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Wow, It’s Festival Season!

by Russ Otte, President, Oregon ACDA

Most choral directors who work in schools are in the midst of Festival/Contest season at this time of year. This can be a stressful time of year and may be looked upon as a dreaded part of the season. I would like to make a few suggestions that may help keep things in perspective.

First - Festival/contest becomes stressful for me when I fall into a trap that I call the “athletic model”. If I allow myself to be concerned about “winning” or “beating the other choir”, my dread increases significantly. Why? Because my core belief does not accept competition in the arts. However, the culture in which we live has made “winning’ an essential ingredient in most facets of life.

What is my strategy for dealing with this situation? My competitive self accepts the competition to be the best that we can be. Dig in and work hard and smart. Engage clinicians, friends, and colleagues to assist in preparing my choir to sing very well. Use the ACDA/OMEA Choral Scoring Guide as an instructional tool in class to teach the students about the facets of performance that will be evaluated. Yes, I will “teach to the test”. I will not raise questions/issues of how any other choir will sing. I have no control over their performance. I will teach my choir members to celebrate the wonderful music making of all participants at these events because the “winning” is not the most important thing.

Second – Helping students learn to set goals and work toward successful completion of those goals is a worthwhile effort. If I shift the focus of preparing for competition from the outcome to the process, I can feel very good about the life skills that are being learned in the rehearsal process. I don’t have to be the creator or keeper of all of the goals. If I suggest topics for goals, students are inclined to create a goal in that domain even if they do not write it down.

I find it worthwhile to encourage the practice of goal setting and encourage self evaluation during each daily rehearsal. When I ask students to do a self evaluation of the just completed run through of a song, list the successes and “failures”, then set a goal for personal improvement in the next run through, and then have them notice the changes that occur in that run through, they gain confidence in the cycle of goal setting for success.

The outcome of the ongoing cycle of goal setting/performance/evaluation/goal setting leads to continuously improving performance while modeling behavior for success in life without focusing on the competition. I can live with that.

Best wishes for a rewarding contest season. I look forward to receiving comments from readers on strategies for positive outcomes from “competitive” music making.


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