Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 2

Cause and Crisis

My last blog post for 2014 was about Facing Our Demons, which was eventually what became the central theme for the LABBS Directors Weekend in July. Looking back at it reminds me of how daunted I felt about putting that weekend together - it was the biggest and scariest thing in my Too-Hard Tray at that point.

Now, I’m not saying that the thought process behind making this the theme for the weekend was, ‘Well if I’m going to be terrified out of my wits I’m going to make sure that everyone else is too’ - though that thought did pass through my head at more than one point. But there was a definite and deliberate sense that I wanted everyone to extend themselves: to stretch beyond their comfort zone, to expand their boundaries. And that included both delegates and faculty.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend

Feeling the love: bestowing a hug and a box of Cadbury's Heros on our guestFeeling the love: bestowing a hug and a box of Cadbury's Heros on our guest


The weekend of 17-19 July was the culmination of my biggest project for 2015: planning and then leading a training weekend for the chorus directors of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers. I didn’t do it all by myself - I had the support of the organisation’s fabulous events team, who managed all the logistics and communications with delegates, and of a glorious faculty drawn from LABBS’s most skilled and successful directors to help devise and deliver the curriculum. But, still, the project was my baby, and took up a lot of time and attention in the 6 months leading up to it.

Apologies if I sound smug at any point when talking about it. It is merely that I am immensely pleased by how it all went. The director education programme doesn’t get the budget for a big event every year, so it mattered to me that we made the most of it.

The Quandary of the Abandoned Assistant: Part 2

In my previous post on this subject, I was mulling over the phenomenon of reduced attendance at rehearsals taken by an assistant rather than front-line director. I had got as far as analysing it as a side-effect of the director’s function in creating charismatic encounters. It’s not that the assistants are not inspiring and compelling as people, it’s that it is the role itself of director that confers the power to galvanise.

We had got as far as starting to think about the routinization of charisma when the post got too long, so that’s where we’re starting today.

To recap the theory: Weber’s classic formulation of charismatic authority, upon which pretty much all sociological studies in this area build, saw it as an essentially volatile social relationship, born in situations of crisis, outside and indeed often in opposition to, more stable forms of authority (such as the traditional or bureaucratic). Later studies have observed that, whilst this inherent instability is often apparent in charismatic groups, some organisations manage to sustain themselves for considerable lengths of time.

The Quandary of the Abandoned Assistant

I was recently in one of those conversations in which somebody is worried about an experience, and wonders if it’s entirely their fault, or whether other people have the same problem, and I realised it is an incredibly common issue that I’d not really seen discussed anywhere before. So I hope the other people in that conversation don’t mind me sharing with a wider audience, because it is common across all kinds of choirs, and having the conversation on a wider scale could well be useful to others who are going through the same thing.

The issue is this: on the rehearsal when the director is away and their assistant standing in, attendance drops significantly.

Now, the assistant obviously feels this keenly. It does feel like people are voting with their feet and are telling you that you aren’t worth getting off the sofa for. But it’s not just the assistant who feels it. It is irksome for the director, who not unreasonably hoped to be able to carry on from where everyone had got to in their absence, but instead has to go back and support people who are catching up from missing a week. It also dampens the spirits of the people who do make the effort to turn up.

Rediscovering Charisma: The Case of the Green Surge

greenAs I left the house on Saturday to attend the West Midlands Green Party Regional Conference, Jonathan asked if I wanted to take the camera. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘This isn’t the kind of event I’ll be blogging about - just too far removed from music.’ I regretted this cavalier assumption about halfway through the afternoon, when it dawned upon me what a wonderful case study of a charismatic organisation was operating around me.

Around this time last year, I had thought the Green Party as rather interesting as an organisation that should be charismatic, but was not. Or possibly, was no longer. My father had been a member back in the 1980s when it was still called The Ecology Party, and as far as I can recall looking back to that era (I was at an age not to pay a great deal of attention to politics), it had what I now recognise as some of the classic hallmarks.

The Holonomic Voice: Part 1

There is an idea I have been wanting to blog about for some time, but I have been getting stuck at the first hurdle. So I have decided to break this down into two parts, and deal first with the bit I’m stuck on, and when that’s out of the way move onto the actual application to ensemble singing in a second post. I’m not pretending it’s going to be an elegant way of presenting the concept, but if you really prefer your writing in formal genres, you probably wouldn’t be here on a blog.

So we will just muddle through as best we can, and I hope in due course to have untangled enough of what I’ve been grappling with to be useful for vocal craft. I was put onto the idea in the first place by a choral director, so it may turn out in the end that I am needlessly complicating things here. Oh well.

Avoiding the Dangers of Us-and-Themness in Choirs

singing group cartoonMy last post was about why it is a problem when a choir starts developing factions. Criticism of one sub-group by another is an early-warning indicator that this might be happening - not least because that articulates the fact that the people doing the criticising are thinking of the others as ‘them’. So, our next question is: what can a director to inhibit such tendencies and to counter them should they appear?

The Dangers of Us-and-Themness in Choirs

My recent post on the relationship between choral identities and musical behaviours included a passing comment that has stayed with me as deserving more thought. It was the point about people in one section being blamed by those in other sections for musical difficulties experiences by the whole ensemble. This bothered me; it feels like an unhealthy dynamic, with some members of a choir feeding their esteem needs from others’ vocal difficulties. And it’s a dynamic I have encountered often enough that it warrants some reflection on what’s going on, and why it makes me so worried.

So, in the case I cited, it was the basses who were subject to persistent bashing. It could be any part, though - I know of groups in which sopranos or barbershop leads have been subject to the same kind of treatment. Voice parts give an obvious opportunity to create a sense of us-and-them, but other fault-lines open up according to the circumstances of individual groups.

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