Friday, May 20, 2005

Final Thoughts from the Paris Banquet

Choir, this is the text of what I told you at the banquet on the last night of the trip.

As you know very well from my constant retelling of the story, college choir gave me direction for my life. It changed me. I got to see the world, and most of the world that I have seen has come from the second tenor section. It is an honor for me to be a similar vehicle for you as you experience some of the things that we have on this trip: France, Notre Dame, concerts, competitions.

I’m not sure if you can always tell or not, but I love being your choir director.

  • It is a joy for me to watch you interact with one another
  • I love to make you laugh and I thrive in finding humor in our shared situations, rehearsal experiences, and music.
  • I love the different insights that we find in the music:
    • Spiritual
    • Life lessons
    • Profound juxtapositions
  • I love the memory that develops among the group as we experience things together.

It is a privilege to be your leader and a person interested in your life. I highly value the opportunity to give you advice or insight into your life situations or perhaps give you a new perspective on your current way of thinking.

I know that I sometimes frustrate you when I don’t respond the way that you think I should about decisions you have made and are making with your life. Some of my attitudes and opinions come from wisdom and prior life experiences. Sometimes I’m playing the Devil’s Advocate with you and other times I’m just wrong. I love making you think a little deeper about things.

I love our pursuit for excellence in all things musical, textual, and technical.

I’m concluding my fourth year at UAB and I’m astounded at the dramatic change in the level of music making over the past several years. There are many reasons for the rapid progress and much of the credit goes to the hard work of Jeff and Dale Reynolds. Don’t ever forget that.

Before them, Henry Panion led the way. Henry has a remarkable talent for innovation and creation. Much of what we have now was started by him.

Remember, UAB Music started with a music appreciation class.

We could not have considered participation in an international competition a short while ago. We could not have done this tour and competition last year, even though we were good enough to think about it. I must never forget that in August 2003 we had trouble singing “Flower of Beauty” all the way through without falling apart. Four semesters later we were performing a large number of incredibly difficult works in front of a jury of internationally accomplished choral directors—and receiving their highest marks.

As far as we have come in the recent days, we can also see that our future is bright. We entered our first international competition and we very nearly won it. We know that we beat the winning choir in one out of two categories. It will be public knowledge for us, but we will not make the information public.

My first and primary purpose in planning this trip and entering this competition was to show you what it was all about. In that end, I’ve succeeded wildly. It is worth retelling you that I rejected the advice of my mentor and did what I thought was right for this group. He wanted us to delay the entering of a competition like Tours and build our list of international accomplishments with easier competitions.

Was it the best decision? I don’t know, but I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish with you: You now know what it is like to feel the intensity of working to master complicated tasks and then to execute them under the stress of adjudicators, performance situations, and a discriminating audience—all in the midst of jet lag induced fatigue and what some might call substandard living conditions.

The judges thought they were telling me something when they reminded me that I had a “young choir.” They don’t know how young we really are. Out of the thirty-six singers that sang on the Tours stage:

  • 3 were added this semester and had to learn everything very quickly
  • 10 were first year freshmen
  • 15 were in their first year of UAB choir
  • 26 were only in their second year of UAB Choir.

These are the students who have been with me longer than two years: Chris Carter, Anthony Concepcion, Delia Charest, Waylon Hinkle, Tara V. Howard, Sarah Labriola, Erin Pair, Lindsey Woolley, Charles Henry. I still don’t know how to categorize Jonathan McNeil!

Two of these students, Erin and Sarah, were with me on my first day of rehearsal at UAB. When we look at each other and talk about the past we share an unspoken amazement at the journey we’ve shared together.

To accomplish what we’ve accomplished, knowing the true facts of our situation, is nothing short of remarkable.

The credit goes to your ability to:

  • Learn quickly
  • Master complex material
  • Perform under stress

My unwavering thanks goes out to:

  • The teachers that prepared you
  • The teachers that prepared me
  • Your parents and family who love and support you
  • The UAB support system that works on our behalf

You are a choir of champions. The pain that we experienced by not winning this first competition in NO WAY says that you aren’t a winner. It is only the true champion that hates to lose. Winning too easily raises a question about the validity of the competition.

You are a choir of leaders. You are passionate people and deeply spiritual. I admire who you are . . . but I will not be satisfied with you until we all achieve who we can be. Make no mistake: Most people never realize their potential in life. The majority of students that I have taught always look for the easiest way out.

If I teach you anything through the experiences I give you and the words that I speak, I hope it is this:

  1. Work hard at what you do, whatever it is that you choose to do.
  2. Take pleasure in working hard and find the humor that life provides. Pick a profession that allows you to love what you do.
  3. RISK: Step out of the normal expectations of people around you and try to do something that is truly exceptional. Great reward follows risk. One never regrets an attempt at greatness.


Holly Jean said...

It was a wonderful speech, Dr. Copeland.

Debbie Movelle said...

I can't think of anyone I would rather mentor my Katie...Thanks, Dr. Copeland, for ALL the extra things you add and do. You are truly my kind of teacher!