Yours in Harmony
My visit to Brunel Harmony was followed the next day by a coaching day with Yours in Harmony just down the road in Torquay. This chorus is also preparing for the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers Convention at the end of the month, but for them it will be their first time. As a chorus, they have a several years of experience behind them competing in festivals of various sizes, but it is they have only recently affiliated to a barbershop organisation.
So, in some ways, they agenda was the same as the day before - polishing and confidence-building - as they are at the same point in the preparation cycle. But in other ways it was quite different, as they are juggling a lot of unknowns - they know how to perform, but very few of them really know what to expect from a barbershop convention.
The day thus duplicated some of the previous day’s techniques: bubbling so you trust your breath, mental rehearsal to increase confidence in choreography, and channelling Wonder Woman to increase self-confidence and diminish anxiety. We also spent some time discussing preparation for the performance, both over the next three weeks, and on the day itself, identifying ways they manage their minds and emotions so that they can enjoy their on-stage adrenaline burst, and use it to good effect.
One of the challenges for expressive people is to manage their attention so that it stays on the content of what they are singing rather than on monitoring their performing selves. Wherever is in your head shows on your face. (This is another way to make the point about the Manager and the Communicator.) This is probably even more the case when people are heading into contest - unlike a general audience, you know that some of your listeners will be literally judging you, and the rest second-guessing those judges. As such, the temptation may be to self-monitor much more rigorously than usual - which of course is entirely counter-productive.
One technique we used to deal with this was to connect very directly with the back-story to the song. Their contest ballad comes from a musical, and is an emotionally complex piece. We had referenced the general scenario, and how it impacted on various musical and lyric details as we worked through it, but for this holistic exercise, we sent people off in pairs just to talk through the narrative circumstances. How did the character come to be in this situation, and what specifically had happened to make her sing this song at this moment?
Of course, not everyone necessarily knew the musical in great detail. But we discovered that, with a shared understanding of the essentials of the situation, everyone could enter in the detail with their imaginations, and create answers that made sense of the song, even with gaps in their knowledge of the show. And connecting with this back story made their identification with the character much more direct and vivid. You don’t have to ‘remember’ to express with your face if your mind and heart are full of empathy for a courageous woman in difficult circumstances.
Another technique was to bring half a dozen people at a time down off the risers to monitor the faces of the other singers. They were tasked with spotting if anyone slipped into self-monitoring instead of telling the story, and catch their eye to bring them back into the song. As it happened, they had very little work to do, as the combination of knowing they were being watched for narrative continuity with the vividness of the pictures they had conjured up in the previous exercise kept everyone pretty continuously involved. Instead, the watchers had the opportunity to learn how effective it is when everyone is being simultaneously expressive.
It seemed scarcely possible that it was only 10 days since Lori Lyford had taught me the word phnert, it was proving so useful as a coaching aid. I do wonder how I coped before I have the vocabulary to say, ‘Listen to the tenors phnerting; if you finish the move before they’ve phnerted, you’ve done it too fast’. Major 2nds the world over are being sung better because of her, so please take the moment to say thank you when you see her.