Robert Shaw on Commitment

One of the great joys of my musical life is that I had the opportunity to sing for many years under the baton of Robert Shaw.  In my own conducting career, I have been influenced in many ways by this amazing individual.  His level of commitment, to both his art and his craft, has been a source of inspiration to me for nearly forty years.  Commitment was also something Mr. Shaw expected from his singers.  In one of his weekly letters to his choristers he had this to say:

The ratio of commitment to ability generally is higher among amateurs than among professionals.  This can be due to two factors: first, that the amateur’s talent is, by comparison to his professional counterpart, generally limited; and second, that his is a recreational endeavor, undertaken to provide any of of a number of personal, non-material satisfactions, originally, at least, with high enthusiasm.

The point is that while the professional may lose some his enjoyment and personal commitment to his work without necessarily imparing his craft to a dangerous degree, the amateur, if he loses his commitment and moment-to-moment enthusiam and concentration is in danger of diminishing his abilities by fifty to seventy-five percent.

This is the nature of a “society” such as ours.  Unless it is unremittingly committed to success it only adds failure to failure.  It is commitment which discovers, enlarges and refines our capabilities – not vice versa.  Since it is most of what we have, it has to be practiced at every rehearsal.

As we enter the Advent/Christmas season, the busiest time of year for most choral musicians, may we we all be reminded of the wisdom expressed so eloquently by Robert Shaw.

Showing 2 comments
  • Clay Hales

    When you shared these words with us at rehearsal last night, I could not help but recall one of my favorite quotations, with which I have encouraged my children in their endeavors –

    “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required. “
    Sir Winston Churchill

  • Santa Claus

    It occurs to me that my commitment to those (and indeed all) children is roughly equivalent to what you feel about the music and every member of your audience. With you and Robert Shaw as guides, I’ll work on the music and the audience. Thanks for sharing some of the sources of your commitment. It is hard to know where to go without someone to lead the way. And by the way, thanks for picking the Pinkham. It was (and is) simply grand!
    Santa Claus

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