Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Kenny Rogers, Mike Metcalf, and a Choir Director Walk into a Bar

Years ago, a few of us on youth choir retreat decided to play poker one night in the guys cottage.  All we had was a deck of cards and a stack of flyers for Aldersgate (a related ministry of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference that ministers to people with disabilities).  We called them vouchers.
The next year I brought poker chips.  Full disclosure here: no money of any kind changed hands.  We played strictly for the fun of it.  I assure you we are in full compliance with Wesleyan teaching on gambling!  We taught guys how to play (and have over the years proven that beginner’s luck really is a thing).
Last year we had to change our retreat venue because we had grown too large for our old one.  The best part about the venue change, other than the fact that I am no longer required cook for everyone, is that the lodge we use allows us to expand the poker game to include the girls.
This year I taught eight folks how to play, and our tournament included about 20 folks total.  Anyone who has played poker with me will wonder what business I have teaching anyone to play.  That’s because I’m really, really bad at it.  I always lose.  I wish I could tell you it’s because I get bad cards.  No, sometimes I get pretty good cards and lose anyway.  Usually when I go all-in on two pair.
I tried a new strategy this year.  Instead of risking it all on two pair, I waited until I was sure I would win before I played.  And I still lost.  Sure, I was in the game longer, but in the end I didn’t have enough chips to be competitive because I never risked enough when I should.
I should have listened to Kenny Rogers.  He has already explained this.  “If you’re gonna play the game, you gotta learn to play it right.  You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.  Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”  The most important part of being a good poker player is knowing when you need to fold and when you need to stay in.
...which is a sentiment echoed by Mike Metcalf, a name you probably don’t know.  In fact, I’ll give you 1000 points if you know who it is before you read the next sentence (honor system here, folks).  Mike Metcalf is better known as “Viper” from the epic 80’s movie  Top Gun.  In one scene, he is evaluating Maverick’s performance in a combat mission when he delivers this scathing review:
The bogey has good position right here...  Moment of choice.  The F-14 is defensive.  He has a chance to bug out right here.  Better to retire and save your aircraft than push a bad position...  You stay in that diamond another three seconds, the bogey's gonna blow you out of the sky.  You take a hard right, select zone five, and you can extend an escape.  You made a bad choice.
What he’s saying is that Maverick didn’t know when to fold.  He pushed a bad position.  He stayed in when he should have folded.  [I will award you 10000 points if you can, without using an electronic resource, tell me who won the encounter in question and how.  I’ll give you a hint.  Aircraft one performed a split S, which was the last thing he should do.]
This happens in choir rehearsal all the time.  The director stops the choir:
“Will you please get louder in measure 15 so that you arrive at the beginning of measure 16?” 
[Section is repeated; choir makes no apparent change.]
“Great.  Thanks.  Now this time, will you please get louder as we sing through measure 15 so that when you get to the beginning of measure 16 you’re actually already singing a bit louder?”
[Section is repeated; choir makes no apparent change.]
“Thanks very much.  Would you please erase the mark you made in measure 15 to get softer and change it to show getting louder?”
(Choir member): “It already has a crescendo written there.”
“Does it?  Great!”
[Section is repeated; choir makes no apparent change.]
I learned from my teacher at Emory that if a choir will not follow an instruction, most of the time it is for one of three reasons: the instruction is unclear, the choir is incapable of following it, or it was a bad musical choice to begin with and needs further consideration.  All three are ultimately the responsibility of the director.
Worse still, the longer this little dance goes on, the more frustrating it is for everyone.  The choir gets tired of the director obsessing about such a tiny detail.  The director gets tired of the choir not following the instructions.  If left unchecked, this exchange is guaranteed to end in hurt feelings and at least one angry email.  So there’s a point at which you need to fold.  Quit before you lose even more.  Let it go.
That’s why I’m so bad at poker.  I’m HORRIBLE at letting things go.  If I’ve made any bet at all, I don’t want to lose it.  So I’ll stay in it too long and wind up losing even more.  Because no matter how well you play your hand, if someone has a better hand, you will still lose.  It’s only a question of how much.
When we get personally involved in something, it’s hard to let go.  It’s hard to admit that what we need to do is fold.  But sometimes that’s the only way to win the game...or even to stay in it.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, John,
    Years ago, I arrived to tune for Lionel Richie at the old Omni, and he and his back-up singers were still rehearsing with the pianist. This kind of thing happens every now and then, and I waited, certain that they would soon finish. They didn’t. Instead, he spent a good hour trying to get them to sing what he wanted them to sing - for one part of one song. They never did please him. And I had to go get the house manager to tell them that they were using up my designated time and that I had more pianos to tune. There is indeed a time to move on, and he had used up my patience! ... Steve Duncan