Routine Maintenance

by vernsanders on January 17, 2012

Between the Christmas holidays and then Martin Luther King day yesterday, I have recently found myself doing a lot of “routine maintenance” — things around the house especially…and I’ve had a chance to think. I often use the end-of-year time to reflect on the success or failure of last year’s goals, and to set new goals for the new year. But as a goal oriented person, sometimes the goal becomes the thing. And when the goal is the thing, you make assumptions about the existing conditions. And sometimes an assumption is that you don’t have to “change the oil and rotate the tires” in the goal’s arena. Let me give you an example:

Suppose your goal was to grow an ensemble from a current membership of 20 to 30. (That may not seem like much, but ask yourself whether or not you would be happy if, at the end of this year, your net worth was 1.5 times what it is now.) The temptation is to focus all of your energy on the goal itself: you beat the bushes for new members, you do marketing in your community, and so forth. In the course of trying to reach your goal, however, you give no attention to the membership you currently have, other than to implore them to “each one bring one.” In the process, your current members feel unappreciated, and slighted. At the end of the year you have 10 new members, but your total membership is only 25, because you lost 5 people who felt that you didn’t care about them.

Net gain? Certainly.

Net loss? Absolutely.

Now what if the people you gained were not as gifted, or as committed, as the ones you lost? Could you have kept all of the original members by doing “routine maintenance?”

The same thing can be said about a musical goal. Teaching a choir to sing a piece in Russian may be great for them and their corporate development. But what if, in the process of that teaching, you lose the amount of rehearsal time it might take to do several pieces well, and they become “good enough?” Net gain, or net loss?

I am not advocating no forward momentum, and no goal setting. I am reminded, in my own programs, that before you start a long journey it is prudent to make sure that everything you need is in top working order. And that may take a bit of routine maintenance.

In this period of the liturgical year between the crush of Christmas and the imperatives of Easter, don’t forget to do your routine maintenance — on technique, relationships, communication, repertoire research, talking with professional colleagues, and all the other things that are a part of the unwritten job description of a church musician. It may seem like it is a waste of time, but you won’t know until there is a problem…and then it might be too late.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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