Some People Never Change; Lessons from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Not So Different

In this special, three-part series, we are working through the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, 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.

In The Two Towers ring-bearer Frodo and his best friend Sam begrudgingly ally with Gollum, who they believe to be uniquely qualified to help guide them to Mordor to destroy the ring. The hobbits’ reluctance is well-justified; Gollum has tried to kill them before, and never really shown any loyalties to anyone or anything besides the ring, itself. After a long journey together, and the seeming development of a new companionship, Gollum betrays the other two, abandoning Sam and setting up Frodo to be eaten by a giant spider.

The lesson: you just can’t trust some people.

When it comes to your a cappella group, it’s only natural to feel a temptation to try to see the best in everyone. And, indeed, when you give people the benefit of the doubt and put your trust in them, they often will rise to the occasion. Transformations are especially possible when people are in college, and still in the process of figuring out how to manage their time and competing priorities. Just the same, there are certain people who—out of any given combination of present circumstances, upbringing, and personality—just aren’t going to change, or at least not in the immediate future. Be they manipulative, or dishonest, or flaky there are those people who will burn you over and over again, and these are the people that groups need to learn to sever ties with.

Managing people in the context of a college a cappella group is no easy task. There’s the matter of like-ages—it’s easy for a forty-something professor with a PhD to tell an undergrad to do; when you’re trying to rein in someone who’s only a year or two younger than you, or who may be even be older than you, it can be difficult to come across with authority. Likewise, groupmates are often friends, which inevitably means that a stern conversation will do more than affect group dynamics—it may just as well impact your social life.

Having difficult conversations, much less actually removing someone from an a cappella group, is never fun or easy, but it is a necessary part of managing a successful ensemble. A cappella groups are so dependent on the gestalt of individual sounds, and the dynamics of any high-functioning group are so dependent on individual personalities that you cannot afford to let problems linger indefinitely.

Granted—your bad seeds probably won’t try to feed you to giant spiders. Still, you want to avoid getting tangled in any unnecessary webs.