I was inspired watching Emirates Team New Zealand battle and beat Oracle Team U.S.A in the America’s Cup yacht races recently. The achievement was nothing short of brilliant.

(For anyone not in NZ, this is was a big deal here! On their return home the team was lauded as national heros in ticker tape parades in four city centers.) They had made the racing all look so easy, but it didn’t just come together on the day. The superb performances were examples of a brilliant team effort.

During that time, while preparing a music concert for another music school I direct, I got to thinking that how we prepare for a musical performance holds some similarities to what I had observed in the yacht racing: 

  • There were many who had put in a lot of time and money behind the scenes: sponsors, boat designers and builders who are not seen during the race.
    • This reminds me of the amazing support that parents put in to fund their children’s music lessons, source good instruments and help them do the practice needed to keep pushing forward.
  • They were prepared for different weather conditions and how to work with those conditions on the day to get to the finish line well.
    • When it comes to a musical performance, a performer has to tune out the distractions coming from the audience, such as a baby crying or someone having a coughing fit, keeping focus and steady to the end.
  • The ‘cyclors’ and ‘grinders’ had to have built up to peak fitness. They couldn’t just jump onto the boat and expect to excel.
    • For a musician, an excellent performance has to have a foundation of the basics covered well, such as scales and various technical skills to support the level of ability to play the piece. A piece performed beyond the technical ability of the musician will inevitably show some sort of lack, for example: the rhythm may be unstable if counting skills are weak, or poor fingering can result in untidy phrasing.
  • Peter Burling, the NZ helmsman, spoke gratefully of all the encouragement received from all sorts of sources to keep at it.
    • A musical performer too needs affirmation from a range of sources to work towards that goal of an excellent performance. It is powerful when it comes from those outside his immediate family too – from  teachers, extended family,  the peer group and other respected musicians.

Some performers are self-driven to excellence, whilst others need a little encouragement to get there. But the end result will show them the value of the effort, not just from themselves but from those on their team who helped them experience the huge satisfaction and sheer delight of a great performance.

2 thoughts on “Excellence in performance is a team effort – lessons learned from the America’s Cup

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