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.
At a quick glance, and for the first 4,852 pages or so, Goblet of Fire seems like a departure from the rest of the Harry Potter series. Sure, the focus is still on Harry, but not as much his origin story or his ongoing struggles with Voldemort, as it is on a wizarding institution—namely, the Triwizard Tournament—a competition among student wizards from different schools. Against the seeming odds, but well in line with reader expectations, Harry is selected to represent Hogwarts, and the pages that follow recount his challenges and triumphs in the field of competition.
But then we arrive at the end. On the cusp of victory, and surefire wizarding glory, Harry and Cedric find that winner’s cup is no ordinary trophy, but rather a portkey that brings them to Voldemort for his deadly shenanigans.
JK Rowling is very shrewd in this book about not only diverting the reader’s attention from the series’s key plotline, but also Harry and friends, who are so absorbed in the competition that they do not looking beyond the tournament, or notice that Harry’s mentor is steering him toward destruction.
There’s an important lesson for a cappella groups to take away from this book. Throughout your time singing together, you’re more than likely going to have opportunities to do pursue a lot of different forms of performance and recording. While I’m all for a group diversifying its resume and learning from experience, there’s also a lot to be said by letting the group’s primary goals determine its direction.
Is your goal to be ICCA champions? Then you might want to turn down a series of last-minute invitations for one-off performances at campus events the week before your quarterfinal, and you might not want to spend an inordinate amount of time re-recording sections of your CD and selecting the perfect cover art.
Is your goal to raise as much money for charity as possible? You might want to think about scaling back that costly tour across the country, and consider in-house production rather than paying a top-tier professional to master your CD.
This is not necessarily a plea for groups to do nothing but work toward their number one goal; on the contrary, I’m suggesting that they prioritize their commitments and focus on activities that will deliver them where they want to be.
Is your goal to be ICCA champions? Practice your set in public, in front of audiences that will give informed, objective, critical feedback. Zero in on subtleties like how you make your transitions between songs, dynamics, and visual presentation. Study YouTube videos of what has and has not worked before.
Is your goal to raise as much money for charity as possible? Perform both at school and in your surrounding committee. Plan road trips to places where you can get free lodging. Identify out of the box ideas like selling group serenades or private performances to drum up some extra revenue.
When we get consumed by our side projects and passing fancies, we risk giving up time and resources that we can and should devote to achieving our most important dreams. Just think how much trouble Voldemort would have been if Harry hadn’t been caught off guard, but rather had a six pack of Avada Kedavra ready when he arrived in that creepy graveyard. Focus and prepare, folks.