Monday, July 22, 2013

The importance of buy-in

Recently I attended a band concert at Utah State University. The first band to perform was the Symphonic Band, largely made up of Freshman music majors and other non-music majors. They performed their selections technically very well, but there was something even more impressive to me.

The difference between a lot of "good" high school musicians and what I saw at USU was simply this: buy-in. Every single member of the ensemble gave every possible indication that they were completely focused and enjoying what they were doing. In short, they had buy-in.

From an audience perspective, the body language and perceived attitude of the performers can make all the difference. I've certainly heard better, cleaner performances, but rarely have I been as engaged in watching and enjoying the entire performance.

Likewise, when I went on this trip, I got to hang with a very small high school choir. Seriously, the choir was made up of twenty-three students - the entire student body!

Let that sink in for a moment. The entire school is in the choir, and there are twenty-three of them. When we met the kids, I honestly expected a sorta-kinda-not-so-bad sounding ensemble, and I couldn't have been more surprised.

The choir's performance was excellent - compelling, even. Each singer (as with the USU band) was engaged and actually performing. It was mesmerizing and inspiring, not to mention that it was musically very sound.

Later, I asked the director of this choir a few questions. My first was, "How do you get every single student to get involved like that - to really sing and really perform?" Her answer to this question provided another mind-expanding moment for me as an educator, and as a leader.

Roughly paraphrased, she said, "I don't get them to buy in - they do it for themselves. Every year I sit the seniors down and say, 'This is your choir. You have worked hard your entire career in this school to build it. If you want it to continue, you've got to bring in the new and younger students, help them to feel welcome and understand how important they are.' I know that as the teacher, I can only do so much, and that they have to find the desire to perform - to be expressive - by themselves."

Candidly, I don't know what the magic bullet is, whether it's just having a great group of kids, an outstanding tradition, a dynamic and effective leader - likely a combination of at least these factors - or if there is something more. But I do know that when I watch performers who are engaged and visually demonstrate their confidence in and enjoyment of the music, I have a better experience as an audience member.

Whether you're a performer, a conductor or an educator, my message is this: Buy in. Go all the way. Treat every musical experience as if it will be your last, and savor every note. You'll enjoy it more, and so will your audience.

Happy music making!


  1. Very Cool Article! Engaging as is Life. :)

    1. Many thanks! I write it like I see it, and I'm glad it resonates with people. Thanks for stopping by!


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