Letting the Music Out with Norwich Harmony

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I always dither over devising titles that could encapsulate a whole day’s work with a chorus and their director, but rarely more than this time. Joining the Dots with Norwich Harmony? Finding the Flow? Making Life Easier? Taking the Muscle Out? All of these would be true of our musical adventures together, which were deep and satisfying.

We had two songs to work on. One was relatively new to the chorus and was basically coming into shape, having got to the point where it would benefit from refinement of the detail. The other was established in the performing repertoire, but had rather got stuck; they had a vision of the kind of flow they wanted from it, but had been struggling to achieve it in practice.

How to Practise when you Haven’t got any Time

Tl;dr for the time-poor

  • Listen to the music whenever you might normally have the radio on
  • Look at the music whenever you might normally read the newspaper
  • Sing in the shower

I recently started a conversation in the Barbershop Chorus Directors Facebook group, in the belief (correct, it turned out) that there would be a lot of wisdom collected there on this subject. Some choirs work on the principle that you can just rock up whenever you can make it and everyone will learn the music together in rehearsal. But many, particularly those that aspire to more (and more complex) repertoire than you can handle in that scenario, expect their members to do a lot of the groundwork in learning notes and words at home between rehearsals.

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 3

In my previous post on this subject, we arrived at a clearer understanding of when someone attending an event is most at risk of not experiencing the sense of belonging events usually aspire to offer, and of feeling isolated and left out instead. Before we move onto the practical strategies we can develop to minimise the chance of this happening, it may be worth reflecting on what’s going on when someone is heading into that state but is rescued from it and ends up feeling like part of the community after all.

I use the word ‘rescued’ because that it a word I’ve heard people use to describe what this felt like. And it aptly describes how I have felt in such situations too. And that itself says something about how quietly desperate the feeling is when you feel alone in a situation where everyone else seems to feel connected.

The tales of these experiences I have heard have a few traits in common:

Back with the Belles

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I forsook my own chorus on Wednesday evening to visit my friends at the Belles of Three Spires. They were in a new venue since last time I coached them, and there were some new faces to see as well as some long-standing friends. We had a dual focus for the evening: work on a couple of my arrangements – one they had commissioned a while back, and another they have recently picked up – and to work on refining the conductor-choir bond.

This latter theme is one that a number of directors are grappling with at the moment – myself included. When we came back to live rehearsing after covid, it was worse of course – as was everything else – but it seems that for quite a few of us it improved organically to a certain extent, but then kind of stalled at a fairly generalised level. The result is music that has an overall sense of shape and shared purpose, but lacks the clarity of detail to really come to life.

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 2

In my previous post I reflected on the problematics of creating a sense of belonging at events. Why do some people sometimes feel horribly left out at an occasion when most people are feeling happily connected? What can we do, when organising events, to make that less likely to happen?

Finding some common patterns in my own and friends’ experiences of alienation (Scenario 2 experiences as classified in my last post) seems like the best place to start to increase our understanding of what’s going on. I’m intending to anonymise both the sources of these tales, and the events at which they took place, which risks making it all rather abstract. Of course, I’ll know the details of what I’m inducing from, so I’ll be able to learn effectively from the experience. I just hope I can present it in a way that isn’t too unhelpfully vague for everyone else!

Thoughts on Belonging

I’m writing this post (or maybe posts, I don’t know how much this will develop) not because I have answers, but because I have questions. The need to feel a sense of belonging is one of the more fundamental levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and has received in-depth attention as to how it operates in organisations in Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code. (And how this plays out in choral rehearsals is the subject of my article in Choral Directions from a couple of years back.)

So, the general understanding of what a sense of Belonging feels like, and how it is generated, is in place. My questions arise from my own experiences and conversations with friends about their experiences. It’s not a huge sample I’m working from, but it is big enough for some striking patterns to emerge; I’m confident that where I draw on my own experiences to theorise about wider things in this context that it’s not just me, other people have been through very similar experiences.

Zooming over to Route Sixteen

I didn't take a screenshot because I didn't want to show their costumes before their big reveal at Convention: pic from their website insteadI didn't take a screenshot because I didn't want to show their costumes before their big reveal at Convention: pic from their website insteadThere are many things that you can’t achieve on Zoom, but there are also some key things that you can, such as coaching people in a different country for a couple of hours. Much as I love the city of Dordrecht from my visit there a few years ago, it’s not really a viable trip to make just for an evening!

I spent Thursday evening working with Route Sixteen, who will soon be defending their gold medal from 2019 in Holland Harmony’s national barbershop convention. They are finally getting the chance to share the concept package they had originally planned for 2021, and, whilst it has been quite hard to pace how to keep it alive through the covid era, it will be wonderful for them finally to share it.

On Listening to, and Performing, Familiar Music

This post is the result of two remarks made in different contexts ganging up on my brain and making me think about them together. Both were made by Jay Dougherty during BABS Directors Academy back in January.

The first (well, it came along second, but has muscled to the front of the logical queue for consideration) was in his class on Audio Illusions, where he demonstrated the phenomenon of phonemic restoration. This is where the brain fills in missing or masked fragments in a heard linguistic utterance, leaving us with the impression that we have heard it in its entirety. This is very useful for intelligibility, helping us make sense of what we hear despite environmental distractions or indistinct speech.

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