There Are No Happily Ever Afters; Lessons from Catching Fire

Not So Different

In this special, three-part series, we are working through the The Hunger Games 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 OF ARTICLES INCLUDES SPOILERS.

You would think that surviving The Hunger Games would offer you some time for joyous celebration, or at least quiet reflection before you launch into your next challenge. The end of The Hunger Games, the first book in the trilogy, assures us this won’t be the case for Katniss Everdeen, who, hot on the heels of her experience in the arena, inadvertently opens a huge rift with ally/maybe-love-interest Peeta on the trip back home.

When Catching Fire picks up the story, the stakes are all the higher. President Snow visits our heroine to let her know he doesn’t appreciate her manipulating the end of the Games, and that if she doesn’t quell every doubt he has about her by the end of her victory tour, then there will be severe consequences. Subsequently, Snow cracks down on Katniss’s district with harsh new law enforcement and a re-electrified fence. Then he throws Katniss into her second Hunger Games—a sadistic tournament of champions that leaves her downtrodden enough to not even hope for her own survival, but rather to dedicate herself to protecting Peeta.

This second installment in the Hunger Games trilogy teaches us the very simple, very real lesson that there’s no such thing as “happily ever after.”

A cappella groups that are lucky enough to achieve major success—that win competitions, or pull of major public appearances, or earn props from people they admire—are also often the groups at the greatest risk of not continuing to ascend the a cappella mountain.

Each year, approximately twenty groups win ICCA quarterfinals. That, in and of itself, is an outstanding achievement. Despite this, I’ve encountered plenty of groups whose elation at winning at quarters turns to devastation, despair, or fury when they don’t place at semis.

The fact of the matter is that, as Catching Fire shows us, victory is, itself, a test. Can champions rest on their laurels? Is one victory enough? Once you’ve achieved success, can you cope with future failures?

Great groups find ways to forge ahead. Take Rider University VocalMotion, which, in its first year in existence, placed second at an ICCA quarterfinal to earn a spot at semis, and then battled its way all the way up to second place at semifinals, too, in a move that included finishing ahead of the group that beat them in the previous round. Constantly working toward improvement and reinvention are hallmarks of groups bound for long term success.

But then, what of groups that do win ICCA championships? Maybe they turn their attention next to winning CARAs. Maybe they audition for The Sing-Off. Maybe they strive to record the next YouTube sensation. Or maybe they make it their goal to repeat the following year.

Whatever a high-achieving group decides to do, it should remain conscious of keeping its inner fire alive. It’s often easier to stay elite than to become elite, and those groups that have privilege of arriving in the promised land should savor their accomplishments, but also honor those who came before them and set up their successors for even bigger things by forging ahead with every step.