Why Classical Music Should Pay Attention to the Tim Tebow Era: Part Two

Posted on December 7, 2011

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DISCLAIMER: I am not a sports journalist. This is a post about classical music, but to provide some context for my reflections, we need some football discussion first. To read Part One of why classical music should pay attention to the Tim Tebow Era, click here.

“In a season that has been so improbable, the IMPOSSIBLE has happened!!”

-Vin Scully, LA Dodgers broadcaster after Kirk Gibson’s walk-off home run in Game one of the 1988 World Series against the Oakland Athletics

It was about seven weeks ago that a guy named Tim Tebow replaced Kyle Orton as starting the quarterback of the embarrassingly bad,  1-4 Denver Broncos. What has unfolded on the football field since then has been, in the literal sense, unbelievable. In the seven weeks since Tebow took over, the Broncos defense has become utterly and completely dominant, the running attack has evolved into one of the best in the NFL, and the Broncos have won six of seven games. Today, the one-time “Suck for Luck”-eligible Broncos are legitimately  in the playoff hunt. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? Apparently not. Certainly it’s not all Tebow’s doing, certainly he’s not out there playing defense or special teams, and certainly there’s been some luck involved. But what no one can deny is that this win-loss turnaround began almost immediately once Tebow replaced Orton.

Now: what in the world can classical music learn from this Tebow business? Quite a lot if you ask me, but today I want to focus on what I think are the three most important things that classical music should learn from the Tim Tebow Era thus far:

3. Risk-taking is risky, but when risks pan out, the payoff is huge. In a country full of people who are too scared to take big risks, Denver’s high-profile, tradition rich football organization took a HUGE risk by starting a quarterback who lacked the one skill that traditionally defines a quarterback’s greatness: the ability to pass the ball accurately. In some ways, Denver has gotten tremendously lucky here because even though they started Tebow, no one expected these kinds of results. How many classical music organizations are taking risks that big in hopes of finding successes that they aren’t currently having? Some of them are sinking quickly and completely backed into a losing corner as the Broncos were, but still stubbornly refuse to do something different. It’s your funeral if you don’t change, folks.

2. You can’t care too much about what other people think about your unorthodox choices. I cannot say enough about how impressed I am by Broncos head coach John Fox and his staff. Their willingness to go back to the drawing board to build a new offense around Tebow’s skill set and to implement it in the NFL has been awesome to watch. The option-based offense is viewed by many as amateurish and not really professional football material, so Fox has to have tremendous courage to put his reputation on the line like this. Fox has embraced what is good about Tebow, shown tremendous patience with what is lacking in his game, and at the risk of embarassing himself, he’s letting Tebow learn “on the fly” the skills that he- in theory- should already have.

When I was in college, many of my music professors often lamented how ill-prepared most of us kids were for the undergraduate music degree experience. And when some people get jobs right out of college, their employers are often frustrated by how ill-prepared their new employees are for “life in the real world.” No doubt, this is how many football people and football fans felt about Tim Tebow starting in the NFL because the technical skills he learned in college about football don’t really translate to the NFL very well (kind of like someone getting a degree in musical theater and trying to become an opera singer or vice versa). I can see how that can be frustrating for university level classical music teachers to have to do more teaching than they are accustomed to with new students, but my musical friends, welcome to the 21st century. Kids like me who didn’t grow up in classical music but still wanted to major in music have such a wide range of musical tastes, interests and styles floating around in their heads that they are late bloomers when it comes to learning what it takes to have the proper technical skills necessary for performing classical music. It is what it is, and I think that’s what we see with Tebow. Until he reached a level of football where the players playing against him were so good that he could no longer succeed without eliminating his bad habits, he saw no need to change. Now: as teachers of classical music or as classical music organizations, when we come across one of these talented but (for lack of a better word) ignorant people, we have two choices: a. Tell them to come back when they actually know what they are doing, or b. see through the skills they lack to the aspects of who they are personally and musically, and if those are special, commit to developing those other skills in that musician on the fly so that they can reach their full potential not only as musicians but as community servants. If you’re too busy lamenting the lack of ready-made conductors or musicians coming out of college, don’t be surprised when those  people with the greatest talent or the biggest heart fly under your radar only to find success once they’re far, far away from you.

1. It’s ok to be inspirational, and it’s ok to allow yourself to be inspired. Full disclosure: I’m what you might call a “Tim Tebow Hopeful”- I want desperately for things to work out for him because he’s different (and, quite frankly, because he’s a devout Christian), but I  am also realistic about his lack of certain football skills and I accept the fact that even with his early success, things still might not work out for him in the NFL. And I absolutely grow weary of people who talk about Tebow’s “will to win” as if other people on the field just want to lose. But you  simply can’t deny that the Broncos players have bought into Tebow and his inspirational ways. Last week, John Fox let Tebow speak to the team on the Saturday before the game against the Chargers. I don’t know what he said, but according to the team, he rocked their worlds. In classical music, we are so concerned about being professional and perfect that we sometimes forget to allow ourselves room to be inspired. In the minds of some Musical Pharisees, it’s almost looked at as child’s play to be inspired by a conductor, a teacher or another artist. NFL athletes have the luxury of realtive youth on their side, so even though they are professional athletes, they’re not so old that they’ve unlearned how to be inspired in heart and mind. But classical musicians? Too many are old. That’s right, I said it. Old and tired. Old and skeptical. But worst of all, old in heart. Too many act as if they don’t even want to be inspired. Well if you don’t want to be inspired, if you are above inspiration or aren’t humble enough or hopeful enough to allow someone else to inspire you, then maybe you shouldn’t be surprised at the fact that a world full of people who are hurting and in need of some kind of inspiration don’t seem to give a rip about what you do. Maybe the fact that most of America would rather look to a football player for inspiration and hope than a classical musician should be cause for you to take a long look in the mirror.  It’s good to be inspired. If you’re in music and you don’t want to be inspired, then put your instrument down and find another job. Your community, your colleagues, and your soul deserve better.

Go Broncos. Go Tebow. Go inspiration, unconventional ways, instincts and intangibles. Go skills that evolve and improve with the right direction, and go classical music following the Denver Broncos’ lead and being better for it. Inspire people not only with musical excellence but with human greatness off the stage. Until next time, you stay classy…Planet Earth.


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