Close this search box.

Smart Work

Donn Laurence Mills | July 2009

    I thought I was working hard. I was at school early and left with the basketball coach about 5:30 p.m. Many nights I would return to the band office to repair an instrument, file music, or put fingerings in third cornet parts. On weekends I would clean up the rehearsal room, make sure the uniforms were hanging properly, make a percussion table, or white a newsletter to parents. I played in the local symphony, hauled kids and equipment around in my car, and often gave private lessons free of charge. There was always more to do.
    Then one day I had the following conversation with a respected teacher.
    “You’re not doing enough.”
    “Enough?” I snorted, “I’m overworked, underpaid, and have no time for myself as it is.”
     “Yes,” said my colleague, “But you’re not doing enough ‘smart work.’ All you’re doing is keeping busy. That kind of work won’t be appreciated, and I doubt if the band will improve as fast as you think it should either. Other teachers think you’re trying to impress the Principal, the Principal wonders if you think of the band as your personal possession, students expect you  to do everything for them, and parents think you are a little weird.”
    I was surprised and hurt. “But all those details are important. If I don’t take care of them, who will?”
“They will,” she replied, “but not if you deny them the opportunity to help. You’re not the master, you’re the servant.”
    Several weeks later we went to contest and to my disappointment, only received a II rating. One adjudicator wrote, “You did not seem to be involved in the music.” The truth was I had been so concerned with managing the band I had neglected serious and careful study of the score. The music had been the last thing on my mind. It was then that I realized what that experienced teacher meant.
    Smart work is organizing, evaluating, and letting others be a part of the action. You cannot help a student by doing all his homework. You can’t develop a strong music organization by trying to do all the work yourself.
    While I thought I was being a dynamic leader, I wasn’t actually leading at all. I was running circles around everyone while they stood still. The worst of it was that my first concern should always have been the music itself. Others could have helped handle the logistics but only I could have properly prepared the scores and conducted well.
    Many years have gone by since that upsetting day in rural Illinois when a more experienced teacher taught me about smart work. If your objectives are clear and you are able to accomplish your goals, only then are you truly doing enough.