As I type this entry, my mother is watching Dr. Anthony Fauci being interviewed on MSNBC. Dr. Fauci, of course, is currently America’s leading authority on immunology and was thrust into the spotlight in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interview, he was giving an overview of what led to the unprecedented rapid development of the recent vaccines. I won’t get into all the details here, because I’m a musician and not an immunologist, but here are a few factors that came into play:

  • The processes used to break down and develop of these vaccines were started over 30 years ago, well before COVID-19 came on the scene.
  • The genetic sequence was broken down and shared with scientists all over the world. Rather than clone the virus, they were able to synthesize it.
  • Billions of dollars in funding were poured into it AT THE BEGINNING instead of arriving after a viable product had been made.
  • Modern technology supplied allowed researchers to collect and exchange data much faster.

There is much more to it. You can feel free to look it up. The thing is that these vaccines were created because the processes had already been developed and the financial and technological resources were arranged to make this happen.

If you’ve read previous entries on this blog, you’ll note that I’m really not a fan of SongSelect Charts. I consider what they do as far as hymns go to be particularly abominable, but even their CCM charts are prone to errors from time to time… and you better make sure the chart goes with the recording you are using! (Not all covers use the same harmonies.)

What I typically did is print off the SongSelect chart, make the corrections by hand while listening to the recording, write in whatever introductions and interludes got left out, and then type my corrected chart into Planning Center myself so it was stored in the database with the recording on which it was based and condensed down to one page. Why was one page (rarely two) so important? So the instrumentalists wouldn’t have to turn a page or swipe a tablet. (It also helps that they have to learn the form rather than just read everything straight down.)

If we ever used a different recording with a different form, it was a simple matter to save another version and then copy/paste from one chart to another and make the tweaks to reflect the new recording. Since I had already typed the chart in by hand, I could trust Planning Center to transpose it correctly to whatever key we needed to put it in. Provided the singer got back to me in a timely manner, everything would be set into place by Wednesday or Thursday.

One of the benefits of having perfect pitch was that once I’d worked with a singer long enough, I was usually able to predict about where the best key would be. (Straight out… Many singers don’t have a clue what their key is.) Since we were a set-up/tear-down church without a building – and thus no place to rehearse during the week – that saved precious time particularly when I had 5000 other things to do.

A little extra legwork and shifting of resources in the beginning saves time and energy LATER. It meant that I didn’t have to retread the same ground again and again and again. It meant that down the road, getting a new arrangement ready would be faster.

Want to add a Portuguese verse? I get the lyrics, add the chords to reflect where it hits with the lyrics, and present it along with the translation so it can be shown on the projector. Because I did the prep work already – and understood it – I could easily create another arrangement so it would be ready the next time we did the same song.

When you have no rehearsal/meeting/office space and limited rehearsal time before service because you have to set-up, you learn that improving preparation and proficiency are your lifeblood as a music director. Developing these systems and procedures – based on your experiences and gifts and the needs of your people – not only saves time but also mental space that you can dedicate to putting together the more ambitious stuff.

Look… Every single task I just listed, I have the ability to do without SongSelect or Planning Center. I don’t need them to transcribe or write out a chart or transpose keys or anything they do. My years of experience and training as a musician and music director – and a pretty damn good ear – taught me how to do all of it. Technology will not help you at all if you don’t understand what it does. All technology will do is whatever it is programmed to do! Since I understood what it did, I was able to use it to develop systems and procedures that saved time and energy down the road.

Experience saves time. Allocating resources saves time. Being efficient saves time which allows you to do much more and take on more ambitious projects.

The problem is that efficiency requires more than short-term thinking. You have to analyze the lay of the land, figure out what needs to be done, and start setting the stones of the pathway. Many are too lazy, too unknowledgeable, and too risk-averse to do it.

And that’s going to hold you back more than anything else.

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