Out of the End-of-August Doldrums

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Wednesday evening took me up to Preston for another visit to the Red Rosettes. It is less than six weeks now until they head over to Ireland for the IABS Convention, and so are starting to gear themselves up to contest rather earlier in the year than they would normally for the rhythm of the British women’s barbershop year.

Many choruses find the summer the slow season, as people’s holidays keep attendance down over a period of 6-8 weeks. Indeed, many choral groups deal with this by taking a break over the summer, though this is rarer in barbershop world, where the performance seasons are regulated by events that are not particularly tied in to school terms.

So, out of a series of specific musical and technical tasks for the evening arose a bigger task of connecting back with the Red Rosettes as they are at peak performance, to put this slow season behind them for their convention preparation.

In terms of the Dilts pyramid, we were working on both identity and behaviours simultaneously. The identity element involved asking everyone to think back to the best performance they had every done with the chorus, a time when they were full of confidence, well-prepared, and knew they were ready to give their audience a really good time.

By looking for this mode in memory, we highlighted the way that we all have access to identities as top-class performers, and as somewhat-tired-on-a-Wednesday-night-bumbling-through-adequately performers, as we all have both sets of experience. But we don’t need to practise the second one so much (we are already too good at it). We need to practise the I-am-megastar-genius persona if we want to have it readily to hand on stage.

The behaviour element entailed a small tweak to the physical set-up at the start of the song, namely to open the mouth so the teeth show. This does several things: it presents a more open, engaging visual impact at the start of the song (actually, it’s shocking how strong a difference it makes - far more than you’d think), it gets people more prepared for the breath, and it adds ping to the sound as the teeth are ready to resonate.

Working on both internal/mental and external/physical dimensions at once was much more effective than working on just one. The identity focus gave meaning and emotional importance to the physical change, framing it in terms that stopped the initial unfamiliarity of sensation being an obstacle. The behaviour change gave a physical anchor that provided a ready route back to the mental world we needed.

I noticed two other consequences of this shift during the rest of the evening. One was that the songs’ characterisations needed to shift slightly to adapt to the change in identity of the performers. ‘Don’t break my heart,’ became less of a plea and more of an instruction; the same words came to betoken a stronger position in the evoked scene (and one that actually fitted the music rather better).

The other was that the mood lifted. You wouldn’t have called it gloomy before, but there was an extra edge of brightness, of spark, of both cheerfulness and readiness to achieve once people were getting fluent at accessing their megastar-genius identity. It is, quite simply, pleasurable to feel like that. And it’s catching - they sent me home feeling on top of the world.

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