Andy Allen on Chorus Processes

‹-- PreviousNext --›

On Saturday, Andy Allen was invited to present at the quarterly Forum for MDs of choruses in the British Association of Barbershop Singers. For those who don’t know him, Andy is the brains behind the renaissance of Hallmark of Harmony, a once-great chorus that had by the mid-2000s fallen some way from its previous heights, while still being haunted by the memories of those past achievements. Andy led their transformation back to glory from around 2012, and they are the reigning British male chorus champions from 2019.

Now, Andy is a fine musician, but the thing I admire him for most is his skill and insight into building organisational structures and processes that bring out the best in the people around him. Indeed, one could hypothesise that one of the reasons he has such good people around him is his knack for figuring out how they can best make their contributions: there’s nothing like feeling useful to motivate people to stay involved.

There are two things in particular I’d like to share with you that got me taking notes to think about later.

The first was his analysis of Music Team functions. The specific team structure he shared with us was so clearly built around the strengths of particular individuals that I don’t think it would necessarily transfer to another group, but the three general areas it covered are very useful categories to think about in how roles work within a team. These were:

  1. Big-picture/strategy and repertoire. This is the dimension of deciding what the chorus is going to sing, and – crucially - why. What does this repertoire say about us and our audiences? How do we use our music to define our place in the musical cosmos?

    I think the choice to group repertoire in with strategy is largely a reflection of Andy’s own strengths; logically I might want to place it alongside the following two areas as areas of specialism that fall within the overall umbrella of strategic thinking. But lumping them all in together does serve to draw attention to how ‘what we sing’ is fundamental to ‘who we are’

  2. Chorus improvement This, as the title implies, is about the development of chorus skills. Andy talked about it in terms of working out what skills upcoming repertoire would require and devising plans to develop them so the chorus was ready to engage with that music. You could of course also look at it the other way round: what skills are we prioritising in the near future and what repertoire will provide rewarding vehicles to exercise them?
  3. Pastoral care We need to look after our chorus members, be alert to their needs and personal circumstances, find ways to support them if life is providing obstacles to their musical life. The genius of articulating this separately is in recognising that your best musicians don’t necessarily have the best people skills. There is an educational dimension to this – it interacts with chorus improvement in particular – otherwise it might just as usefully categorise this under the ‘club’ dimension of the Management Committee rather than the Music Team’s aegis. Either way, it needs to happen, and having clarity about who is looking after it is really valuable

The other thing to share is a resonance I noticed between Andy’s organisational thoughts about musical leadership and the in-the-moment dimension of conducting I had been coaching the previous weekend. Andy had members of his team with particular skills in music theory and teaching singing respectively focused on diagnostic analysis to feed into the rehearsal process. The two questions that defined their roles were essentially the same two that underpinned our work in developing the conductor’s ear to inform their gestures:

What does the music need?
What do the singers need?

I have previously enjoyed the way that these kinds of questions work both at the level of week-to-week reflecting on and planning for rehearsals and at the moment-to-moment level of interacting with singers in real time within the music. Andy took this correlation between micro- and macro- and extended it up into his organisational structure.

I do relish these moments when you can ask the same questions at the big-picture level and down dirty in the detail. The skills you use to answer and address them aren’t identical as you shuffle between different the levels, so it’s not all fractals or Schenkerian metaphors. Still, one can enjoy the conceptual elegance and cognitive efficiency the resonance affords.

...found this helpful?

I provide this content free of charge, because I like to be helpful. If you have found it useful, you may wish to make a donation to the causes I support to say thank you.

Archive by date

Syndicate content