You Can Feel However You Want, But You Can’t Do Whatever You Want

SBO Staff • ChoralOctober 2016The Practical Conductor • October 19, 2016

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By Brody McDonald

prac-cond-deskMy accompanist, Bryon Dobbs, once said something in class that had a great impact on me. He said “You can feel however you want, but you can’t do whatever you want.”

Now, many of you reading this are all grown-up. You’ve already figured this out. You go to work even if your head is splitting or you’re low on sleep. You clean the house when you’d rather flop on the couch. I’m not talking to you personally (other than as a gentle reminder).

No, I’m not talking to you personally. I am, however, talking to you as a musician – one who inevitably is going to be (a) working with some young’uns OR (b) find yourself in a rehearsal funk in your own group. I’m also talking the choristers/your students/etc. The collective YOU in this article is the singer on the risers, but the concepts apply to everyone.

Imagine this – your choir starts to rehearse and it isn’t going well.

The excuses seem to fly in from everywhere:

  • It’s Monday.
  • I’m tired.
  • It’s raining out.
  • It’s Friday.
  • It’s the week before holiday break.
  • It’s nice outside, and we’re stuck in here.
  • I’m confused.
  • I’m bored.
  • I had a bad day.
  • We have a long time until our next performance.
  • I have too much homework.

That’s fine. Any of those things might make you FEEL a certain way. And yet, you have a responsibility to DO certain things anyway. You can feel however you want, but you can’t do whatever you want.

The big reason you can’t do whatever you want is this: the audience doesn’t care.

The audience is like the mafia as described in the movie Goodfellas (and I’m cleaning this up a little): “Business bad? Too bad, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Too bad, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Too bad, pay me.”

Yes, the audience wants paid. They want a stellar performance, and that means you must do some stellar preparation. It’s fair game to say that you are accountable to the audience: your customers. Everyone has heard the phrase “the customer is always right.” The audience is right to expect great music. Think about your own expectations as a customer. You’d expect the same. If you go to a concert, you want great music. Heck, I am likely to send back french fries at McDonald’s if they are burnt.

On top of your responsibility to the audience, there’s the responsibility to your team, your director (if you have one), and to yourself. There is nothing you can do during rehearsal except choose between doing a great job or doing a poor job. If singing out of tune could actually help your headache, your fatigue, or your lunchtime argument with a former best friend, then maybe it would be acceptable. But it can’t, and it isn’t.

At the heart of this whole issue is that many singers think there is a chicken-and-egg argument over feelings and actions. That’s not the case. There is no confusion here. The order of cause and effect in this case has been determined. You do something and that makes you feel a certain way. Monday is blah not because it’s Monday, but because you left your weekend and returned to school or work. If you allow yourself to surrender your actions to those feelings, you’re doomed. You’re opening yourself up to not have control over what happens in your day, and you’re opening yourself up to a cycle of feelings that is outside your purview.

Whenever you begin to sense that your feelings are negatively affecting your actions, step back and ask yourself “What would make me feel better in this situation?” When there’s work to be done, getting it done better/sooner makes you feel better. Hearing the director/your group say “That’s awesome!” is bound to cheer you up a lot more than “let’s try that again.” If you choose action over feelings you can create a positive spiral that pulls your mood upward.

You can take charge of just about any situation when you remember: You can feel however you want, but you can’t do whatever you want.

Brody McDonald is the director of choirs at Kettering Fairmont High School. Under his leadership, his curricular choirs have consistently earned the highest ratings at state level contest and have been featured at numerous conventions. He is at the forefront of the a cappella movement, serving as a founding member and the vice president of the A Cappella Education Association. His a cappella ensemble, Eleventh Hour, was the first high school group ever to compete on NBC’s The Sing-Off. Brody is also the author of A Cappella Pop: A Complete Guide to Contemporary A Cappella Singing

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