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Sports and the Arts

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By David Amos

SAN DIEGO–If you follow the National Football League and the San Diego Chargers, you were as disappointed as I was in their shabby performance in the playoffs two weeks ago. The “Kings of Choke” did it again, failing to perform at their best when faced with additional pressure and scrutiny.

Personally, I felt cheated, having devoted a substantial amount of time reading about this season’s team, and being involved in the sixteen regular season games. A salient feature of a true professional is consistency. We can forgive seeing overpaid athletes, many of them with an ego much larger than their talent and discipline. But, to witness sloppy play, major mistakes, unnecessary penalties, mental errors and sloppy execution, are inexcusable. Actually, I was insulted to have devoted my time and emotions, and faced such unexpected incompetence.

 A fabled college football coach was interviewed after a losing effort in a game. He was asked “What is your opinion on the execution of your team?” Without hesitating, he answered, “I’m all for it!” 

How does all this relate to the arts and to music? In both sports and the performing arts you will find the elements of talent, proper preparation, discipline, a healthy mix of arrogance and humility, pride in one’s performance, and the ability to focus at the moments when it counts the most.

A good orchestra, choir, ballet company, opera, or even soloists and ensembles have to be at their best when the pressure is up. And this is where the Chargers failed miserably. Is it the fault of the coaches or the players? Or is it that the local media hyped this club to a level it did not deserve? This can be debated somewhere else.

But, I have seen examples to the contrary. In the various recordings in which I conducted the Israel Philharmonic in the 1980’s, I had the opportunity to talk to many of the musicians. A comment from one of them explained a lot: “We have in front of us some great conductors, some very ordinary ones, and a few really bad ones. But, we have pride; we will play our best for anyone, no matter how terrible he or she may be. We will rise to the occasion, because our personal and orchestral reputation is at stake.” 

I hear similar comments from musicians in London orchestras, where the players rally to make the extra effort when faced with a weak director, to make sure that the final product is as perfect as it can be. This is true professionalism. 

In music, you are less likely to be disappointed. Musicians, whether amateur or professionals, will give their all to achieve the best results possible, with enthusiasm and finesse. In music, you do not have to wait until the last 30 seconds to know if this was a satisfying performance or not. In sports, the element of “win-lose” is so important, that it supersedes the element of joy of the entire experience. In sports, it is like gambling; the thrill of winning and losing is uppermost. Many times, we watch a game so fearful of losing thatwe fail to enjoy  the actual full experience. In theatre, music, and the other performing arts, the joy comes from a larger, deeper, more spiritual base.

We may still enjoy being spectators of competitive sports, but I urge you to direct your hours of leisure in activities which are more likely to uplift and inspire you. Invest in the arts. They are far less likely to disappoint, and the rewards will linger, and even connect with each other.

Involvement in the arts not only satisfies immediate emotional needs, but is also an investment in the future. The arts define who we are, and the legacy we leave for future generations. Civilizations are remembered by their wars and their culture. 

This is exactly why I have given a lot of my energy and creativity to promote the living works of Jewish artists, in music, sculpture, visual arts, literature, and drama. There is such a treasury of material waiting to be created, waiting for our support, sponsorship, and enjoyment. As Michelangelo is quoted as saying: “I have a block of granite; I want to create an artistic sculpture; all I have to do is chip away all that doesn’t look like that sculpture I envision.” 

In the world of music, I have talked to composers who, in different words, say the same thing: We have all these notes at our disposal; they are there, waiting for us. All we need is the inspiration and support to put them in the right order to create beautiful music. 

Let us all become pro-active in promoting some of these worthy thoughts.


Amos is conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has guest conducted professional orchestras around the world.

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