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Bruce Hamilton

Quality Insider

Musical Kata

We can make beautiful music together with the right mind-set

Published: Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - 12:39

I sang baritone and sometimes tenor in the St. John’s Lutheran Church choir, according to the key of the hymn we were rehearsing and also depending upon who showed up for rehearsal. There were no tryouts for our choir; willingness to sing on Sunday was the primary requirement for membership. One of our brethren, I recall, had a voice that sounded like a frog, but he always showed up for service.

I was 13 years old at the time, surrounded by persons, for the most part, 25 to 50 years my senior. This was my first gig, my first rehearsal with the choir. I’d been encouraged to join to bolster the tenor section for Easter services. Loretta M., the glue that held our motley voices together, was a supremely patient and optimistic organist and choir director, a woman in her fifties who no doubt had coached many choirs before ours. Loretta was a talented musician, but more that, she was an excellent teacher.

“Good evening everyone,” Loretta exclaimed enthusiastically at our Thursday rehearsal. “This Sunday’s liturgy for Easter services is one I think most of us are familiar with, but can we have a quick review? I’ll go through it once and you listen. Then we’ll break down the parts.”

Loretta played and sang the liturgy once through, and then turned to us. “This is such a beautiful piece of music, such a key part of the service. We sounded great last year, and I know we’ll do well this year.” Then she smiled and said, “You know this service is standing room only.”

This was inspiring, but also made me nervous, apparently visibly so, as Loretta glanced my way with a friendly “it’ll be okay” nod. “First the sopranos,” she said and proceeded to walk through the liturgy in sections. I wasn’t thinking plan-do-check-act (PDCA) at the time, but clearly each of us was experimenting, supported by Loretta’s gentle, positive feedback. Measure by measure we practiced until we were comfortable. Then the measures and sections were strung together, sopranos first, then tenor, then baritones and basses.

“Okay!” Loretta declared about 90 minutes into our rehearsal. “We have all the parts. Now let’s put them together. Don’t worry if you make a mistake; just keep going and you’ll catch up.” Loretta’s pipe organ introduction commenced, and on her cue, we began to sing. As she predicted there were mistakes—missed entrances and wrong notes, and a general imbalance of voices. But we achieved our first target. As we finished the liturgy, we turned to each other in surprise. One of us remarked, “We didn’t sound that bad.”

“Indeed, a great beginning,” Loretta agreed. Then she put a question to us, “Which are the areas we need to work on?” I think she knew the answers before she asked the question, but her question created reflection by every one of us. At age 13, I wasn’t thinking “hansei,” but Loretta’s question created that experience.

By 10 p.m., after nearly three hours of rehearsal, we sounded musical. Our liturgy would play to a standing-room only congregation, and every one of us had a sense of personal accomplishment and organizational harmony.

GBMP has just released Improvement Kata, a collaborative effort of GBMP, W3 Group, and Leanovator. This lean training video of driving lessons provides an introduction to the critical importance of kata methodology to real human development.

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About The Author

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.