Competition and collaboration

I am reading a wonderful book on the life of Paul Simon. His story of dedication and diligence to his craft is an amazing read. He is a highly competitive, yet very collaborative professional. And, he notices these qualities in others.

Simon noted after meeting the driving forces of The Beatles, he saw how competitive John Lennon and Paul McCartney were. They made each other better trying to outdo the other. But, they also were highly collaborative with each other and other musicians within the band and recording studio.

Don Henley and Glenn Frey of The Eagles were similar. Like Simon and the lead Beatles, Henley and Frey are highly prolific songwriters. Yet, they worked relentlessly on their harmonies. They were as close to flawless as possible. Regardless of who sang the lead, the others contributed to making the music sound even better.

The Beatles were known for their harmonies as well, with numerous takes and much practice. Like The Eagles, regardless of the lead, they all worked together to get the right sound, either vocally or instrumentally. There is a great documentary on the making of Sgt. Pepper that highlights the competition and collaboration which created the most acclaimed album of its time.

Back to Paul Simon, he and Art Garfunkel would practice their harmonies facing each other to watch the other’s mouth as they sang. They even preferred to record singing in one mike because rhey felt it sounded better. And, like The Beatles, Simon constanty pursued makig the music better collaborating with other musicians who brought different styles of music.

Plus, Simon is competitive due to being told he was not tall enough, he wasn’t good enough, he didn’t have the right birthplace to be a folk singer, he wasn’t rock-n-roll enough, he couldn’t sing as well as Garfunkel, etc. Simon just learned his craft behind the scenes even going to England where he was more accepted for his unique style and songwriting.

Competition is a good thing. Yet, checking egos and working together make the product even better. Collaboration is vital, otherwise the competition can become unproductive through sabotage or rooting for failure. The dysfunction in Congress and White House are obvious examples where the absence of collaboration is stifling progress.

So, it is more than fine to compete, but do collaborate. That added seasoning could make all the difference.


7 thoughts on “Competition and collaboration

    • Hugh, your being a former coach, teamwork, you have likely witnessed following instruction and practice makes even less talented players better. Also, there is a good understanding of the various roles teammates must play.

      Yet, competition helps. The second team playing hard to make the first team better is key. I remember the great Bill Walton was asked who the best center he played against at the time. He said my back-up, Swen Nater in practice. It should be noted Nater became a NBA player as well.


  1. Note to Readers: Having kids who were in a band, competition and collaboration are key parts. But, Hugh is correct that collaboration is more valued, as bands must play well together (and even march while playing). But, I believe a first chair musician can be challenged by another chair to vie for that role. And, I remember how excited my oldest son was to try out and get selected for the jazz band, after not being selected the year before. He loved being in the jazz band and, even today, can pick up and play a new instrument after working with it.

  2. Note to Readers: I have written before of when I was demoted from the first team to the second team on my high school basketball squad. So, to play more as the sixth man (the first sub), I competed in practice to make the first team better. I would try to keep thr player I was guarding from scoring in practice. When I did play, the best role for the team was for me to rebound, defend, pass and score on follow-up shots. So, I tried to be the best collaborator I could with my teammates, while still competing for more playing time.

  3. Note to Readers: Four tidbits stand out to reveal just a taste of Simon’s creative genius.
    – “Bridge over Troubled Water” was inspired by a sermon Simon read; he was well-read as a student and adult. He wrote most of this song in 20 minutes.
    – “Sounds of Silence” was flavored by the sadness of the JFK assasination.
    – “Mother and Child Reunion” came from a Chinese menu representing a chicken and egg dish.
    – “Kodachrome” was spawned by Simon looking for rhymes for “going home.” When he switched the focus to Kodachrome making the past look better with its vivid colors, the song took new shape.

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