Not So Different

Not So Different: Keep the Big Picture in Mind and Enjoy the Journey; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

There’s another, quieter lesson that JK Rowling embeds of denouement that follows the climactic duel between our hero and villain. Harry holds the elder wand, and with it the potential for immeasurable power. Rather than keeping it for himself, he places the wand at Dumbledore’s grave (or, in the movie, snaps it in two), in so doing reasserting his own focus—not to achieve ultimate power himself, but dispose of the evil Voldemort and make room for peace, safety and happiness for those around him.

There is no shortage of distractions available in the realm of a cappella. It seems each year yields two or three new compilation CDs and noteworthy live competitions. As much as it’s great that the a cappella universe is constantly expanding, it can be tempting for a group to chase any shot of glory, taking a scattershot approach that leads to hurt feelings when the group doesn’t succeed, as well as a failure to enjoy the sweetness of any victories they do achieve.

Not So Different: Don’t Be Too Quick to Judge; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Indeed, over the course of a seven book arc, Harry learns a lesson he, and we, the readers, probably should have learned over the course of Snape’s trials in The Sorcerer’s Stone, the seemingly good nature of Tom Riddle in his diary in The Chamber of Secrets, from Sirius Black’s apparent evil-doing in The Prisoner of Azkaban, and the imposter Moody’s act in The Goblet of Fire. The lesson is simple: looks can be deceiving; don’t judge someone on one occurrence, out of context.

This same lesson applies to many aspects of an a cappella group’s journey.

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

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.

Not So Different: Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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.

Not So Different: You Can’t Be In Two Places at Once; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Unlike Ms. Granger, the rest of us need to make choices. We can’t be in two places at once, and we can’t go back in time to fix grave mistakes. Unlike other lessons we can derive from the Harry Potter collection, this one is not so much about showing us what we can do, as what we can’t.

It’s tempting for an a cappella group to book itself up, singing at campus events, competing, touring, and recording, besides maintaining a full college course load. The reality of the matter is that very few groups are able to excel at so many endeavors. Most of the elite groups, by any measure, are specialists first and foremost, who pick a time and method for success.

Not So Different: Help Will Always Come To Those Who Ask for It; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

In a theme that would recur throughout the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore tells young Harry that help will always be available at Hogwarts to those who ask for it. The lesson is proven when this, the second volume in the series, closes on Harry in dire straits on the verge of death via giant snake, when he pleads for assistance, and Dumbledore’s trusty phoenix saves the day.

What JK Rowling doesn’t explicitly write, but that’s fair to derive from the text is that the benefits of asking for help in a time of need transcend the walls of Hogwarts and the realm of fiction. Indeed, they extend as far as your very own a cappella group.

Not So Different: Discover a Better You; Lessons from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Most of us have days when we speculate what it would be like if our lives were different.

We wonder what would have happened if we were on a pre-law path instead of studying as music majors. We wonder if we had trained accordingly if we could have made the high school basketball team. We wonder what it would be like to spend a year abroad. And though most of us aren’t so bold as to wonder what it would like to be wizards, it is kind of neat to let our imaginations run wild every now and again.

Not So Different: Big Victories Don’t Resolve All of the Little Problems; Lessons from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

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.