Friday, March 23, 2012

The key to group success.

Me with my news team at BYU Daily News, 2008

Throughout my life, I've been privileged to be part of many performing groups and ensembles. It started when I was a little girl, singing in small groups at church. I also enjoyed choreographing dance routines with my little sister (don't worry, Sarah -- I'll spare everyone the pictures). As I grew up, I accompanied many musicians and singers and have been part of a few dance squads, plays, an orchestra and a number of choirs. I've performed in small groups, in massive choirs with over 200 members and everything in between. And of course, I've been part of news broadcasts in nearly every capacity, from teleprompter-operator to anchor to executive producer.

In all these situations, I've noticed the undertone of a particular attitude that we would do well to abolish from all aspects of life: pride. I'm not talking about a healthy sense of confidence -- I'm referring to the attitude of "I'm so much better than everyone else." And I don't mean to cast aspersions on others because guess what? I've been guilty of feeling this way, too. It's difficult not to. But I think the key to ending this type of thinking is understanding how damaging it can be to others and ultimately, to the ensemble as a whole.

As a junior in high school, I remember feeling elated when I was selected to be part of the elite Concert Choir. Previously, the choir has been invited to perform at many prestigious events and venues, including Carnegie Hall and Shrine Auditorium with Eric Whitacre. I didn't have much formal training in singing at the time, so I felt very fortunate to be selected for this group simply because of my raw talent. I was giddy with excitement and ready to start rehearsing!

Not long after my acceptance to the choir, my enthusiasm completely plummeted when I overheard some older, more accomplished choir members whispering and making fun of my singing during a rehearsal. I thought, Certainly they can't be talking about me -- the director thought I was talented enough to be part of this group! I'm a good singer ... right? But, they were definitely talking about me. When I realized this, my face burned red and my eyes welled up with tears. It hurt.

This fun-poking, critical behavior continued. I tried to ignore it -- surely, if I was THAT bad, the director would have said something by that point. But the doubts settled in, one by one: Am I singing sharp? Am I flat? Is my vibrato weird? Is my tone awful? Am I dragging? Am I rushing? Am I the worst singer in the world?

As you can imagine, choir became a nerve-wracking, miserable experience for me. Instead of enjoying the music and focusing on perfecting the repertoire, I was caught up in an exhausting mental hurricane of negative thought. I often got raging headaches after choir from becoming so tense with nervousness. Soon, I started singing softly so no one could hear me and therefore, ridicule me. I shrank into the group and sometimes, I remained silent out of fear.

It took an entire year (and the graduation of my critics) before I would fully regain my confidence in singing. This happened slowly as directors, other choir members, vocal coaches and adjudicators praised my abilities. By the end of my senior year, all my vocal hang-ups and fears had vanished. My self-esteem was rebuilt and I was no longer scared to sing.

At times, I have unfortunately experienced those condescending feelings towards others -- the same ones that tore me down in high school. But I can't easily forget how I felt that day when I realized people were mocking me behind my back (and not very discreetly, I must add). I never want to inflict that kind of damage and pain on others. It's not compassionate and it accomplishes nothing.

If you've ever been part of a sports team, musical ensemble, cheer squad, news team, you name it, you've probably heard the following saying a number of times: "The group is only as good as its weakest member." This is the honest truth! It just makes sense. So, to make your group better, you can do one of two things: remove the lesser members or build them up. I prefer to take the positive approach whenever possible, so the first is not even an option to me. Besides, finding fault in others is a slippery slope, and before you know it, you might only have four members left!

Instead, encourage your weaker members. Don't criticize their faults -- capitalize on their strengths. Don't tell them they're wrong -- show them (kindly!) how to do it correctly. And never talk about someone behind their back. If you're not going to take your concerns directly to the culprit, you are wasting your breath. The problem is likely going to continue, or, as with my case, worsen when they realize how little you think of them. And remember, they likely have unique talents you may not possess.

Let's stop with the superiority complexes, the needless put-downs and the back-biting. It does nothing but make the group weaker. When you hear someone singing flat behind you or you think your anchor talks too slowly, either (kindly!) do something about it, or learn to live with it. Those are really your only two options since bludgeoning the person in the head is a crime.

Remember, an ensemble is only as good as its weakest member. The most successful groups are those which perform confidently, so don't forget how easy it is to destroy someone's self-esteem. Be kind and help others around you -- don't be a hindrance to your group's success.


  1. YES! This is SO IMPORTANT. And such a good reminder for me, who sometimes needs a morale boost when it comes to group-work.

    Also, look! It's me in that picture!

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