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Deliberate Practice

Blueprint for Excellence

Today, as always, the subject is great performance. Let me describe what qualities go into this particular performance, then I’ll ask you exactly what type of performers we’re talking about.

The qualities are:

Hours of rigorous practice.
Attention to fundamentals.
Game-like practices.

With these qualities, we could be talking about anything from NCAA basketball champs to Olympic medalists. Instead, we’re talking about the San Francisco Girls Chorus, whose excellence was recognized with an invitation to sing at last month’s presidential inauguration.

Dr. Susan McMane, the chorus’s artistic director, describes what ideas go into their preparation.

“We have a rigorous training program for younger girls (beginning at age 7) in music education.

“Besides vocal and music skills, part of what we insist on is self-discipline, focus, and commitment to the group (Working well with others and not missing
practices or performances).”

Dr. McMane spends hours building teamwork, attending to detail and getting the necessary amount of repetitions.

“One of the things that I’ve recently seen some progress with is being on
 time to rehearsal,” says Dr. McMane. “We instituted a “sign-in” pen that changes color after 4 p.m. when rehearsal begins.

“Before 4 p.m. they sign in with a black pen, and
after 4 o’clock the pen changes to green and then at 4:15 to red. It’s amazing how much more they try to be on time, just to avoid having to sign with any colored pen!”

The chorus also understands that it’s not just the amount of hours of practice, but what goes into the hours. McMane works hard on having mindful practices, where performers connect what happens in practice to what will happen on stage.

“Another area that seems to be changing is our commitment to the meaning of
the music,” McMane said. “This takes complete focus. I say to them “don’t phone it in” but be present to telling your
story. I’m also working more on having the practice be the performance.”


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