Concentration first, perspiration second – and inspiration as a bonus

What can we musicians learn from our sporting colleagues?

The title of this post comes from a sentence in a BBC article on the new England football coach – Roy Hodgson. Here is the statement in full:

Hodgson is not the type of manager synonymous with the boom and bust of England’s hopes past. The small improvements that have been on show in Euro 2012 have not been a product of tub-thumbing or inspirational man-management, but of endless drills on the training field.

Concentration first, perspiration second – and inspiration as a bonus.

I read that, and at once I remembered reading the words of the famous inventor Thomas Edison: “success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” But as a music leader and educator, I spend a great deal of time pushing music ensembles of all stripes to greater, more intense levels of concentration. As this grows, I push people technically and musically – the ‘perspiration’ – and then and only then do I open the door for ‘inspiration’ on their part.

This is not a fixed way for every situation and context – but there is much in it. Suddenly, the England football coach and myself have something in common…

I spent today working with some lovely but mentally indisciplined high school children (or junior high in the US), and the hardest part was getting them to concentrate. But when they did, they began to do great things.

Alongside Roy Hodgson, two other sporting managers have inspired me this year. One is the England Rugby coach, Stuart Lancaster, who by all accounts is an exceptionally hard worker. And the newly appointed coach for Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers, gave up the chance to go to Euro 2012, because he is already pulling seriously late shifts at his new club, preparing for the new season and the monstrous, high-pressure challenges that lie ahead.

I’m no sports professional, but I am certainly more knowledgeable than some members of the general public. I understand these sports enough to know that success in these arenas is not achieved by mere fluke. Teams, individual players, tactics, systems, infrastructure, forward planning – this is very hard work indeed.

So to those working with musical ensembles inside and outside the church, here’s my challenge: if sporting professionals work this hard with these values, then why do so many of us try to use God as a shortcut to musical success in church? If we sought the Lord for our endeavours on every level, and then worked hard to be ready for each and every rehearsal and performance, the standard of what we do would rise and keep rising! As has already been said elsewhere on this blog, inspirational conductors are very hard-working indeed! What has made so many of us think that we can get away from genuine hard work in terms of our musical offerings to God?

More to follow in future, but for now, just something to think about…

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