While watching the local PBS station’s showcasing of high school choirs from across the state, I observed that the performances these kids were giving were ultimately being used to promote the schools. Whatever may have been the motives of the individual kids, their efforts were being co-opted for mere promotion. Never mind the music itself, or the kids’ ability to learn it, understand it, and perform it at a certain level of excellence; these kids were on parade for another purpose.
I’ve seen this same behavior in many institutions. All efforts seem to be about drawing attention back to the institution. The Christmas pageant isn’t really about sharing the story of Jesus’ amazing arrival on this planet; it’s about promoting “our wonderful Sunday School program” and it’s “wonderful Director.” The charity’s fund-raising event isn’t primarily about raising money to relieve the poor; it’s about showing “what a great charity we have” — often evidenced by the T-shirts and signs displayed with its name. The political party’s campaign for a certain measure isn’t about the principle of the measure itself; it’s about choosing a populist position in hopes of gaining more members.
I’m not sure that I mean to say that promotion is necessarily a bad thing, but must it always be the priority? I can’t remember the last time I saw an event or performance where it was not. When promotion is the primary motive (whether it’s admitted or not), excellence is often left behind. In the case of the choruses, the concert becomes a matter of promoting and performing the scheduled concert, and not necessarily a matter of preparing the music until it is truly concert-worthy. It becomes a classic example of “teaching to the test.” Since the ultimate motive isn’t that of teaching the child, many short cuts are implemented along the way to the concert and the child’s performance, rather than his understanding, becomes the key. The striving, therefore, is for what is “acceptable” or “adequate,” rather than for excellence. The audience of family, friends and neighbors will applaud nearly anything. So little Johnny is unwittingly trained to sing for the undiscriminating applause, and may very likely be missing out on a well-rooted understanding of the very music he strives to perform.
Meanwhile, the audience is not instructed in the least by the performance….except, perhaps, about how the school has a “great choral program.” This turns out for a loss for both students and audience.
What’s missing here is a viable “why.” Why have the performances in the first place? If it is because the music is worthy of our attention, then why not let the music, well-performed, speak for itself? But if it is because the institution needs promotion, then how empty is promotion for its own sake. It is as if to say, “We’re telling you how great our institution is so that you can see how great we are.”
Promotion over principle is empty. Let the child learn music for the child’s sake or for the art’s sake. Let the charitable act be only to benefit those in need. Let the political campaign be genuinely for the good of the people with no thought of promoting the party. As a result, you may find us all receiving blessings — including your institution.