The Energy of Ensembles

Last Sunday at my church the men’s chorus and the women’s chorus joined to sing a complicated medley of old gospel tunes, ending on a chord of voices that nearly knocked the stained glass out of the windows and the folks in the balcony out of their pews. The joy of singing this song, which I compared to white-water rafting (and a couple of times I nearly fell out of the raft), reminded me of the energy of being in an ensemble.

My coaching business is a solo practice and while I am a member of many “teams,” including the Ambassadors Club at the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce, a band and chorus at church and the board of directors of the National Speakers Association of Illinois, I operate mostly as a single unit. When I go to the office, unless I bring my dog Peanut, I’m there by myself. No water-cooler banter, no one to distract me from the work at hand. I do have an office mate across the hall and we occasionally stop to catch up between our respective clients but for the most part, I’m alone until I meet with clients or head off to a meeting. For someone like me who enjoys being with people, this sometimes can prove to be a challenge. That’s why I couldn’t stop thinking about our combined choirs’ performance. Here are just a few of my observations about the benefits of being in an ensemble:

  • People are working together toward a common goal. In the case of our medley, which was not an easy piece of music, we had to rehearse together. Dan Keck, our irrepressible music director who leads the men’s chorus, worked patiently with the women on learning our parts. We knew we had to pull off the song by the next week, so there was a pleasant pressure to get the vocal parts worked out and we all gave up time we otherwise would have spent on our families, our work or other commitments related to self to practice the piece together.
  • The sum is greater than the parts of the whole. Did I get that right? Singing a solo, or even a duet or trio, is fun but when you put all those men’s and women’s voices together, you get an amazing sound that you could never get alone. I like to say that good music “rearranges your molecules,” and that last note of our song certainly did just that.
  • The “you” disappears and you become a “we.” As fascinating as we may find ourselves, sometimes it’s exhausting to be us. Being in an ensemble means you set aside your focus on self, your issues and concerns, to work with others on the task at hand. Being a “we” has a completely different agenda and it can provide relief from that circular logic that often comes from working by ourselves.

Whether you’re working on a team or working by yourself, I think it’s important to recognize the power of being in a group. For those of you who work in corporations and get frustrated with the need to always negotiate, and sometimes capitulate, perhaps you can take a new look at the value of being part of a team. And for those of you who, like me, work primarily in solitude, you may want to look for ways to engage in ensembles to tap into that energy source. Whether it’s sitting together with other Chamber members, working on a project or an event, or adding your voice to a mighty chorus, there’s a singular joy in working with others.

[Photo: Dan Keck leads the Men’s Chorus at Gary United Methodist Church, Wheaton, IL.]

My Heart Overfloweth

Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m thinking of all the people I love. I start with my family–my husband Bill, my adult children Kitty and Will, and all the parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins and extended family who have surrounded us. While today is spun as a romantic holiday, I prefer to think of Valentine’s Day as a time to contemplate, celebrate and communicate about love with all the people in our lives.

Last night my heart overfloweth as I watched my friend and fellow speaker Steve Beck volunteer his time as one of our guest faculty at the National Speakers Association of Illinois (NSA-IL)’s Speakers Academy. Steve is one of many NSA-IL members who have so generously donated their time and talent to share about the experience of being a professional speaker with students in our Speakers Academy, a training program for aspiring speakers. But perhaps because Steve was my Co-Dean in the program for several years, or because he now serves as our chapter president, or maybe just because Steve is Steve, I was moved to tears by his contribution.

Steve shared about losing his brother in Vietnam when Steve was 15. He said that before his brother left for Vietnam, his mother promised to pray for his brother every day–a ridiculous promise, he thought. Steve remembered coming home as a young teenager to see his mother praying the rosary and asking him to join her. Reluctantly, he did. Now as an adult, and as a successful business man and professional speaker, Steve uses prayer to jump start his day. Prayer, meditation and affirmations are part of his morning ritual, as much a requirement as his first cup of coffee. He shared his own “12-step program” with us, a list of daily affirmations, and he encouraged us to write some of our own in the handout he shared. Oh, and another thing–he makes his bed every day. Every. Day.

Steve Beck Leave Your Funk at the DoorIt’s no surprise that Steve has written a series of books, the first of which was entitled How to Have a Great Day Every Day, followed by Leave Your Funk at the Door. These irrepressible titles reflect the message Steve had for our Speakers Academy participants, a message that aligns so perfectly with Valentine’s Day: it’s up to us to discover every day the miracles we have in our lives. And most of those miracles have something to do with the people we love. No, let me rephrase that: those miracles have EVERYTHING to do with the people we love.

Steve, I love you, man. You bring a new energy to our NSA-IL chapter that nurtures and sustains us, an enthusiasm that’s helping our speaker community grow, attracted by love. The many lives you’ve touched as President, Co-Dean and now as guest faculty for our Speakers Academy program, are too numerous to mention. Happy Valentine’s Day, my friend.

 

[Masthead photo: “Arizona Valentine, A Heart of Ten Roses,” 2011, oil on canvas by artist Dyana Hesson, Mesa, AZ; taken at Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, AZ]