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OK, fine, the above title might sound a little overdramatic. But it’s a specific reference, not to the Star Wars saga, but rather to a metaphor often and effectively used by the director of my college a cappella group. It was often complicated getting the guys in our all-male group to settle down, pay attention, and put away their snark long enough to practice some actual music.
But as the end of the semester performance approached, and we realized we night soon face upwards of 800 ticket-buying customers waiting for a fantastic show, rehearsals became more intense. It was absolutely crucial that we quiet down and focus up in order to hear each other, emphasize our dynamic crescendos, and be sure not to overpower the lead singer. All of these were pitfalls we’d encountered from other groups countless times, and we refused to put on an underwhelming show, especially one that alienated the paying crowd.
So, one time around October, our director, in his own quiet, metered manner, had us stand in a circle, no music in our hands regardless of whether we’d really committed the sheet music to memory. The old “feel the music” bit seemed to loom in the air. But rather than giving us his best Robert Preston monologue, he instead told us to close our eyes and picture the Death Star. In the most recent Rogue One solo film from the saga, there are numerous sequences featuring the Death Star firing its planet-vaporizing laser as the device blazes a path of destruction through a stream of guinea pig worlds.
But each time the laser is fired, we see the same guys in helmets push the same button array, then throttle up the same switcher handle, then, for some ungodly reason, cower right beside the green beam as it spouts from the sphere towards an unsuspecting doomed population. It’s the same visual sequence each time. And each time, it yields massive success, albeit in massively destructive form. But hey, they’re building a weapon, so bully for them.
Back to the rehearsal room in college: what our director would tell us is how all those techs in the Death Star worked together to yield the full destructive power of the laser weapon. And if we could focus ourselves likewise, centering ourselves in the circle on a single purpose, a unified sound, then we would be able to unleash that sound directly at the audience, leaving any other group in our wake. I must say that, even the first time we tried it – standing in a circle, eyes closed, stretching out our arms with hands sandwiched together directly into the middle of the circle until we just barely touched fingertips – it worked.
From the quietude burst forth a high energy, yet fully controlled sound. We learned, we experienced, in an instant how powerful the group dynamic could be, how capable we were when we found focus and solace, and how difficult it can be to get yourself to that point. The Death Star metaphor brought us there in an instant, and we continued to use it throughout the year.
So this blog post is about many things: shared experiences, group dynamics, meditation/self-awareness/mental contraction. When dealing with students or kids coursing with energy, whether because of personality or time of day or their excitement over an upcoming event, it really is possible to find a way for them to self-calm, self-soothe, and move along smoothly into the next activity. If you have a busload of kids jumping at the bit to hit the street and run into whatever your destination was for the field trip, and you need to give them rules and regulations regarding where they are, don’t waste your time shouting.
Establish a visual metaphor for them to practice their focus, find their inner calm. You will never, ever be able to calm them down any more than you can make a kid go to sleep or do their homework. There’s no sense using logic to convince a child to do something if they’re too hungry/tired/ramped up to pay attention. Give them a visual to clue them in to your expectations. Have them practice the calming when they’re able, in a predictable setting, so that they can recall the feeling of calm on cue.