Music Teams

Factors to Consider in Programming a Concert

Results of our discusion...Results of our discusion...

This is one of those posts that started out as notes for a particular group of people, but which I then realised will be useful beyond that cohort. In this case, it started out as a summary of a discussion amongst participants on the Association of British Choral Directors’ Initial Course in Newcastle. They had all prepared programmes for a short choral concert, annotated with the reasons for their choices. The discussion analysed the range of factors different people had taken into account

Musical Content

Everyone, unsurprisingly, commented on the musical character of the pieces - style, character, soundworld, - the things that an audience will experience directly. The discussion centred around the different ways people had grouped pieces together using these considerations. Some people themed by links between composers, others by common genre, others by common ideas in the texts.

Music Teams and Johari Windows

Johari Window model: this version (c) Alan ChapmanJohari Window model: this version (c) Alan Chapman

While we're thinking about music teams (well, I am even if you haven't been), it seemed a good moment to reflect on an analytical grid that was developed specifically as a way to think about how team members work together. It's name, Johari, makes it sound rather exotic I always think, but in fact it was named after its inventors, who went by the names Joe and Harry.

The grid categorises information about a person as either known or unknown, both to themselves and to the rest of the team. 'Information' here can be knowledge, skills, thoughts, feelings - basically anything that can be known or unknown about a person. The point of the analysis is that the more that is known to all (the open quadrant, top left), the better a team can communicate and cooperate.

New! Workshops for Music Team Training

teamroles2I am delighted to announce a new set to add to my collection of themed workshops: in addition to those for choirs and choral directors I am now offering three designed specifically for music teams. Many choral groups have a team drawn from the membership to support their director in the musical development and leadership of the ensemble, usually involving some combination of assistant director, section leaders, vocal coach, librarian, and possibly performance coach.

The team members are generally appointed on the basis of their general musical/vocal skills, but many find, once in post, that their role also demands a variety of rehearsing and coaching skills in which they may not have much prior relevant experience. Learning on the job is a fine thing to do of course - often the director who appoints them will be doing likewise - but people feel more confident if they can receive some guidance and feedback on the way.

Surrey Harmony and the Musical Music Team

Rubric for rehearsal pacing: using my special 'almost legible' writingRubric for rehearsal pacing: using my special 'almost legible' writingThursday night saw me doing another session for a chorus’s music team, this time with Surrey Harmony. It was a rather different dynamic from my last session - a similar number of people, but this time the entire team from a single chorus rather than a couple from each of several choruses. What we lost in the opportunity to compare experience between different ensembles we gained in the opportunity to develop mutual understanding and shared working methods within the group.

(As an aside: there is a truism lurking in there about the learning process. What you can learn in any given scenario is to some extent a function of your own needs, beliefs and habits, but it is also a function of who you are learning with.)

Developing Section Leaders

Since I had to travel down to Plymouth the day before my coaching day with Brunel Harmony, their director Delyth Knight had a brainwave about how to use the evening before. Her family are involved in the musical leadership of several choruses in the area, so she felt it would be a good opportunity to offer a training session to section leaders/music team members from several of them together.

Interestingly, I have been toying with offering training for music teams as a specific service for a while, as it strikes me as a way to support the ensemble’s development in a way that could add significant value relative to the time spent. And, whilst there are plenty of training opportunities to develop the musical and vocal skills these roles need, there is relatively little support for how to develop the coaching and mentoring skills they often entail.

Then, while I was toying with these ideas, two directors got in touch independently to ask about them. It is starting to look like an idea whose time has come.

Values and Skills Audits with Bristol Fashion

BFjun15Over the last couple of weeks I have been helping Bristol Fashion with a similar kind of review/audit process that I undertook with Hallmark of Harmony back in March. As with that exercise, I am not going to share the detail of what the review produced here - as that is for the chorus use - but I would like to reflect somewhat on the process.

The review with Bristol Fashion worked as a two-stage process. It started off with a visit to observe their Music Team in action on a regular rehearsal night, which produced a report that identified things that are working well (i.e. to make sure they keep doing them!) and areas that can be developed as individuals and as a team.

This was followed, two weeks later, by a second visit in which I facilitated a values- and goal-setting exercise with the whole chorus. The aim of this was for the singers to articulate to each other the things that matter the most to them about their musical life together, and to generate concrete actions that each individual could undertake to enhance their shared experience.

Hallmark Healthcheck


Nearly three years ago I visited Hallmark of Harmony in Sheffield to spend an evening observing their rehearsal prior to producing a report to feed into their five-year plan for the chorus’s development. In the intervening time they have gone from success to success, having won a succession of contest medals, the most recent one of which has qualified them to go and compete at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Convention this summer.

This week I went back for a return visit, which they framed this time as giving them a healthcheck. This seems a most apt metaphor - they have clearly found their mojo as a chorus and didn’t need help fixing problems that were conspicuously holding them back. But just as if you wait until you are suffering to seek medical advice, you miss the opportunity to nip ailments in the bud, reviewing how you are getting on as a chorus while things are going well can help you head off issues that could become problems in the future. You can also identify ways to turn good health into even better health - indeed a chorus has rather more scope to do this than the medical profession!

On the Riviera...

Coaching the Music Team under glassCoaching the Music Team under glassSaturday saw me down in Torquay to work with Riviera Sound. I know their founder-director, Chris Bullen, from years back, but hadn’t been down to work with her in the decade since she had started the chorus. So I was delighted at last to get a chance to hear - and work with - her singers.

(One of the things we chatted about over the day was the relative merits of joining umbrella organisations versus remaining independent. It was only as I started writing this that I realised one advantage joining would have had would be that my curiosity would likely have been satisfied before now. Granted, that is an advantage that accrues to me rather than the chorus, but still...)

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