Choral

Changing Choral Culture in a Time of Covid

Last week I received a message from a reader with a number of wide-ranging questions:

Have you already (that I missed) posted something about the changing culture, changing expectations of singers as a result of our individual COVID experiences? Thoughts about what new/different things that directors should do, music teams should plan, individual singer behaviors that will change, etc.? I would be interested in your thoughts in some of these areas.

Looking back over my postings over the months since March, I could see that I’d wandered near these themes a number of times (for instance here, here, and here), but there was clearly a lot more in his questions than these posts covered. So I promised to have a mull and if I had further ideas to blog about them.

On Singing Solo Safely

On Saturday I led a webinar for the Association of British Choral Directors on Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code and its implications for choral rehearsals, during which we considered how they apply both in traditional face-to-face rehearsals, and in online sessions. I always find the combined wisdom and experience of a collection of choral directors a highly enriching environment, and never fail to come out with more ideas to reflect on than I went in with.

On this occasion, there were a number of related conversations about how the exigencies of remote rehearsing put people on the line for singing by themselves. On the whole, people join choirs to sing with other people, and for many, losing the envelope of sound around them has not only taken away a fundamental aural/visceral pleasure, but has stripped away their safety net.

Now, whilst pushing people out of their comfort zones is vital for learning (and indeed Coyle has written about this in his earlier work on developing advanced skill), you need to build a safe space in which to do that, or else you risk people heading straight from their comfort zones into the panic zone without finding the learning zone en route.

In Search of Myelin and Flow-states in a Time of Covid

Last autumn, I was reflecting on the relationship between a collection of psychological concepts that have informed this blog, and indeed my work with musicians, over the years: flow, locus of control, team-work, and the process of repetition/self-correction that builds myelin, and thus develops skill.

In the musical world we took for granted back then, the group situation was integral to the process. Having the sense of contributing to the team-effort of pulling something wobbly back together in an ensemble secures your locus of control internally, and – as I observed from a different direction in my last post – the constant feedback from the choral sound around you guides your ongoing self-correction. Real-time feedback is also one of the essential components for achieving a flow-state.

Singing Outside the Box

telf12sep20

When the rules in England changed mid-August to allow group singing within certain guidelines, the Telfordaires were one of the first groups out of the blocks to restart live sessions. Our main rehearsal each week remains online, so that it is accessible for everyone (including those having to quarantine or self-isolate, both of which have occurred in recent weeks), but we have added optional ‘weekend supplement sessions’ for smaller groups to experience live harmonising.

Part of our decision back in March to start remote rehearsing some days before the UK went into lockdown was that we didn’t want those who were vulnerable – and thus already disadvantaged by circumstance – to have to miss out on the nice things. In a similar spirit, we established the principle for our return to live singing that anything we did that didn’t include everyone should have a focus on improving things for the whole chorus.

Conducting, and Teaching Conducting, Online

The new multiple highlight function is great, but only if everyone has the newest version of the appThe new multiple highlight function is great, but only if everyone has the newest version of the app

On Saturday afternoon I spent an hour teaching a session on Basic Directing Skills as part of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers’ eOnline programme. (As an aside, it’s a fab programme – really varied classes, and there have been a couple or three a week all summer.)

This is a set of skills I have taught many times over the years, but never previously in a situation in which you can’t use sound as part of the learning process. Which is rather the point of directing, isn’t it? The process at the heart of both teaching conducting and the act of conducting itself is to listen to what you’re getting back and adjust your own posture, gesture, and facial expressions to make it sound better.

Singing and Happiness in a Virtual World

happinesshormones

Back in the early years of this blog, I used a rubric from a Mind Gym book to analyse the ways in which group singing can make us happy. I was reminded of it recently when a friend shared a different analysis of dimensions of happiness, articulated in terms of hormones, their effects, and activities to promote them.

Now part of me was a bit suspicious about this. It smelled a little like one of those pseudoscientific things that extrapolate from biology to behaviour in a way that goes beyond the evidence. All those hormones exist for sure, but the term ‘hack’ may well be code for ‘oversimplification’.

Still, even if the chain from chemical to lifestyle is factitious, the four quadrants still represent a useful anatomy of satisfying experiences: reward, love, serenity, and relief from pain remain useful categories when planning our experiential objectives.

The Key to Remote Rehearsing: Opportunities to Listen

opptohearOne of the things that teaching, and in particular preparing to teach, does for you is to bring implicit knowledge into conversant awareness. I mentioned in my previous post reflecting on the session I ran for LABBS on Principles for Remote Rehearsing that two observations rose to the top in preparing and presenting it. I talked about the first there; it is now time to consider the second.

I have for many years used a quick and dirty rubric for describing the effects of rehearsal pacing on singer experience. As I discuss in the blog post that introduces it, there are nuances beneath the surface that lead to richer refinements of rehearsal technique, but it remains a really useful starting point for analysis.

A similar kind of rubric is starting to emerge for me that articulates quality of experience for singers in online rehearsing. The key question it asks is:

For what proportion of the rehearsal does each singer have the opportunity to hear other people’s voices in real time?

The Evolution of Online Rehearsals

A few weeks ago I led a session for The Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers on Principles for Remote Rehearsing. It was a good opportunity to bring together a lot of what people have shared over the last 4-5 months and extract some common themes from the various successes and failures. In the process, two more over-arching observations emerged. Edit: the first of these apparently is enough to fill the rest of this post, so the other will come another day.

The first observation is how varied the approaches to remote rehearsal have been. In normal choral rehearsals, you mostly know what you’re going to see. There are variations between choral traditions to an extent, and between the approaches needed for different skill levels, but these are variations on a common theme. Having visited a lot of choral rehearsals both in the course of research for my second book, and in my decade of freelance coaching, I feel quite safe in this generalisation.

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