Effecting Change 2: How to Unfreeze

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In my last post, I looked at how Kotter’s model of organisational change might relate to rehearsal processes in the broad scale. Today and in my next two posts, I’m going to dig a bit deeper into the detail to garner some clues about not just what needs to happen, but how we can make it happen.


Kotter breaks down the process by which you get people to loosen their grip on the way they are currently doing things into three elements:

  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Build your guiding coalition
  • Develop your vision

Creating a sense of urgency in rehearsal is usually best effected in relationship to a performance goal, and the hopes that a choir will invest in it. What do the singers desire? To win a contest, to get rave reviews, to get their spouses finally to concede that the musical results are worth the time expended? More abstract goals are also effective: if the choir can just achieve that particular tone and articulation, they will be singing exactly in the style that the composer intended. But change needs to be motivated, so whether it is an abstract or a concrete goal, you need to provoke an appetite in your singers for some good to be attained or some calamity to be evaded.

Your guiding coalition are the core of people who will help you bring about your desired change. In the organisational dimension of a choir, this will usually be your managing committee and/or music committee. But in the more fluid ebb and flow of the rehearsal, this will change from moment to moment depending on the nature of the change you are trying to make. Is one section achieving a more unified sound than the others? They’ll be your team to lead the way on section unity. Have a couple of singers mentioned over coffee how much they adore a particular piece of repertoire? They’ll be your vanguard for producing a committed and expressive performance.

Building guiding coalitions for specific rehearsal goals thus also gives the opportunity to involve all singers in a leadership role, if only momentarily. This is really useful for building the confidence and pride of your singers, especially those who may tend to think of themselves as less skilled than others. There is nothing more limiting to a choir’s potential than having subsets of singers stereotype themselves as ‘weaker’ either vocally or musically. Those people with less developed music literacy or vocal technique will still have hearts and brains and imaginations and personalities, and therefore plenty to contribute to the overall performance and indeed ethos of the choir. If we use them to help achieve our rehearsal goals, we will also help them have a real sense of achievement through making a meaningful contribution to the whole.

The third element of unfreezing, developing your vision, is at one level something that we should have done before we get into the rehearsal room. If we don’t have a clear idea of both the overall artistic intentions and the nitty-gritty of how we are going to achieve it, we have no right to stand up in front of a choir.

But on the micro-level, this creative process of envisioning continues interactively as we conspire with our singers to bring the vision to life. The rehearsal process is one of constantly comparing what we’re hearing with what we aspire to, and finding ways to bring the former to the condition of the latter. So, while the goal is prepared in advance, the vision of what this group of singers need right now to move them towards it is developed dynamically in the flow of rehearsal.

Indeed, this is one of my favourite things about both rehearsing and coaching – the creative diagnostic process. It absolutely relies on the depth of prior preparation, but how it will play out cannot be predicted in advance. It is absolutely vital to the success of changing how people are singing, though, since without a clear vision of what the change will entail, no choir can make progress, no matter how urgently they feel the need to.

Wow though. (My thoughts await honing!)

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