Distraction Techniques in the Choral Rehearsal

A recurrent theme in the 3rd and 4th books of the Hitchhiker Trilogy is the technique of how to fly: you throw yourself at the ground, and miss. Obviously, the throwing bit is easy enough; the knack is to get sufficiently distracted during the brief moment before you hit the ground that you forget to finish the process. This leaves you suspended in the air, and the then trick for staying there, and indeed for swooping around and travelling about the place by flight, is not to think too hard about what you are doing.

Like many of Douglas Adams’s whimsies, this is both absurd and weirdly wise. Its very absurdity makes it a vivid metaphor for getting into that state where you can get on with stuff without crippling yourself with over-thinking or self-criticism. In Inner Game terms, it’s about silencing Self 1.

On Re-Expanding our Boundaries

I have been thinking a lot recently about a post I wrote some years ago on expanding our boundaries. There I was reflecting that if we don’t stretch ourselves, in terms of where we go, what we do, and who we meet, our capacities have a tendency to shrink to fit the restricted range we’ve been operating in.

That was of course written at a time when we could choose to travel or to take up new pastimes as ways of meeting new people. These are choices that have been severely curtailed for a year now, and as we in the UK contemplate our various regional roadmaps back out of lockdown, we are all feeling the emotional and psychological effects of not having been able to stretch in many of these dimensions for so long.

HALO on Race and Real Talk

HALOworkshopmar21Last Saturday the British Association of Barbershop Singers held a training event for its Musical Directors on diversity with a particular focus on racism, led by the quartet HALO. They have a well-developed programme in which they use the musical relationships within the barbershop style as a metaphor to help clarify various aspects of a productive dialogue about inclusion and race.

After presenting the core concepts and working through some of their implications, they use it as an analytical tool to tease out insights in the discussions between workshop participants. I came away with a sense of having some powerful new tools for understanding, and a deep admiration for their facilitation skills. If you ever get the chance to attend one of their workshops, take it.

The Emotional Fallout of Plagiarism

I have been thinking about plagiarism for various reasons recently. It’s an issue in the moral order of both my worlds, the academic and the artistic, and probably is in any world in which the generation of original content is the primary output of value.

I am accustomed to thinking about this from perspective of those who have their worked appropriated, the poietic dimension if we’re being semiotic about it. Someone has put skill and time and effort and probably also heartache into producing a piece of writing or music or whatever, only to see someone else come along and use the fruits of their effort in their own work, taking not only the credit, but also often the material rewards that come with it (royalties, promotions).

The emotional response this generates has two dimensions. On one hand there’s the outrage on behalf of the original creator, who is pushed aside and eclipsed by the act of appropriation. To copy without due acknowledgement or permission is to erase the original creator from the work, and thus also to erase them as a person. The Death of the Author might be a useful concept from a critical perspective, but those who create new work continue to feel deeply invested in material that has dominated their waking and sleeping thoughts.

Rethinking Retreats with Granite City Chorus

Instead of a screen-shot: this is us last yearInstead of a screen-shot: this is us last year

When I spent a weekend in late February last year with Granite City Chorus for their annual retreat, it was in a hotel up in the mountains an hour from Aberdeen from Saturday morning to mid-afternoon on Sunday. As it became clear towards the end of 2020 that we weren’t going to be back to in-person singing in time for this year’s event, we had to reimagine it.

The first thing we did was to shorten it. The pleasures of deep immersion in musical learning away from home are not directly replicable online. Quite apart from the fact that everyone would still actually be at home, the cognitive demands of the medium make remote rehearsing more tiring. Plus of course many participants will be spending their working week with their eyes on screens, and need some quality time away from their devices at weekends.

Developing the Vision with Route Sixteen

route16feb21I spent part of Thursday evening on zoom with my friends from Route Sixteen in Dordrecht. If covid had not come along, they would have recently have premiered an arrangement they commissioned from me as part of an ambitious concept set to defend their Holland Harmony championship, but instead they have spent the last year as we all have working round the limitations of our new circumstances to continue their musical journey as best they can.

They are still focused on bringing this concept package to fruition, either for the Dutch or the European barbershop conventions, whichever comes first, though they have found the vision adapting in some ways in response to the covid experience. We spent some time discussing the practicalities of how to rehearse and perform their ideas for staging as they emerge from lockdown.

Greg Clancy on Singing Freely

I mentioned in my first post about BABS Directors Academy last month that I had a pile of notes about Greg’s thoughts on freedom in singing that deserved a post of their own in due course. The moment has come to revisit these and reflect on them.

This theme emerged when Greg was talking about the importance of the warm-up (something on which our hearts beat as one). His goal is to get the chorus in a certain spot, ‘vocally, mentally, spiritually,’ and will often undertake this himself. If you do delegate the warm-up, he added, you need to be sure that it is someone who really understands what you’re aiming for in this.

What I find so interesting with how Greg talks about his processes is that he so often starts with very practical matters – in this case, the Vocal Majority’s approach to vocal production – but these always connect into more holistic questions. So his discussion of how they focus on a sense of lift, both physically (cheeks, soft palate), and psychologically (imagine the sound coming from your hairline) morphed straight into considering the chorus’s emotional state.

The Culture Code and Charismatic Social Structures

I spent a good deal of late 2019 and early 2020 thinking about Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code for various projects, none of which really accommodated a set of tangential thoughts the book sparked. So they’ve been sitting in a notebook waiting for the moment to be developed, which they signalled by waking me up in the middle of the night and demanding to be thought about. So apparently it’s time.

These thoughts were about some interesting resonances between the behaviours Coyle identifies as being common to successful groups and organisations, and those identified by Raymond Bradley in charismatic organisations. The comparison is interesting both for the overlaps and the differences.

As a quick refresher, Coyle’s three main elements to a sense of belonging are:

1. Build Safety
2. Share Vulnerability
3. Set Purpose

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