School starts in a week, but we are already well into rehearsals for our fall play, Fiddler on the Roof. We’ve been working on the opening song this week, a large group number that is made complex by the number of students (just under 60). The choreography itself isn’t very difficult, but it learning it well enough to execute it successfully while singing and navigating around all those people makes it tricky.
This week, I spent a lot of time emphasizing some small, apparently nit-picky things. For example, I did a lot of yelling, “Left, Right, Left, Right” to help them figure out which foot they were supposed to be using at any given time. I also focused a lot on having them time some motions for another song. I’d clap and say, “Position 1. Position 2. Position 3.” And so on.
An alien coming to observe our rehearsal would possibly conclude that I had a burning desire, an absolute need to get these kids to walk left, right, left. In fact, he might think that was the entire point of our gathering.
If the same alien came to my choir class or to voice lessons, it would hear me repeatedly telling students to sing with the corners of their mouths in. “Get your corners in,” he would hear me say—over and over. “Lift your eyebrows. Put your hand on your abdomen. Breath with your diaphragm, not your shoulders.
The alien might report back to it’s leader that on earth they go to class to learn to push the corners of their mouths in, to raise their eyebrows and to use their abdomens to breathe. They also spend a lot of time marching on certain feet.
That would be correct, but incomplete. The alien made an understandable mistake in that he confused ends for means.
The goal I have is for the play to be good. But I can’t tell 13 year olds to “do a good job.” That’s not specific enough. I need to break “good job” down into its molecular components. Then, we have to practice each of those tiny details. Mastery of the details will facilitate the excellence of the whole.
However: while excellence will not come until everyone is on the right feet on the right count, that alone does not make an excellent performance. It’s a start, but without energy, emotion, and passion, the play will be empty.
Same with the corners in choir. Saying, “sing with rich, round tones that resonate in your head” isn’t going to cut it with middle schoolers. I have to isolate the techniques that will contribute to that final goal, and we have to practice. But just holding the corners of one’s mouth in don’t make one a great singer.
I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the gospel lately. Reading the scriptures and hearing the words of the prophets, it is easy to be like the alien and mistake ends for means and fundamental techniques for ultimate goals.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ consists of a myriad of small, apparently nit-picky rules, regulations, and so on. I assume that’s because our loving Father wants us to have ultimate happiness, which means being like He is. But He can no more tell us to “be like me” than I can tell my 7th graders to “sing beautifully.” Even if there is a desire, there’s not sufficient ability and understanding to get to that point.
So, he breaks things down into simple, basic steps and then drills us on them. But if we get too focused on them, we are in danger of executing a technically correct, but soulless performance.
If we ignore them, though, then we risk being sloppy, undisciplined, and not getting near the standard that He’s set for us.
The trick I'm working on is in finding how to apply His commandments in an integrated, balanced way that helps us become more like Him as opposed to simply obsessing about small things or checking items of a to-do list.
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