. I also believe in understanding why something didn’t work and figuring out how to make it work in the future. We should take stock at the end of the choir year and rejoice in our successes. We should acknowledge what we were not able to do, and understand why. We should be good to ourselves. And then move on.