I really don’t care about winning, I am far more interested in succeeding.

I graduated from college in 2007, and I set out on my quest to use my newly acquired degree in the field of music education. I applied for a variety of open positions in a variety of locations, all of which to no avail. Finally, after what seemed like forever, the call came in. I was asked to come in for an interview at __________ High School. Let’s just call it Hogwarts. Hogwarts High School had a successful music program many years prior to my interview, and they were looking to grow their program out of the decimated, horrible sounding, sack of garbage that they had become. For the days leading up to the interview, I prepared. I had a plan, a five year plan no less, of how I would restore this once great program into the shining beacon of musical education it had once been. A plan on how my students would become the finest musicians in the land, and no one could deny their amazing musical abilities. A plan of how upon hearing my band, my enemies would be crushed, and driven before me, and I would hear the lamentation of their women. Clearly, I was prepared. Finally, the day arrived and I went to my interview. I strolled casually through the door, humming “Welcome to the Jungle” to get myself pumped up for the impending barrage of questions. The panel was just as you would expect from these such things, a band parent, a principal, another teacher from the school, and a board member. After the official handshakes, introductions, and greetings I sat down in the hot seat, ready to dazzle everyone with my awesomeness. The principal was up first with the first question.

“What are your thoughts on winning?” He asked.

I stared blankly. I hadn’t prepared for this question. My thoughts on winning? What kind of question is that? Was I in the right interview? I can totally understand questions on instrumental pedagogy, or having to spout off some non-sense about Bloom’s taxonomy or something like that. But…..winning? I collected myself and muddled through some answer about how “performing well, and placing high in marching contests and festivals would be at the top of my priority list,” or something. Long story short, it was bad. I fielded a few more questions about things such has class room management, budgeting, and ensemble plans, but I didn’t feel awesome about it at all when I left. I got a call from them a few days later. They told me “thank you” for coming in, but ultimately, I was their second choice and they had offered the job to another candidate who had accepted the position. The candidate in question evidently answered the “winning question” correctly, as over the last several years, Hogwarts and his program have poured untold resources toward the goal of winning. Since my interview at Hogwarts, I have taught for six years in public education. In that time, I have developed my thoughts on winning. My thought…I really don’t care about winning, I am far more interested in succeeding.

I love the marching activity. I enjoy writing and arranging for it, teaching my group, and consulting with other bands. However, the marching activity is certainly the tail that wags the dog in the mind of many directors and is the primary focus of their entire program. The people that subscribe to this way of thinking have made a grave error. Defining whether or not your kids are a success and good musicians based on the opinion of several judges doesn’t do anything to benefit your kids. They are nothing but critics, and let us not forget what Sibelius said, “Their has never been a statue set up in honor of a critic.” They have mistaken winning for succeeding. Winning is not whether or not you get first place at a contest, or a distinguished rating at festival, winning is when you reach your defined level of success.

My high school group is currently in the middle of our indoor percussion season. At the beginning of the year, we defined our level of success. In other words, at what point should we say “ we are happy with the season.” Not to say, “when we reach this point we will stop,” but to simply define the point that we can all be happy with the outcome. The students’ goals were to either medal in our class or get bumped up a class. Though it remains to be seen if we medal this year, we did get bumped up a class after our first weekend out, a sign that we are headed in the right direction. As a director, I am judging our level of success for the season based on my students’ growth as people. The times I am most disappointed in my students are not when they score badly, or receive a poor ranking, but when they fail to meet the standard of commitment that is required to be successful. Are they exhibiting qualities of responsibility and accountability that I require of them? Are they working hard each day to get better at their instrument and their craft? Are they encouraging to other members of the group? If they aren’t doing these things, then we aren’t on the right track. This policy is something that we try to employ for all of our ensembles. Can you as a student truthfully say, “I am one hundred percent committed to getting better and I am working toward that at every rehearsal?” If so, then winning will most likely follow.

I am from Kentucky. One of the precious few things we have going for us here in the Bluegrass state besides fried chicken and fast horses is our love for basketball. Kentuckians are passionate about the game, and most have a very strong understanding of how the game is played. One of the best coaches in the history of the game was John Wooden, of UCLA. Wooden and his teams famously started each seasons practices with learning how to put on their socks and tie their shoes. As a coach he never mentioned winning, it was something that didn’t concern him. He simply required his teams to play with passion, respect for each other, and at all times to do the absolute best they could. Wooden said “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Instead of deciding if your group’s season or performance was successful based on whether or not they win first place, define what you want to accomplish at the beginning. Then, regardless of your finish, you will still have worked toward an attainable goal and your students can feel that sense of accomplishment when they hopefully achieve it. Wooden’s teams won ten titles in twelve years, and at one point had an eighty-eight game winning streak. Hogwarts, along with the rest of us, has got some catching up to do.


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