Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 5

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Final Thoughts

Well, not final thoughts ever about this event. In fact, I have several stacks of notes on things I learned or observed or discovered during the course of the weekend that I have yet to get around to writing about. It was after all intended to be the kind of event that would affect its participants for months if not years into the future. But I think I’m nearly done processing my thoughts about it as a charismatic encounter.

Okay, that’s weird. I stopped to have a think after writing that first paragraph, then after a few minutes looking back to the start of the event, remembering what it felt like as people arrived, I realised my pulse was faster and my adrenaline levels back up again. Even while I was remembering how pleasantly surprised I had been to find myself feeling calmer and less nervous than I had expected.

So, yes after having been in a state of some terror in January when I started the detailed planning, I was feeling well in control by the time the event started. I had a detailed to-do list which I just had to follow for 72 hours and then we’d be done. But I was still in a state of considerable arousal: focused, up-for-it, on the case. Too much adrenaline to sleep for two nights, indeed. I suspect that’s telling me something about proportionality: if the occasion actually warrants a lot of adrenaline, you don’t experience it as too much.

In fact, the memory I was going back to access was of how happy I felt pretty continuously over the entire weekend. And having the penny-drop moment that although I knew perfectly well I was aiming to create an environment in which people would feel euphoric, the fact that I understood the workings wasn’t going to make me immune to it. Not that wanted to be immune - it was deeply pleasurable. But it turns out that charisma is like the placebo effect or like music - you don’t spoil its effects by analysing it. So that’s pleasing.

The other thing that has come into focus through the process of reviewing the weekend is the relationship between educational value and charisma. I have previously mulled over the ethical ambiguity of charisma, how it can be a force for transformation in either positive or malign ways. That mulling produced some specifically choral benefits that charisma offers that, to my mind, make the dangers worth risking.

But the ambiguity has remained for me somewhat in educational contexts. There is certainly a sense in contemporary conservatoires that the old culture of guru-like professors and their following of obedient students was problematic. For sure it produced some amazing musicians, but it also inhibited the development of critical thought and left the students overly dependent on their teachers, both at a practical and an emotional level.

But for a one-off event like this, there isn’t the danger of dependency, and there is a benefit in getting people lit up. As I mentioned in my first post about the Directors Weekend, one of the goals was to create an experience that would stay with people and continue to support their development long after we had all gone home and sent our guest educator back to America. There wasn’t time to go for incremental change, we needed to create an environment in which people would embrace major developmental steps, and then send them home sufficiently committed to the change to put in the time and attention to consolidate it and make it their own.

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