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  • Writer's pictureWarren Lee

Guaranteed Return on Investment

Excerpts from a speech delivered on March 22, 2018 at the Choral Sharing Concert, St. Paul's Co-educational College

Joseph Polisi, the President of The Juilliard School once addressed his graduating class and said, “A career in the performing arts will demand everything of you, never promising an equal return on your investment of time and energy”.

You, too, have chosen an ECA that demanded everything of you – every morning, every lunchtime and even weekends, and also never promising any equal return comes the month of March.

While there is so much truth in President Polisi’s quote, I will still be so bold as to disagree with his argument of “never promising an equal return”. The “return” it talks of concerns only the tangible and materialistic ones. For our choirs, the tangible return is perhaps an honour, a flag or a trophy from the Music Festival; but these, after a round of selfies, will most certainly attract only dust and rust, and be locked up in a cabinet somewhere here. But what you take away and what remains in you and with you is the experience; the experience

  • Of singing in harmony and disharmony;

  • Of breathing together and holding your breathe together;

  • Of growing through challenges, setbacks and frustrations;

  • Of making sacrifices and contributions towards a higher goal;

  • Of exploring the meaning and limits of trust and empathy;

  • Of embracing differences in one another’s personalities and priorities;

  • Of understanding the true value of discipline and resilience;

As well as the experience of forming such an intense relationship with a community, sharing tears of joy and of disappointments.

These are your real and ultimate returns, guaranteed.

With this Sharing Concert coming just a night after the Choir Finals, an overwhelming sense of gratitude has taken over me which must be addressed. While I do not know where to begin, I know I speak for all my colleagues in the department in saying, first and foremost: what an absolute joy and privilege it has been for us to work with you all, our students, each of you an amazing individual and collectively, an awesome lot. We silently admire your devotion, your determination, your tolerance, your skills and talents not only in music but also in many other disciplines, including how quickly you could eat your lunch and run back to your classrooms to beat the school bell. We love you all.

I know I must also thank my colleagues; though knowing how utterly selfless they are in giving their all to their work, I am sure they wouldn’t want me to take the spotlight away from the superstars here. For us, we are simply doing our jobs; it is as much a bonus and as it is a blessing for us to be doing a job that we love, and one that brings not only satisfaction, but also gratification of an unspeakable level.

Parents, I hope you do know that tonight’s sharing concert has a subplot, a subtitle called: “this, is what your child has been up to, coming home late!” Thank you for your incredible patience and unwavering support; and most importantly of all, for allowing your child to follow where their passion leads and for allowing them to invest so much of their precious time in what seems to be a hobby, a pastime. I can assure you that it is much more than that, and the experience they get here would serve them well in whatever endeavor they so desire in the future. Thank you for believing in us, and in their choice. Please continue to believe that this very experience, can never be replaced by burying deep in books, or bought in a tutorial center.

Results in a competition in the field of music do not determine who you are. You are not a better choir or a worse one today than you were two days ago. “Excellence is a direction, not a place,” President Polisi said, “as soon as we have achieved our declared goals, we must start again, because that is the nature of the arts and education in the best sense: a perpetual striving for an ineffable result that will make the arts come alive through dedication and artistry, exhibiting a determination to achieve increasingly high standards in all that we address.”



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