One of the great joys of my musical life is that I had the opportunity to sing for many years under the baton of Robert Shaw. In my own conducting career, I have been influenced in many ways by this amazing individual. His level of commitment, to both his art and his craft, has been a source of inspiration to me for nearly forty years. Commitment was also something Mr. Shaw expected from his singers. In one of his weekly letters to his choristers he had this to say:
The ratio of commitment to ability generally is higher among amateurs than among professionals. This can be due to two factors: first, that the amateur’s talent is, by comparison to his professional counterpart, generally limited; and second, that his is a recreational endeavor, undertaken to provide any of of a number of personal, non-material satisfactions, originally, at least, with high enthusiasm.
The point is that while the professional may lose some his enjoyment and personal commitment to his work without necessarily imparing his craft to a dangerous degree, the amateur, if he loses his commitment and moment-to-moment enthusiam and concentration is in danger of diminishing his abilities by fifty to seventy-five percent.
This is the nature of a “society” such as ours. Unless it is unremittingly committed to success it only adds failure to failure. It is commitment which discovers, enlarges and refines our capabilities – not vice versa. Since it is most of what we have, it has to be practiced at every rehearsal.
As we enter the Advent/Christmas season, the busiest time of year for most choral musicians, may we we all be reminded of the wisdom expressed so eloquently by Robert Shaw.