When I was an undergraduate, just after the last Ice Age, my fraternity demanded that all pledges participate in serenading at sorority houses. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t sing; the actives deemed it a capital-letter Important Experience, so I did it. Here’s a picture of one of Hope’s fraternities serenading the women of Voorhees Hall (then an all-female dorm) sometime after World War II.

Aren’t you glad you live in the 21st century? Serenades disappeared from the college scene decades ago. But even with their silliness it was, indeed, an Important Experience: it taught us teamwork.

There’s an emerging literature on the vital role teamwork plays in successful organizations. One source puts it like this: “To have a meaningful and lifelong career, you need to work well with others.” So, it’s on me: I need some teamwork practice before I join a team, to learn what teamwork is and to discern what role I can play.

Here’s where music ensembles come in. Whether it’s a small vocal group or a 50-student orchestra, students might think of ensembles as proto-workplace teams, laboratories where you can learn to work well with others, to deepen a transportable skill. Of course, being in an ensemble is about the joy of making music, but in terms of students’ future such an experience is about so much more.

Ponder two statements. The first: “You really hit that note.” Everyone on a team needs a morale boost from time to time to help achieve a common goal. Succeeding together helps grow mutual trust, deepen commitments, foster comradery, and perhaps friendships. Bonding can come from encouraging others and being encouraged by them.

The second statement: “I wonder why you played that piece so fast?” Working on a team enables us to learn from one another’s mistakes, gain insight from differing perspectives, and learn new concepts from more experienced colleagues—or performers.

In today’s knowledge economy, most of our jobs involve interacting with others who do not know what we know or do what we do.

Working alone decreases the possibility of getting useful feedback; working as part of a team means you’re less likely to go down rabbit trails. In today’s knowledge economy, most of our jobs involve interacting with others who do not know what we know or do what we do.

Encouraging others and learning from them creates a workplace environment based on fellowship, respect, and cooperation. After you graduate, wouldn’t you prefer to work in a setting characterized by those attributes?

You should join an ensemble to make great music: that is of course the end. But pay attention to the means—teamwork—as a learning experience which can be transferred to life after Hope.

There’s a term I recently encountered that has stuck with me, the “new foundational skills.” You may want to learn to code. But the article I read screamed at me, learn collaboration! Would you want to work alongside a whiz of a coder who was a total jerk, the sort of bloke who can’t stop taking selfies? You get my point: a work setting where employees become focused on trumpeting their own achievements produces an unhealthy competition. A work environment characterized by cooperation and complementarity produces joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Working on a team fosters accountability and in turn motivates us. Ask a member of Hope’s chapel choir, pictured above while in Florida touring during spring break: Was your achievement exhilarating? Did you return home with a sense of unity? Did the experience encourage you to find ways to work with fellow students in other contexts?

Next semester I encourage you to join them or another music ensemble. Having taken the plunge, you may discover that it changes your life.

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