COVID-19 vs. New Year’s Resolutions?

How to “Make a Difference” in 2021

Of those who make a New Year’s resolution, after 1 week 75% are still successful in keeping it. After two weeks, the number drops to 71%. After 1 month, the number drops again to 64%. And after 6 months, 46% of people who make a resolution are still successful in keeping it. In comparison, of those people who have similar goals but do not set a resolution, only 4% are still successful after 6 months.

New Year’s Resolutions Statistics (Updated 2020) from Discover Happy Habits

Although we may be seeing the first signs of “the light at the end of the tunnel” with the distribution of the vaccines, coronavirus still has its grip on us… off-the-chart infection rates, record-breaking hospital admissions, schedule disruptions, restrictions on restaurants and small businesses, mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, precautionary self-isolation, etc. By all accounts, mindfulness, self-care, patience, and a positive outlook for the future are keys to making personal and professional goals as the pandemic rages on…

This article spotlights an age-old but usually neglected perspective – “think first” before you formulate any New Year’s Resolutions! For this to really work, you need a little research and reflection… and then COMMIT TO YOUR GOALS! Read on!

Start Out by Being S.M.A.R.T.

Admittedly, 44+ years in teaching has affected how I view goal-setting – “make it intention!” Adopt the often published S.M.A.R.T. approach to any plan. Make goals that are…

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

What goals do you want to satisfy in 2021? “Keep it simple” and S.M.A.R.T. Like lesson plans, write your resolution(s) in behavioral terms… “by the end of this class, the students will…” For example, the easiest way to limit the intake of fried food in your diet is to write on a post-it note, “I will not eat anything fried this week” and place it on your bathroom mirror.

A lot of these resolutions fail because they’re not the right resolutions. And a resolution may be wrong for one of three main reasons: 1) It’s a resolution created based on what someone else (or society) is telling you to change. 2) It’s too vague. 3) You don’t have a realistic plan for achieving your resolution.

How to Make and Keep a New Year’s Resolution by Jen A. Miller (New York Times)

Review the Usual Ones…

According to Brad Zomick in his GoSkills blog, these are the most common New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Learn a new skill or hobby 
  • Live life to the fullest
  • Save more money / spend less money
  • Quit smoking
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Travel more
  • Read more

Just as important to WHAT you choose is HOW you approach it. In his article, Zomick provides a “how-to” roadmap to success, if you follow his steps:

  1. Mentally prepare for change.
  2. Set a goal that motivates you.
  3. Limit resolutions to a manageable amount.
  4. Be specific.
  5. Break up big goals into smaller goals.
  6. Write down your goals.
  7. Share your resolutions with others.
  8. Automate when possible.
  9. Review your resolution regularly.
  10. If you fall off track, get back on quick.

Do these recommendations sound familiar? They should if you are a disciple of the aforementioned S.M.A.R.T plan. Also, the concept of “writing down your goals” should ring a bell if you recall the supposed 1979 Harvard Business School MBA Study on Goal Setting (urban legend?) reviewed by Wanderlust Worker here:

Have you set written goals and created a plan for their attainment? Prior to graduation, it was determined that 84% of the entire class had set no goals at all. 13% of the class had set written goals but had no concrete plans. 3% of the class had both written goals and concrete plans. The results? Well, you’ve likely somewhat guessed it. 10 years later, the 13% of the class that had set written goals but had not created plans, were making twice as much money as the 84% of the class that had set no goals at all. However, the apparent kicker is that the 3% of the class that had both written goals and a plan, were making ten times as much as the rest of the 97% of the class. 

The Harvard MBA Study on Goal Setting from Wanderlust Worker

Whether the Harvard (or Yale) study is fact or faction is probably irrelevant. The point here is that to improve the odds for accomplishing our goals, we need to take the time to write them down, announce our intentions (your spouse or significant-other), and define the details with “action plans.”

The Glass Is Half Full

Have you heard the joke about the identical twins, one an optimist and the other a pessimist?

A psychiatrist has one son who is a total pessimist, and another who is a complete optimist.  He decides on an experiment.  For Christmas he fills the pessimist’s room with hundreds of beautifully wrapped gifts, and dumps a heap of horse manure in the optimist’s room. On Christmas morning he sees the pessimist boy sitting motionless at the center of his room, eyeing his gifts suspiciously. But over in the optimist’s room he sees his boy filled with joy, digging happily in the odorous pile. He asks the kid what he’s doing and he answers:  “Daddy, with all this horse dung, there’s gotta be a pony in here someplace.”

The Center for Optimism

It’s time to cheer-up, look to the future, and embrace HOPE for tomorrow!

Are you kidding? You want me to “put on a happy face” after all the pandemic has done? YES!

One remedy for “losing the blue funk” is to reject all “blame and complain” speech or behavior! It is so easy to get caught up in negativity… family adversity or “challenges” of a medical or employment nature, or simply being forced to remain distant from each other, daily news media reports about COVID-19, political dissension and the polarization of viewpoints, angry rants on social media, etc. literally fanning the flames of an unprecedented perpetual global “bad mood!” I even found myself in the throes of periodic bouts of public distemper, griping on Facebook about a Dial for Men product that made my hair dry (my FB friends responded, “Thanks for the heads-up” – ha, ha!), or grumbling about the roll-out of new revisions of WordPress and Constant Contact program editors that are not backwards-compatible nor fail to support the “look and feel” of previous versions. The effect of exposure to or expression of all of these “B” words (badmouth, beef, bellyache, bemoan, bicker, b*tch) is to make you even more bitter… not fostering the “can-do’s” for taking steps towards helping others, self-renewal, or an optimistic attitude.

Do you find your emotions swinging rapidly from sadness to elation to anger or fear during the lockdown? If your mood is all over the place at the moment, that’s completely understandable. This is not a normal situation. It’s a hugely disruptive, sudden change to our daily lives that nobody was prepared for. It isn’t surprising that many people are experiencing unpredictable moods. “It is going to affect everyone’s mood in many, and sometimes unexpected, ways,” reveals psychotherapist Mark Bailey. “Whether it’s worry, anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, discombobulated, angry and even perhaps unexpected emotions like relief as we accept some of our current situation, it’s useful to know that as we experience one emotion it doesn’t nullify or negate another.”

COVID-19: How to Manage Mood Swings... by Natalie Healey

Get Inspired by Good Role Models and “Positive Gurus”

Many music educators attend the keynote addresses at state MEA/NAfME conferences to “recharge their batteries.” A few of my favorite “master motivators” are Tim Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, and Fran Kick. As a sample, check out this video (sponsored by MusicFirst) that featured “Dr. Tim” – One Person Can Make a Difference!

Who can have a positive influence on us or serve as a “catalyst for change” to help us realize our resolutions? Practically anyone! I bumped into this provocative article by Professor Dr Ger Graus: Good Role Models – How Has COVID-19 Changed Pupils’ Career Aspirations? He relates these criteria “to elevate a person or profession to role model status” (at least in the eyes of a child) – possibly an excellent framework for creating your plan.

  1. Demonstrate passion for what you do and have the capacity to infect others with it.
  2. Show a clear set of values and live them in their world. Lead by example. Children admire people who act in ways that support their beliefs. It helps them understand how their own values are part of who they are and how they might seek fulfilling roles as adults.
  3. Demonstrate commitment to community. Be others-focused as opposed to self-focused. Freely give your time and talents to benefit people.
  4. Show selflessness and acceptance of others who are different to you. Be fair.
  5. Demonstrate the ability to overcome obstacles. Young people admire those who show them that success is possible.

Someone who has recently become inspirational to me is the wonderfully uplifting Lesley Moffat, probably an expert on the search for “mindfulness” in personal life and even during her band warmups. In my opinion, her transformative stories provide the blueprint for happiness and wellbeing! She now has two published books (you need to read both) – I Love My Job But It’s Killing Me, and Love the Job, Lose the Stress, and if you are still teaching music full-time, you need to peruse her website: https://mpowerededucator.com/. For a good laugh, view her recent “rap” – Moffat’s HamJam for Band – for which she performed for her music students.

Apply the concepts of social and emotional learning (SEL), EMPATHY, and “corona kindness” to yourself and loved-ones! Seek out advice from a few of these experts: Manju Durairaj, Scott N. Edgar, Bob Morrison, and Edward Varner.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. The key components of SEL are self-awareness, social awareness, responsible decision-making, self-management, and relationship skills.

Finding Sanctuary – Social and Emotional Learning and Visual and Performing Arts by Edward Varner

Sum it Up – Fox’s “Top-Ten Tips”

  1. Renew your efforts to intentionally reach-out, connect, and engage with people, albeit virtually for now.
  2. Focus on the things you can control.
  3. Remind yourself about the good things in your life and your personal resilience.
  4. Start small and change one behavior at a time.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up when things get a little rocky
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  7. Seek creative new ways to reduce your stress.
  8. Exercise, meditate, go outside, and plan better meals.
  9. Share your experiences with family and friends.
  10. Implement one or two S.M.A.R.T. goals and embrace the “spirit” of self-improvement.

It’s easy to become an idealist when the new year rolls around, but it’s important to remember that New Year’s resolutions are ultimately a tool to help you grow into the person you want to be. Take some time this New Year’s Eve to really consider who you want to be in the future, and then employ S.M.A.R.T. goals to help you fulfill your vision. Making a resolution to live your life with purpose and passion is a beautiful and exciting thing, not something to dread.

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions by Using S.M.A.R.T. Goals by Mary McCoy

PKF

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

Resources

Credits:

iStock.com photos (in order): “2021” #1280953227 by phototechno, “SMART Goals” #1134658098 by BrianAJackson, “New Years Goals List 2021” #1266648329 by Olena Sakhnenko, “Half Empty to Half Full” #1128990168 by Fokusiert, “Lead by Example” #849367144 by Michail_Petrov-96, and “2021 Happy New Year” #1273431483 by Weedezign

“Happy Face” VectorStock.com/467693 

Leadership Lessons

Summertime Reading Suggestions for Music Directors

3 leadership books

What do authors C.S. Forester, Simon Sinek, Jocko Willink, and Leif Babin have in common?

They offer a fresh perspective on leadership principles, reflections perfectly applicable for the skill-set development of music teachers who desire to better “lead” their music programs, students, and parent boosters.

It was no accident that I chose these books to help explore the truths of inspiring confidence and leading groups of people like we do daily in our classrooms, rehearsal halls, and on the stages or marching band fields. Their use of military (as well as company or government management) anecdotes defines and re-enacts the very essence of leaders, leadership concepts, goals, and public service.

“These [military group] organizations have strong cultures and shared values, understand the importance of teamwork, create trust among their members, maintain focus, and, most important, understand the importance of people and relationships to their mission success.”

— From the Foreword of Leaders Eat First

Why do we admire music teacher “heroes” and most sought-after conference keynoters in our profession such as “Dr. Tim” Lautzenheiser, Peter Boonshaft, Scott Edgar*, and Bob Morrison* (*the latter two to be featured in the PMEA Summer Virtual Conference on July 20-24, 2020). They inspire us. They recharge us and pick up our spirits. They serve as models of visionaries and coaches. They challenge the status quo and help us to grow!

I believe these books will do the same, assist in your career development to morph into an even better leader and teacher. Since many of us are “stuck at home” during the pandemic for awhile, here is a new “reading list” for personal self-improvement.

EPISODE 1-MUTINY
ITV/Rex Archive: Ioan Gruffudd in “Hornblower” 2001 TV series

Who is Horatio Hornblower?

To start with, how about a series of historical fiction from the Napoleonic-Wars era?

Hornblower is a courteous, intelligent, and skilled seaman, and perhaps one of my favorite examples of an adaptable “leader.” Although burdened by his (almost shy) reserve, introspection, and self-doubt (he is described as “unhappy and lonely”), the Forester collection illustrates numerous stories of his personal feats of extraordinary cunning, on-the-spot problem solving, and bravery. The first book spotlights an unpromising seasick midshipman who grows into a highly acclaimed, productive, and ethical officer of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, gaining promotion steadily as a result of his skill and daring, despite his initial poverty and lack of influential friends. And yet, the common thread throughout is that he belittles his achievements by numerous rationalizations, remembering only his fears.

A_74_gun_Royal_Navy_ship_of_the_line,_c1794
74-gun Royal Navy Ship-of-the-line ~1794

“Hornblower’s leadership is thoroughly self-conscious: what makes him a great leader, morally, is that he assumes as a matter course that he must lead rather than he can lead; Hornblower’s pervasive sense of responsibility would be diminished if it all came to him naturally and that he acts therefore as each situation demands. He can be self-effacing or fierce, or obsequious, all depending on what is necessary to get the job done. As it happens, Hornblower‘s many other gifts, including a formidable diligence, always beyond the call of duty, and a supple intelligence, make him a man others trust and lean on; but for the reader, especially young reader, it’s his moral qualities that are most engaging, it is instructive.”

by Igor Webb, Hudson Review

This set is a wonderful “chestnut” to acquire, sit back in your leather recliner, and devour over the coming months. Even though it may take you some significant time to finish Forester’s eleven novels (one unfinished) and five short stories, I promise you, it will all be worth it!

[If you like the Hornblower assortment, also checkout the works by Alexander Kent and Dudley Pope, all drawing parallels to the exploits of real naval officers of the time: Sir George Cockburn, Lord Cochran, Sir Edward Pellew, Jeremiah Coghlan, Sir James Gordon, and Sir William Hoste.]

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Now, how can you personally glean new leadership habits from this treasure chest? Coincidental to doing some research for this blog, I bumped into the article on LinkedIn “Leadership Lessons Learned from Horatio Hornblower.” My sincere thanks and “attaboy” go to Amro Masaad, Education and STEM Leader at Middlesex County Academies, who gave me permission to share his documentation and insightful interpretation of the following leadership tips learned from Hornblower that we can all employ as “best practices” in the education profession:

  1. Don’t be afraid to stand up to a bully.
  2. Don’t insist that all of your successes be praised.
  3. Don’t let employees sabotage your mission.
  4. If you want excellence, you can’t look the other way.
  5. Prove yourself when the situation demands it.
  6. Take one for the team.
  7. Show sacrifice and honor, even with your enemies.

I have always been inspired by the adventures of Hornblower, mostly because of his displays of humanity at a time in history when things were inhumane and primitive. Hornblower consistently modeled his intentions for the care and success of his subordinates while other officers “stepped on them” to get advancement, his unimpeachable moral code that guided his every action, and “taking it on the chin” when necessary for his shipmates and the good of “god and country.”

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Leaders Eat Last

I was struck by this quote by Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why – How Great Leaders Inspire Action, who posted a popular TedTalk lecture of the same name:

“There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold the position of power or authority, but those who lead, inspire us. Whether they are individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves. And, it’s those who start with ‘the why’ that have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.”

TEDxPugetSound

silent-drill-platoon-1398509_1920_skeezeHis latest book, Leaders Eat Last, brings up the rationale of mutual collaboration and prioritizing the mission and the needs of your team members. Sinek observed that some teams were able to trust each other 100%, so much so that they would be willing to put their lives on the line for each other, while other groups, no matter what enticements or special incentives were offered, were “doomed to infighting, fragmentation and failure.” Why was this true?

“The answer became clear during our conversation with the Marine Corps general. ‘Officers eat last,’ he said. Sinek watched as the most junior Marines ate first while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. What’s symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield: great leaders sacrifice their own comfort – even their own survival – for the good of those in their care.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Throughout his book of vivid narratives from armed conflicts to business “revolutions” of take-overs or new CEO transformations, Sinek dives into the precepts of what constitutes “great” leadership:

  • The value of empathy should not be underestimated.
  • Trust and loyalty exist on a two-way street – to earn them, leaders must first extent them to their team members.
  • The role of leadership is to look out for (and take care of) those inside their “circle of safety.”
  • For the success of the team, goals must be tangible, visible, collaborative, and written down.
  • Leaders know: There is power in “paying it forward.” It feels good to help people, or when someone does something nice to us, or even when we witness someone else doing something good.
  • It’s also a big deal when leaders express that final personal touch and shake hands.
  • Leadership is all about service… to the “real, living, normal human beings with whom we work every day.”

I have never found a better source for defining the four “chemical incentives” in our bodies (also known as hormones) and numerous actual examples of their daily use (and misuse): endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

UnSelfieAlso intriguing is an expanded Chapter 24 and Appendix section in the book called “A Practical Guide to Leading Millennials.” Similar to another suggestion for summer perusal, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Michele Borba, Ed.D (Simon & Schuster, 2017) which focuses more on our current young “charges,” Sinek’s differentiation is provided to inspire and educate the ultimate multitaskers of the “distracted generation.”

“This is what it means to be a leader. It means they choose to go first into danger, headfirst toward the unknown. And when we feel sure they will keep us safe, we will march behind them and work tirelessly to see their visions come to life and proudly call ourselves their followers.”

“The biology is clear: When it matters most, leaders who are willing to eat last are rewarded with deeply loyal colleagues who will stop at nothing to advance their leaders vision and their organization’s interests. It’s amazing how well it works.”

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

boat-647049_1920_2_skeeze

 

Extreme Ownership

This next leadership philosophy, the core premise of the book Extreme Ownership – How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, will not surprise anyone who has ever taken on the inherently risky task of programming a student concert, marching field show, dance recital, or musical/play: the music director assumes full responsibility for the failures and faux pas that may occur during the performance, but instrumentalists, singers, actors, and/or dancers should get all the credit for a successful production.

“Combat, the most intense and dynamic environment imaginable, teaches the toughest leadership lessons with absolutely everything at stake. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin learned this reality firsthand on the most violent and dangerous battlefields in Iraqi. As leaders of SEAL Team Three’s Task Unit Bruiser, their mission was one many thought impossible: help US forces secure Ramada, a violent, insurgent-held city deemed “all but lost.“ In gripping, firsthand accounts of heroism, tragic loss, and hard-won victories, they learned that leadership – at every level – is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.”

Front panel of the hardback Extreme Ownership

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This is a comprehensive textbook on Leadership 101. Admittedly, the rehash of their battle scenes are scary. This is a world so far apart from anything I have ever experienced. We do owe all our veterans a massive depth of gratitude to face such dangers to defend our freedoms and way of life. (As an inexperienced teacher, the worst fear I ever had to face was a homeroom of 99 excitable and talkative Freshman girls in my first year as the high school choral director.)

When possible, I try to share the Contents (chapter titles) of my book recommendations, giving you a broad glimpse of the outline of their publication:

  1. Extreme Ownership
  2. US Navy SEAL Team Three [ST3][Patch][1.5]No Bad Teams, Only Bad Leaders
  3. Believe
  4. Check the Ego
  5. Cover and Move
  6. Simple
  7. Prioritize and Execute
  8. Decentralized Command
  9. Plan
  10. Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
  11. Decisiveness Amid Uncertainty
  12. Discipline Equals Freedom – the Dichotomy of Leadership

From these sections, we can explore these fundamental building-blocks and mindsets necessary to lead and win.

Part I: Winning the War Within (Chapters 1-4)

  • Leaders must own everything in the world. There is no one else to blame.
  • A leader must be a true believer in the mission.
  • Even more important then “the how” and “the what” is “the why” of any plan. Not knowing the rationale of a decision or goal is a recipe for failure. It is a leader’s job to understand the mission and communicate it to his/her team members.*
  • During situations lacking clarity, leaders ask questions.
  • Leaders temper overconfidence by instilling culture within the team to never be satisfied and to push themselves harder to continuously improve performance.
  • Leaders know that over-inflated egos cloud judgment and disrupt everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to except constructive criticism.

* Who said “great minds think alike?” (Answer: Carl Theodor von Unlanski.) The concept of “the why” is also described in great detail in the aforementioned TedTalk by Simon Sinek.

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Part II: Laws of Combat (Chapters 5-8)

  • Elements within the “greater team” are crucial and must work together to accomplish the mission, mutually supporting one another for that singular purpose.
  • In life, there are inherent complexities. It is critical to keep plans and communication simple. Complex goals and plans add to confusion which can compound into disaster.
  • Competent leaders can utilize their own version of the SEAL’s prioritize and execute. It is simple as, “relax, look around, and make a call.” Prioritize your problems and take care of them one at a time, the highest priority first. Don’t try to do everything at once or you won’t be successful.
  • Leaders delegate responsibility, trust and empower junior leaders to make decisions on their own as they become proactive to achieve the overall goal or task.

Part III: Sustaining Victory (Chapters 9-12)

  • Effective planning begins with an analysis of the mission’s purpose, definition of the goals, and communication of clear directives for the team.
  • Effective leaders keep the planning focused, simple, and understandable to all of the team members and stakeholders.
  • Leadership doesn’t just go down the chain of command, but up as well. Communication to your supervisors is also key.
  • Leaders must be decisive, comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion.
  • In challenging situations, there is no 100% right solution, and the picture is never complete.
  • Leaders have self-control and “intrinsic self-discipline,” a matter of personal will. They “make time” by getting up early.
  • Self-discipline makes you more flexible, adaptable, and efficient, and allows leaders and team members alike to be creative.
  • A leader must lead, but also be ready to follow.

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A Leadership Recap for Music Teachers

I am probably not doing justice to these incredible resources. They offer an exhaustive body of knowledge and examples on leadership ideology as well as a dazzling array of practical advice on what habits/skills are essential to become an effective leader. You need to sit back and devour these books one-by-one, apply their relevance to your situation, and come to your own conclusions about prioritizing the needs for your own personal leadership development.

To sum up a few of the theories from all this literature, we could revisit page 277 in Extreme Ownership and quote “The Dichotomy of Leadership” by Jocko Willnick.

“A good leader must be:

  • confident but not cocky;
  • courageous but not foolhardy;
  • competitive but a gracious loser;
  • attentive to details but not obsessed by them;
  • strong but have endurance;
  • a leader and follower;
  • humble not passive;
  • aggressive not overbearing;
  • quiet not silent;
  • calm but not robotic;
  • logical but not devoid of emotions;
  • close with the troops but not so close that one becomes more important than another or more important than the good of the team; not so close that they forget who is in charge;
  • able to execute Extreme Ownership while exercising Decentralized Command.”

“A good leader has nothing to prove but everything to prove!”

—  Extreme Ownership

Many years ago, my wife and I were fortunate to participate in almost all of those early PMEA Summer Conferences that were basically leadership training workshops. Initiated and inspired by our first guest clinician Michael Kumer (who was then “modeling leadership” first-hand as Dean of Music for Duquesne University), we were exposed to a rich curriculum of “the greats” on leadership, team building, time management, and professional development. If you have not consumed them yourself, a few of these resources from the first couple years should be added to your reading list:

  • 7 HabitsOne Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson
  • First Things First and other sections from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People series by Stephen Covey
  • A Kick in the Seat of the Pants: Using Your Explorer, Artist, Judge, and Warrior to Be More Creative and A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative by Roger Von Oech

As a part of fulfilling “total ensemble experience” and to make the learning meaningful, I have always “taught” leadership to my students. The settings may have varied, whether it was as a part of the longstanding tradition of training marching band leaders, student conductors or principals’ who ran sectionals, our spring musical “leadership team” of directors, producers, and crew heads, elected high school choir officers, participants (grades 6-12) in a six-day string camp seminar, or even booster parents in a “chaperone orientation.” Many of my own often-repeated leadership quotes were passed down:

  • “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi
  • “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” – Ken Kesey
  • “Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln
  • “The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” – Rev. Theodore Hesburgh
  • “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” – Stephen R. Covey

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Finally, to close this seemingly-endless essay, I would share one of my regular but more unique lessons: “leaders flush.” We advise our plebe leaders-in-training that when anyone on the team sees an opportunity to take care of something that’s not right, or someone who needs help, or a problem that can be resolved on their own, they should take it upon themselves to do what is necessary for the greater good. We cite the example that, if you visit a restroom and discover someone before you did not flush the toilet, you do what’s right. Leaders flush.

PKF

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com

Auditions, Adjudications, & Screenings

The Tools of Music Selection and Evaluation – An Insider’s Look at Student Placement

foxsfiresides

Do you know the differences among the terms screening, audition and adjudication?

Listed in order of low to high feedback, these evaluation tools furnish staff, students and parents methods for identifying the talent, level of achievement, preparation and potential success for participation in future music and drama productions, festivals or special ensembles, or for rewarding solo parts, seating placement, musical leads, and other student leadership positions.

A screening (sometimes called a pre-audition) is the simplest form of selecting students on a quick “pass” or “fail” basis. One or more judges usually listen for one or two characteristics such as overall preparation or a prerequisite proficiency to determine “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” In many cases, participants who earn a “passing mark” go on to a more detailed audition to determine ranking for a particular ensemble or part.

pmeaExample of a screening: Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) District One regularly sponsors a pre-audition for sopranos and altos auditioning for District SHS Chorus, as well as flute, clarinet and trumpet players for seating in Honors Band and other instrumental festivals.

In some cases, the application form itself is the initial “screening” for a particular event. For example, to participate in a music education association (MEA) like PMEA Junior High Chorus, you must be a 7th through 9th grade student, member in good standing of your school’s choral ensemble, and sponsored by the school music director who is a current MEA member and attending the try-outs. If an applicant does not meet these simple qualifications, then he/she is automatically eliminated from the selection process.

An audition (sometimes called try-out) is the process by which a panel of three or more judges rate a candidate based on a series of specific characteristics or “audition criteria” using a numerical score (usually 1 to 10 or 1 to 5). The sum of these scores from all of the judges reflects an overall ranking, often listed by voice type or instrumental section.

Here are a few local examples of audition criteria:

MEA Ensemble Placement Try-outs: Tone, Rhythm, Intonation, Technique, Musicality and Preparedness

Spring Musical Cast Auditions: Voice (intonation, expression, technique, range), Projection (tone quality, dynamics, overall loudness), Clarity (diction, rhythm, timing, dialect), Movement (blocking, flexibility, grace, coordination), Expression (animation, emotion, presence, characterization), Attitude (stability, reliability, desire, takes direction?)

Frequently very competitive, membership in a particular organization or the assignment of solo parts or leadership positions is usually very limited. Auditions are used to select the “very best” from the pool of contestants—a well-defined “cut-off” is made to fulfill the size of the ensemble/group or availability of solo/lead openings. Every year in most schools, hundreds of students audition for competitive festivals, drama/musical leads, scholarships, or leadership positions—less than 5% earn recognition or “win” a position at the conclusion of these auditions.

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While auditions may select or “deselect” students for an event, they cannot be used as instruments of individual evaluation or “grading.” Judges are not expected to write comments or make “value judgments” about the overall achievement, improvement, strengths or weaknesses of each candidate. There simply is not enough time to provide detailed individual feedback from an audition process or to issue a performance rating (such as “superior,” “excellent” or “good”). Therefore, since an audition is only a “snapshot” ranking of people at a specific moment in time and for a specific goal, no references should be made about an individual’s aptitude for success.

This is where the adjudication comes in. The most costly and time-consuming process of the three evaluations, adjudication provides specific comments, ratings and (in some) rankings for determining the strengths and weaknesses of an individual or ensemble. Judges in an adjudication (called adjudicators) are charged with evaluating each candidate or group with a “page” of musical criteria (not just a row or line of scores), defining the assets and needs of the performer(s) and making specific comments about focus areas and methods for improvement.

The best example of group adjudication is the international music festival enrolled by school performing arts groups during their spring music trips. The bands, choruses, jazz ensembles, and orchestras typically perform in front of three adjudicators who each record personal observations on a digital recorder during the music, write a one-page (or more) report on the positive and negative aspects of the group’s level of achievement (accuracy and mastery of technique, tone—blend and balance, ensemble-playing skills, appropriateness of musical selection and stylistic interpretation, poise, overall appearance, preparation, etc.), score the presentation (usually up to 100 points), and grade each group with “superior” or “excellent” ratings in comparison wusctaglineith all groups at all adjudications. When I was teaching at the Upper St. Clair High School, this adjudication process took more than a day for all of our ensembles to participate—thirty minutes per performance, costing as much as $50/student, and involving more than ten professional adjudicators and fifteen festival staff members for a multitude of adjudication sites.

For detailed individual appraisals, your MEA may offer noncompetitive Solo or Small/Large Group Adjudication Festivals (see your school music teacher for details). In addition, the hiring of a qualified private music instructor to evaluate your son’s or daughter’s abilities is an excellent idea. Pay for a month’s worth of music lessons (for theater students: drama and dance lessons, too.) and ask for an analysis of his/her strengths and weaknesses. A list of several local private voice or instrumental teachers may be available from your school music director.

Selection Tool Grid

In order to build self-motivation, creativity, leadership, self-confidence, teamwork and self-discipline, and to achieve greater skills in problem solving, personal goal setting and stress/time management, music teachers frequently encourage their students to participate in extra-curricular activities. As a further enrichment to the educational program, many musicians, actors, and dancers enroll in screenings, auditions and/or adjudications. However, the competitors in these activities need to develop (and update) realistic self-appraisals and understand the major differences of each evaluative tool. Most of all, we must all learn how to “lose gracefully” and not allow the diminishing of our self-esteem when positive results and recognition are not immediately forthcoming.

Another point: We cannot all be number one! For example, a musical production “team” needs multi-talented members from all skills and ability levels. Some performers need to be in the chorus, others in the dance ensemble for the production numbers, while still  others are suited for solos depending on the roles in the play. We need technical and stage operators (otherwise the curtain will not be raised, and backdrops and props will not appear!) After all, a football team would look silly at a game with only quarterbacks. Experts say explore your hidden talents, don’t be afraid to try new things, set “reasonably attainable goals,” prepare hard and long, and, most of all, persevere!

Parents: Does all of this make it a little easier to understand? When your child tells you he/she is planning to participate in the school play, or sign-up for drum major, captain, section leader, or other leadership position in marching band, please review the selection procedures carefully and these three definitions of student placement tools: screening, audition, and adjudication. Make sure both of you are aware of the audition criteria, what is expected, music or conducting assignments, and to allow for ample time for preparation and practice. I recommend to my students to video-record “mock tryouts” and playback and self-assess their progress. Listen to professional recordings of the selections. When appropriate, memorize your lines/music. Add expressive elements to your performance, such as an extended range of emotion,  phrasing, and dynamics. Repetition counts! Remember: practice does not necessarily make perfect… repeated “perfect practice” makes perfect.

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members. (For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.) This blog-post is free and available to share with other music students, parents, and directors.

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Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

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