If It Is Worth Doing, It Is Worth Doing Badly

The title of this post is something allegedly said by Gustav Holst regarding amateur music groups  and church choirs taking on ambitious works to perform.

The recent musical performance at my church for Reformation/Confirmation Sunday is just what Holst was referring to.  Although we are a larger congregation and boast a lovely pipe organ and two fine organists, our choir is small and aging.  We have four first sopranos, four second sopranos, four altos, three tenors, and four basses.  (We suspect that at least half of the bass section can’t read music. They also have no sense of rhythm.)  Our big number was an  arrangement of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God  with a six person brass choir, timpani, anvil, snare drum, and two hand bell players.  The brass players and percussionists and were borrowed from the college, congregation,  and community. I think the percussion instruments came from the high school.

We worked on the choir parts for a few weeks, and then practiced once as a full ensemble the day before our performance. Our choir sits by the organ in the front of the church, facing the congregation.  The brass and percussion were wedged  behind the altar and pastors. The organ pipes were just above them.  Our organist for the performance likes to play really loud.  Strategically placed pillars  obscured the instrumentalists’ view of the conductor. (Some members once suggested that the pillars be removed to help with better visuals, but an architect in the choir said the building would fall down if we did that. ) Between the loud brass and percussion and the louder organ, it was very hard for anyone to hear one another.

It went just as you might imagine. When we were together, it was great. When we couldn’t hear, we just watched the conductor and hoped for the best.  Sometimes the trumpets hit their high notes; sometimes, well, they were close.  What was important was that the congregation loved it.  It was worth doing.  The young people who were confirmed may fall away from the church as many do, but by golly, they know they are Lutheran!

What endeavors in your life have been worth doing, albeit badly?


31 thoughts on “If It Is Worth Doing, It Is Worth Doing Badly”

  1. The best boss I ever worked for was also a splendid clarinet player. Jim was so good he could have played professionally in a first-tier symphony orchestra. But, as an amateur, he hit a wall because he couldn’t afford to practice several hours a day, as he would have to do to make progress with his instrument.

    Jim’s response was original. He closed the case on his clarinet and took up the bassoon. Early on, he knew, he would be a ragged bassoonist, but he could play bassoon a few hours a week and make progress.

    In much the same way, I am enthusiastic about photography. I don’t do it very well, and that is a large part of why I enjoy it so much.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In my recent class in botanical illustration, in addition to the classroom instruction, we each had drawings we worked on between classes. One of the women in the class had, at home between classes, a moment of uncertainty and immediately ceased work on her drawing until the next class. Rather than forge ahead, she abruptly stopped, for fear of “ruining” her illustration. The thing about a “ruined” attempt is that it’s enormously freeing, giving one the license to experiment and to find one’s native style regardless of the immediate outcome. In the next class, the instructor urged her to continue, which was of course the only right answer but by then she had lost a week to dithering.

    Obviously what Holst is saying is not that doing something badly is desirable but that doing something badly is the path by which you learn to do it well. “ Badly” is a relative concept anyway.

    I’ll see your Holst and raise you a much-used quote that is sometimes attributed to Goethe:
    “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

    Liked by 7 people

  3. anne lamott is a favorite
    in her book bird by bird
    the oft quoted rule in how to write is
    write shitty first drafts

    you can avoid writing because it doesn’t come out the way you want when it’s coming out of you pen or keyboard but….

    i took an art class at the u of m and was doing a still life of a potted plant
    i was very focused on the leaves taking pain to get them as close to realistic as i could and the teacher came up heaping praise on the way the composition of the drawing was coming together. when i told him i was hung up on getting the leaves to look just so he said if people wanted to see what they looked like they can look at a photograph
    the important thing is interpretation

    changed my perspective from that moment on

    can you tell?

    Liked by 4 people

  4. i have told people to take up piano guitar trombone and have taken the advice myself

    it’s too bad i didn’t start speaking italian at age 6 but i still have 10 20 30 years left and if i speak bad italian when i die that’s ok

    i need to work a bit on tech stuff

    ill never be at the level of the whiz kids but it’s enough to know it is possible to understand the concept and ask for help

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    WP is a real mess these days. It will not let me like anything anymore when I am on my IPHone or iPad. And now I see tim is the ABD of the day. I wanted to like both tim and Bill’s comments. I would like to nominate WP for doing something badly. But worthwhile.

    I am a terrible athlete, yet I work out almost daily because I feel better when I do so. On Fridays I do yoga. Right now I do Gentle yoga, but I would like to return to the intermediate level. I am really bad at this but it makes me feels so much better. Particularly, my SI joint stops giving me problems.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sometimes I have trouble with that signing in business if I am in Google Chrome. I rarely havw the problem with plain old Google.


  7. A little while ago, I changed my WP password and then had the problem of WP not keeping me signed in, phone and laptop. I messed around a bit and then figured out what to do so I would stay signed in – but darned if I can remember that now. Perhaps I will try to recreate that and write down the steps so I can maybe help others.

    What was worth doing badly? Parenting, definitely.


  8. Oh man, Renee, I can think of several cringe-worthy performances of choruses I’ve been in, but probably we were the only ones who noticed.

    There are a lot of things badly done, but for now all I can think of is how messy I am at house painting – esp. trim – not careful enough, and I get it all over everything including my hair. Husband now just does all trim work and lets me have the roller…

    Meditating also comes to mind, as in getting myself to sit still long enough to do it.


  9. OT – Lisa sent a message to a couple of current and lapsed baboons on Facebook. It featured a great performance of a handbell quartet performing the Hallelujah chorus that she thought might be of interest to Renee. Unfortunately I’m not finding it on youtube, but here’s a link to their website. http://fortehandbells.org/ This group is beyond doing things poorly.


  10. Renee, your story reminded me of a small town choir I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing do Handel’s Messiah one Christmas season. The bits when the whole choir was singing were fine, but oh my, some of the soloists! There was one man in particular I will never forget. His wavering, off- key voice was priceless. I know of at least one person who had a terrible time keeping a straight face during this solo – and he was in the choir.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was part of Messiah performances my junior and senior year of high school. The first year the choir was comprised of the high school choirs and local church choirs. The musicians were either professional or semi-professional and it sounded pretty good. The second time, money must have been an issue. We had the same choirs, most of the same soloists, but the musicians were from the high school, augmented with string players from St. Cloud State and a few adults from the community. This time the concert was recorded. I knew it wasn’t as good as the first one but listening to the record made me cringe. Ouch!! Singers were OK but the instruments left much to be desired. I kept the record for many, many years – surely didn’t listen to it more than a couple of times – but finally got rid of it last year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve participated a couple of times to the sing-along Messiah at Orchestra Hall. It never ceases to amaze me how many singers show up, complete with the sheet music in hand, and really do a pretty darn good job of it.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. BiR says she was in some awful choirs “but we were probably the only ones who noticed.” That reminded me of the last play I was in, when I was a junior in high school. The play was Arsenic and Old Lace. I played (as I remember) a killer. I was on stage with a kid playing another killer. He hooked his ankle in the chord of a lamp, pulling the lamp off a little table. The lamp then lazily rolled downstage (toward the audience), falling into the orchestra pit with a terrible crash. The actor onstage with me was so rattled that he skipped two pages of the script and began feeding me lines from later in the play. The cast was aghast at the accident.

    My grandmother was in the audience. She later told me her favorite part of the play was the part where the lamp went rolling into the orchestra pit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi kids. I’m late to this party but I want to add to this.

      I was in ‘Play it Again, Sam’, the Woody Allen spoof of all the Bogart Movies. I somehow hooked my foot in a plant stand one night. I don’t recall what became of the plant but I dragged the stand a few feet until I could get it off my foot. The audience loved that part too.
      Along with knocking the door trim off but holding it in place until I had to walk away.
      I had just met Kelly and we were dating when the director cast me in this show. He said we needed to find someone for the girl at the end and someone said I was dating “A cute redhead”. He said ‘Get her on the phone.’ she answered, he said “Just say ‘Hello'”. She giggled and said “Hello” and he told her to come get a script. We ended the show together every night. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That does sound like a genuine fiasco, albeit a hilarious one. Not so funny for the poor kid who sprained both his ankles, though.


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