Special Performance Group participants are exceptional in a lot of ways. It’s rare in the world of youth oriented activities to have students who come from so many different areas, some close and some far away. Who show up on time, stay until the end , and who endure the endless desert of hurry up and wait like activities without whining. While also spending many hours outside of the school practicing their instrument and parts, learning the song forms, and engaging in group leadership activities.
It is a culture that has been passed down over the last 16 years, from generation to generation. Growing stronger and more ingrained into each passing group of student performers.
I don’t take this for granted, and have often contemplated how we have nurtured this culture, and how we can transplant it into other areas of the school. After much thought and endless lifetime of reading about self improvement, team building and building an exceptional business I came upon some studies detailed in some recent books where they broke down the most important keys to successful teams.
One was trust. Seems obvious, but trust is not easy to come by. In SPG1 we demand that everyone bare their soul through the performance of music. Moving with passion and intensity on stage, singing beyond your normal “comfort ” range, and playing parts on instruments you wouldn’t think possible, etc. The unspoken mantra in everything we do is “you can do these things or you wouldn’t be in this group.”
The 16 years of success the UMC has had at doing remarkable things with young performers helps to build that trust. As they walk the halls and see the collages of performers of the past they begin to think “if they can do it, so can I”. There’s definitely a level of expectation that encourages students to trust the system.
Then there’s the fact that they are all in this together. That they are doing these musically demanding things in front of each other regularly, and feeling the support of their brother and sister performers when the succeed or fail further instills that sense of trust in one another.
The second key factor identified was being given the power to choose their own path. To have a voice in everything that the group does. Now I do say that the is a democracy – until it’s a Dave-ocracy. If I see them heading towards a cliff, I’m going to redirect them. For the most part however, they have an incredible amount of say in what happens in the group.
From picking the show themes, to choosing the setlist, coming up with the performance plan, the lighting, the sound, when things are going to explode. All the way up to assigning the songs to each other, it’s mostly students making the decisions. Of course I oversee it all, I suggest, I explain why I think their plans are flawed. However I and the staff rarely insist, or demand.
So much so that the older kids feel very comfortable pushing back on many of the staffs ideas. So much so that we all have to remind myself sometimes that this is what we want from them… Just like rebellion against your parents is a good sign in a teenager, it means they have a mind of their own.
Their ability to choose ultimately ties them to the program. It goes beyond engagement and moves into the free air of ownership. This is their program. It was passed down to them by older students who showed them how it was done. Now it’s their turn to lead, and to prepare the next generation.
These two factors of trust and choice (or ownership if you will) was on powerful display yesterday during the Sunday Full Rehearsal. Hard work all day long. No complaining in spite of running an hour late due to performance issues during the audio recording sessions for the soon to be released Walk This Way promo videos.
When rehearsal started they immediately started to rock out. Everyone moving, all of them totally into every song. Even the newer students, who are still awkward, but making an effort. We still have some kinks to iron out, but for where are time wise in the process, the music is at this point far ahead of plan. Which of course gives us time to really polish the details and focus more on the stage performance.
Throughout the day the new kids in particular were challenged to keep up. To push themselves beyond what they thought were there limits, and to loosen up their naturally uptight selves, allowing more of their cooler inner beings out into the world.
The fruits of their ownership and trust should be on display for all to see when this show hits the stage. Where the audience, who also shows an immense amount of trust in this group, and also a sense of ownership of our performances, will be wowed by what we have in store. I can’t wait to see it all happen.