This past weekend, my group and I spent two days in the prescence of my favorite a cappella live looper, Mister Tim, whose wealth of knowledge was only surpassed by his looping skills.
During our coaching session, Tim brought up an interesting discussion point that we had never really considered before…Why are we doing what we are doing? What is the end game, why do we compete, and why do we perform?
Tim calls it “Finding the MacGuffin.” The Macguffin is a word in literary fiction that refers to the desired object, goal, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues.
When he first said it, I thought he was making up a word, combining the famous Shakespearean character MacDuff, and the ever tasty, but very fattening, McDonald’s McMuffin.
With very little literary knowledge to speak of, I will now refer to this MacGuffin as the McMuffin, because I like food.
So Tim suggested that finding our McMuffin requires us to answer a simple question about our motivation. What is the end game of all of this? When we compete in two weeks, why are we competing?
Let’s put this in a practical context: If you, in your college a cappella group, win the ICCA, what do you get? NOTHING. You get nothing. No recording contract, no prize money, no special performing right. You get nothing. The same goes for eating a McMuffin. What satisfaction do you get? NOTHING. You get fatter, your calorie intake skyrockets, and you don’t win any special prize money.
So why do it? Well I think the answer is the same for both: It makes you feel good. It gives you bragging rights. (I won the ICCA…nyah nyah nyah.) (I ate a McMuffin while you ate carrot sticks…nyah nyah nyah).
In the long run, does it matter? The answer for us was yes, but that needs its own explanation.
My intentions upon entering us in the competition were: To elevate our group to a new level, to take the first step in attaining a much higher goal of going as far as we could without disrupting our daily teaching jobs, and to see, under extreme pressure, how creative and diligent we could be. Those are all intrinsic goals, meaning there is no physical proof that you have attained them and the only person who can determine success or failure is you.
The point of all this was that Tim was trying to make us understand that our drive to win, which was the biggest reason we were nervous and awkward on stage, was the wrong way to look at competition. Our drive should be to put on a great show, whether we win or not. If we win, we get nothing and we risk the possibility that we leave the competition sad or angry. If we put on a great show, we still get nothing, but we guarantee that we leave feeling good about ourselves. For me, being sad or angry just leads me to eating a whole bunch of McMuffin’s, which solves nothing.
What is your group’s Macguffin? How many Mcmuffin’s will it take before you realize that you need Macguffins and not McMuffins in your life?
P.S. Tim’s new album, The Funky Introvert, is currently available on iTunes. You should buy it. You can also visit his website here: