What is excellence? Isn’t what we are watching on the Olympics representative of excellence in every way? Of course.
Still, the commentators are criticizing the gymnasts, the divers, the runners, pointing out where they have fallen short, lost a tenth of a point, been “slightly off”. It boggles the mind. Yet, in our own profession, not being able to sustain a high note at the end of a song can ruin a career. Not being able to sing the big aria, even though you can sing the rest of the role, can keep you from being “a star”. If you can’t sustain Elphaba for at least a few months, you aren’t going to go on to other shows with a solid reputation for reliability. Excellence in these instances isn’t an option it is a necessity.
The people who reach the top of any profession are a very small minority. So many things have to line up just right in order to get the prize, whatever it might be. Even amongst those who are real competitors up until the very last competition, audition, or interview, only the winner is the winner. The old phrase is “to the winner goes the spoils”. That is as true now as it was when the phrase was coined a very long time ago.
Artistic expression, however, isn’t supposed to be competitive. It’s supposed to be unique, creative and compelling. What someone else is doing alongside you, shouldn’t matter one bit. Unfortunately, though, that isn’t typically how it is. Those who are really different do not fit into a “niche”. They have no category. That makes them hard to understand, relate to, and it makes it hard for them to succeed. Those who are very much like others may not leave the world with a new form or expression, but they often are the ones who work and continue to survive, because they can take on any requisite form successfully. The excellence in these circumstances isn’t so straight forward. Can you achieve excellence even if you don’t win the prize?
Pop music is typically dominated by young people who are, for the most part, quite attractive and able to dance very well. They may or may not sing really well, but that isn’t as important as the overall effect they create, of course with a whole bunch of help from an entire team of support personnel. Who knows if a vocalist, alone, could have a career, if you took away her arranger and arrangements, her publicist, her hairdresser, costume designer, engineer, dancers, musicians, dietician, trainer, tour manager and personal manager. The vocal element of things is pretty small and insignicant. I would say having a great body is more important than having a great set of chops. Too bad. For every Adele who becomes a star there are countless others who aren’t so lucky but perhaps just as talented. Are those who need an army to achieve excellence really excellent? Who can say?
The idea that successful people, including singers, will let nothing get in their way, is a very important premise. When someone is driven to be “the best ever” and is willing to make any and all sacrifices to get to their goal, it makes for greatness, surely, as long as the person doesn’t forget to be human along the way. Sometimes people who don’t win the prize have made the same effort, the same sacrifices, and had the same goals, have also had less support, or less encouragement, and, consequently, maybe also less success. Aren’t they great, too, even if we never see or hear them?
If you are seeking excellence, all you can do to achieve it is begin the journey. Being a good singer can mean being “good” in a lot of different ways. It’s important to define “good” for yourself if you sing so you know what it means and then it’s necessary to check with others to see if your idea lines up with most people’s, at least at the beginning. Then, using whatever resources you have at hand, you must begin pursuing your vision with energy and commitment. If you do not give up, you will be rewarded in good time. Perhaps not in the way that you had originally envisioned, but in some way. Sometimes the rewards are actually better than the ones you originally had in mind.
If you desire to climb to the top of the mountain and if you are willing to pull your heart and soul into your goals, even if you do not get there, what you will gain on the journey will be a reward, perhaps of even greater value than standing at the top.
Take a lesson from the Olympic athletes and go for the gold. Find your voice, find your message, sing your song. Let nothing stop you. If you reach the top of the mountain you will know you have reached your goal, but even if you do not make it, you will encounter your own version of excellence as a reward.