Monday, April 20, 2015

Would You Believe You?

When I was an undergraduate at Appalachian State, I had an amazing professor who taught teaching theory through the College of Education.  She was always enthusiastic about what we were learning, and her smile would make her students’ day.  On warm spring days, we would go sit in the grass under a shade tree with our books.  “Don’t take notes,” she would say.  “Just listen and think,” she would gently tell us as knowledge and wisdom poured from her small, seasoned voice of reason and discourse.  She helped us to learn more about teaching in addition to ourselves, but she did so through a series of gentle cerebral nudges and playful devil’s advocate questions.  Although I always looked forward to her classes, there’s one particular lesson that stands out.

It was an ordinary day.  She came in…no smile, and arms full of books and materials. She hurriedly slammed her supplies on the front desk in such a way where the students were immediately sorry for their regular before-class chatter the professor had walked into.  Sternly, she stated, “Get out a sheet of paper.  Number your papers one to ten.”  We scrambled to get our notebooks open.  There were a few whispers which were met with a forced, “No! Talking!” 

Good Lord.  We were scared.

She firmly stated from the front of the room behind the lectern:

“Question one: From the reading last night, fill in the blank - Normative philosophies or theories of education make use of the results of what sort of inquiry?”

As soon as pencil hit paper, she was off again…

“Question two…”

[Interruption from a student] “Hey, can you give us a sec….”

“No. Question two: In a philosophical normative theory of education, there will normally be propositions of several kinds.  There are five.  Name two.”

“Question three…”

“Wait, can you repeat…..?”

“No. Question three…”

As the quiz went on, there was a nervous stillness to the whole room.  Some stared at their papers.  I think I heard a couple start to sniffle. I’m pretty sure no one looked at the professor.

Finally, question ten was over.  Then from the front of the room, we heard a gentle, familiar voice:

“Eyes up here, please.” 

We didn’t move.

[Gently] “It’s ok, everyone.  Look up.”

As the class slowly lifted our heads, we noticed the icy, angry, piercing eyes of our professor were noticeably softer. While her tears never fell, they were there.

In a reassuring voice, she asked, “So what just happened here?”

[Student, after a long pause] “We took a quiz.”

“No, not that.  What happened just now? When I asked you to take the quiz?  And then the quiz? And me not repeating questions and telling everyone to stop talking?  What happened?”

[Another student] “You came in, and you were so mad at us! For no reason!  You just came in and starting asking these crazy questions!” [Voice cracking] “We were so scared.  We didn’t know what to do.”

The professor, in her kind, gentle voice, said, “Always remember this.  Whenever you are in front of a group of people, it’s always up to you to set the tone.  Before I came in, you guys were in such a good mood, and I was able to change the tone of the entire class in just a matter of moments.  Within ten seconds, you went from happy and chatting with one another to scared and desperate.  So always remember this – you are in control of the tone for the room in front of you. So, on the days you have a crummy morning, smile anyway.  Not excited about the lesson? Be excited anyway.  Didn’t get a good night’s sleep?  Act well-rested.  It’s not about being fake; it’s about setting the tone for those in front of you.  Make them believe you.”

This is one of the most powerful lessons I’ve ever learned, and I have carried this with me for years.  Not only do I use this in the classroom, but I also use it playing music.  When you play and/or sing, do you actually believe it?  Of course you do.  Now comes the hard part:

Make THEM believe you do.  

Remember, it’s up to YOU to set the tone for the room in front of you.  If you (and I) as leaders don’t look like we believe what we are playing and singing, how can we expect the congregation to believe us and follow?  There are choir members and congregation members that put me to shame when it comes to outward expressions of praise and honor. Listen, it’s ok to act like you are enjoying what you are doing when you are in front of people.  This is why I believe that it’s so important to watch the videos which are posted each week.  You can learn a tremendous amount by watching yourself.  I feel like I always look mad when I play, and I’m working on this; however, with four limbs doing four different things and a click track in my ears, it’s really difficult to remember to smile.  For now, I’m trying to make an effort to at least look up more while I play and make eye contact with people in the congregation.   Hey, it’s a start!

Whether you are leading a song, singing in the choir, or playing an instrument, try to watch yourself on the videos and ask this:

Would YOU believe YOU?  

It’s definitely something to think about.

So let’s say that you have watched a few videos of yourself, and you would like to take some steps that would help with what you project from stage.  Here are some things that I’ve found as I poked around online on this subject.

1. Sing and/or play like you mean it!  I watch these videos of artists who do the songs that we do.  I believe Kari Jobe when she’s belting out the words to “Forever.”  I believe the different singers of Vertical Church when I see them.  Same goes for the folks at Hillsong.  Do you believe them but wouldn’t believe yourself as a singer/musician?  What are they doing that you are not?  What are they projecting that you would like to have or do?

2. Open your eyes!  It’s a funny thing when playing or singing in front of people.  You are in front of everyone, but for some reason, it can be uncomfortable looking at people although they are looking right at you.  Look at this this way: If someone came up to you to talk to you but didn’t look at you and avoided eye contact with you, how would this feel?  Would you believe what they say?  Would they seem trustworthy?  Would you rather them look you in the eye and be engaged?  Why should being on stage be any different?  

3. Commit!  Play or sing each note as if it were the last time you were ever going to.  This doesn’t necessarily mean to sing or play loud all of the time, but it means to approach your notes with confidence.  Do you not feel confident? Worried about hitting the wrong notes?  Then practice until you can’t help but hit right notes.  If you need someone to practice with, feel free to get together with others outside of Wednesday evenings to practice with each other.  Marci and I have a standing date every Tuesday night to practice music for Wednesday so that we can make sure to get our parts down before we have to play it in front of others.  It’s also common for guitar players to show up to the house on Tuesdays as well.

In closing, when my professor walked in that day, I had no idea what life lesson I had ahead of me.  However, the lesson learned is something that I will carry with me until I stop playing music publicly.  I’ll always remember that whenever I’m in front of a group of people, above all else, I need to project that I firmly believe in what I’m doing…so much so that others are willing to go there with me.  It’s something that I’m constantly working on.  I like to think that I would believe me.  Would you believe you?


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