Always looking for motivation, at my next student meeting I told them about the competition and passed along the opinions, “Your students can’t possibly win.” Their reaction began with head-shaking confusion followed by red-faced indignation, and finally, steely-eyed determination. From that point on they had a mission.
Unfortunately, our first trip proved my friends correct. We won absolutely nothing. Besides the disadvantages I mentioned before, the groups we competed in were sometimes as large as 80 with only one winner and three or four honorable mentions chosen from “superior” rated students all across the state. But they did not give up—they learned to do better.
And sure enough, the next year we had a winner. Every year after that we brought home at least one winner, and one year we outdid every other group in the state: nine students with performance wins (one of whom was my son Nathan), three state officers elected, including state vice-president and president (Nathan), and a $200 summer music camp scholarship winner (did I mention that Nathan won that?).
How did they manage this? Things that had never made any difference to them at all suddenly became important. We taped their performances at lessons and they would sit and pick themselves apart—I seldom said a word. All of a sudden they could hear that their tempo was not steady, that their melody got lost in the underlying harmonies, that their dynamic shading was practically nonexistent; that their vocal placement was wrong, that their diphthongs were too wide, that their tone was unsupported.
Most importantly I think, this group became a team. Several times during the year the students listened to one another and gave critiques. The ones performing did not let their pride get in the way because someone was telling them they were not perfect—they were anxious to hear how to do better, and after the taping exercise, realized that we do not all see (or hear) ourselves correctly. And it worked. They began to win. And success breeds success.
They even came up with their own uniforms—black pants or skirt, white shirt, and Looney Tunes tie. This little outfit started with just one duet team and gradually spread. It finally got to the point where new students were asking me when they got their “uniforms.” And whenever a child was without something—especially the tie, which some had trouble finding--there would be the “passing of the ties” between rooms and events as they raced to perform, so that no one would be without. It was amazing to me to see this happen among children, with no prompting whatsoever. The last few years as I sat in the audience, I heard other parents and teachers around me saying, “Uh-oh. They’re from the group with the ties,” as one of my ensembles approached the piano. Even the ones who never won anything viewed the “outfit” as a badge of honor. It meant they belonged to a group who did win, and that meant they won, too.
Do I really need to make an application here? What if the church acted like this group of children? What if we all had the attitude, “Please tell me how to do better?” “Please tell me exactly what I’m doing wrong.” What if we all “rejoiced with those who rejoiced” instead of becoming envious? What if we all viewed being a part of the Lord’s body as an honor? What if we all looked Satan right in the face and said, “I can too do it!” And then did.
There should be no schism in the body; but the members should have the same care one for another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now YOU are the body of Christ and each is a member of it. 1 Cor 12:25-27