I wanted to offer a different perspective on last night’s GOP debate. First, however, I need to make a confession. I didn’t actually watch the debates last night (I did this morning, Tivo is a wonderful thing). Instead, last night I spent over five hours in a movie theater watching what has come to be known as the Summer Music Games. Drum Corps International, a youth music organization, has sponsored an activity for the past 40 years that involves wind, percussion and visual musicians in a summer of rigorous rehearsals and competitions. This tour comes to a climax in the second week of August in Indianapolis, Indiana at the DCI World Championships.
For those who are not familiar with this activity, it would be like watching your favorite marching band with your finger on the fast-forward button. Only instead of playing an entertaining half-time show, “The Best of the Beatles”, they play everything from Beethoven to Stan Kenton to Metallica, all the while marching at breakneck tempos of 160 and above for almost 11:30 minutes. With eight judges watching your every move, analyzing your step size, angle, interval and distance, all the while listening to your tone quality, intonation, rhythm accuracy, articulation uniformity, attacks, releases, balance and blend, your heart races as you realize you have just stepped in to an arena where 35,000 people are watching your every move. Championships are often decided by five one-hundredths of a point.
So why am I bringing this up and what does this have to do with the Republican debate? Perhaps I should answer by telling you what the definition of the target fixation is. That is when a fighter pilot becomes so obsessed that he runs right into the back of his target. I’ll get back to this.
These individual corps are made up of 150 musicians from ages 14 to 21. They spent a good part of their winters and springs and their entire summers rehearsing one 11:30 show. Their objective is simply this: perfection. They will practice an entire day in the blazing sun just to improve by 2/10 of a point from the previous night. But on the second Saturday of August each year, the 12 best units compete against each other for the World Championships. One has to see and experience this in order to truly understand it. They have sacrificed weeks of hanging out with their buddies, sitting on a couch, or holding down a part-time job, to pay hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to sleep on buses and gym floors and traveled tens of thousands of miles in the blazing heat for a chance to perform that Saturday night. Of the over 150 competing units, only 12 will make the final cut and only one will be crowned DCI World Champion.
Have we become so fixated on our target as conservatives that we have forgotten why we are fighting? When we see the complete lunacy that has gripped the country of England and we witness human stupidity in its greatest form, do we lose sight of the fact that there still is a generation of American youth that relentlessly pursues excellence?
Last night, I not only witnessed that pursuit, but I also relived it. You see, that was me back in the summer of 1989. It’s when I learned to dig down deep inside me and pull out more of God’s talents and contribute them to a cause greater than myself – all for a measly 2/10 of a point. Twenty-two years later, I realize that the harvest from that experience went far beyond a score on some sheet of paper. I learned the priceless lesson of excellence – to do my best today, go to bed satisfied and wake up expecting to do better. It is a lesson that few, even in our country, have fully embraced, so when I see events like these, showcasing that lesson in full application, I rejoice.
Contrast this with these punks (yes I said punks) in England who feel justified in tearing down the achievements of others because they have failed to do what it takes to succeed on their own. And while our politicians slug it out over policies and the direction of the country, we should be comforted in the fact that there still is a small group of young people who are willing to give all in the relentless pursuit of excellence. It makes our cause even that much more just, because we now know that there is a generation worth fighting the good fight for.