Don’t Let Anyone Bring You Down; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Not So Different

In this special, seven-part series, we are working through the Harry Potter series, book by book, to discuss the lessons each book can teach a cappella groups. If you haven’t read the books before, beware—this series does include spoilers.

It’s unusual to find a Harry Potter fan who will call this volume her favorite in the series—and with good reason. Much of the driving force behind the story comes in the form of Dolores Umbridge’s hostile takeover of her classroom. Umbridge is a confounding woman who refuses to teach in line with what Harry and friends, or we as readers would expect from her—all theory no practice; plus she has a nasty habit of punishing folks by making them magically carve up their own hands.

Rallying up against Umbridge and the larger institution of The Ministry of Magic that seeks to yield of crop of impotent students who can’t help Dumbledore if he rebels, Harry starts his own Defense Against the Dark Arts class where his contemporaries successfully learn a bevy of defense tactics that ordinarily might have been considered beyond their current potential. These newly learned skills are crucial in the group holding off an onslaught from the death eaters until the cavalry arrives.

In Harry’s most plodding and one of his most apparently hopeless adventures, we learn the value of perseverance and refusing to settle for what is, if what is isn’t good enough. Harry and company could easily have been crushed under the weight of Umbridge’s cruelty and domineering approach to class management. Instead, the students rise above their circumstances and emerge the stronger for it.

A cappella groups face countless challenges—whether it’s competing with class schedules and the other external commitments of members, or fighting to find a decent performance space, or finding funding with which to enter competitions, travel, or record. The easiest thing for a group to do to scale back as far as possible, performing irregularly and in non-ideal spaces and never introducing their sound to anyone beyond the limited audience that might show up at their campus shows.

Then there are groups that fight.

Group members can make sacrifices—staying up later, hustling between commitments, and carefully planning their time to squeeze in the rehearsals and gigs they can. Groups can call upon their student government associations or music departments in search of funding, or turn to fundraising through the sale of show tickets, CDs, and merchandise. They can aggressively use mediums like Facebook and Twitter (mediums that don’t necessarily cost anything) to further their brands online.

Sacrifice, hard work, and careful planning aren’t necessarily fun, but earning the end-product can make the achievement all the richer—winning an ICCA quarterfinal you didn’t initially think you could afford to attend; singing in front of a packed auditorium you never thought you could even get reserved. As Harry Potter teaches us, a little gumption and persistence can go along way toward building up our defenses, and ultimately achieving great things.