March 2012

The Communicator and the Manager

The Communicator and the Manager are two characters who have popped up in several previous posts, and who are making increasingly frequent visits to my coaching sessions. So I felt it was time they deserved a post of their own.

I think I first met these two characters in the guise of the Writer and the Editor. When I was on the final leg of my PhD a lecturer friend advised me that the only way to get anything done is to send the Editor off for a cup of tea while the Writer gets on with things. Yes, it will need a good deal of editing in due course, but if the Editor gets on the case while the Writer’s still trying to write, you’ll never get anything done.

I always imagined these two as sitting on either shoulder, like a devil and an angel. Which is slightly strange imagery, since the Writer-Editor (and indeed Manager-Communicator) pair have much more of yin-yang than a good-evil one. You do actually need both, but they need to get involved in different stages of the process.

NAC Conference 2012

NAC delegates enjoying the sun at lunchtimeNAC delegates enjoying the sun at lunchtimeAt the weekend I had the pleasure of presenting at the National Association of Choirs annual conference, held this year on the shores of Lake Windermere. It was a most friendly and cheerful event – no doubt aided by the beautiful setting and glorious weather, though it was also clear that the one of the things the conference offers is a chance to maintain and renew the friendships people have made through the association.

The event was topped and tailed with association business: the AGM on Friday evening and a members’ open forum closed Sunday’s events. An exhibition of trade stands runs throughout the main body of the conference, and, as the last time I attended, the presentations include both practical sessions and informational ones. This year, Saturday’s programme was focused on choral skills, while Sunday saw a presentation by a tour company.

Jimbob’s Pictures of Musical Processes


Earlier this month, BABS and LABBS held their triennial joint re-certification school, at which judges from both organisations are required to formally qualify in order to continue their service. This undertaken with the help of visiting judges in each category from the Barbershop Harmony Society, who play a role both in leading training and overseeing the assessments.

The Music Category was delighted to welcome current Category Specialist Jim Kahlke, who as well as all the usual virtues you see in people who take on this mantle, has a happy knack for drawing pictures of ideas. So I thought I’d share a couple of them that have resonance beyond the specificities of barbershop judging. I’m pretty sure that both sets of ideas were attributed to other members of the category (Roger Payne and Kathy Greason respectively, if I recall), but I’m calling them Jimbob’s here because it’s his drawings we’re looking at.

Choirs and Democracy

magentawinFurther to my comments earlier this week on power-sharing in a choral context: between scheduling that post and its publication, I had an interesting experience with Magenta that got us all reflecting about these questions in more detail. The occasion was the Adult Choirs class at the Worcester Festival, and the experience was receiving feedback from the adjudicator, David Lawson. (The photo will give you a hint, in case you are interested, as to how we got on.)

The specific comment that David made was (and this is as near verbatim as I can get – I neglected to make a note until later):

I always say to my choir at school that, ‘Choir is not a democracy’. Now, I saw that you had somebody giving the notes and bringing you in, but I wondered whether you are actually getting dangerously near a democracy?

The big joke within Magenta afterwards was that everybody’s immediate instinct was to look at me to see what the correct answer was.

On the Primary and Secondary Effects of Rehearsal Methods

I have remarked before how rehearsal methods one chooses for a specific reason often have secondary effects that you didn’t necessarily anticipate but that nonetheless chime with your overall aims and ethos. One particular instance of this rule of benign unintended consequences we have experienced in Magenta is the practice of having all members out front in turn to coach the group as a whole.

The routine is this: each person stands out front, and we sing a section of maybe 16-20 bars to them. They feed back (a) on something that they liked about the performance and (b) on something that they would like to see added or improved. (If they accidentally tell us something that was wrong, we rephrase in positive terms; so for example if we’re told the start was a bit tentative and insipid, the instruction becomes, 'Please perform the start with more confidence and clarity'.). We then sing the same section again to give them what they wanted. We then go on to sing the next section to the next person.

Posture, Attitude and the Autonomic Nervous System

Do you ever get a hunch that certain ideas or phenomena are related, but you’re not sure of the nature of the relationship? The purpose of this post is to mull on three different ideas to see why they seem to resonate together so well. It may be simply that they share a similar structure (which always makes mapping things onto each other both easy and tempting), but I think their connections may turn out to be stronger than that.

I’ll outline each first, then tease out the relationships between them.

ABCD Conductor Training Day

The Coton Centre in Tamworth is a wonderful venue for musical training eventsThe Coton Centre in Tamworth is a wonderful venue for musical training eventsSaturday saw the Association of British Choral Directors Midlands Region hold a training day for conductors. There were two streams, one led by Sue Hollingworth for school teachers about the Sing Up programme, and I was presenting on the other for choral directors.

It was the second event at which I have been presenting recently where the group of participants felt almost perfectly constituted to offer a real range and breadth of perspectives. We had directors of church choirs, community choirs, long-established choral societies, male voice choirs and youth choirs. We had all ages from school-age to senior. We had beginners, seasoned directors, and those with some experience looking to build on their work so far.

Performance and Addiction: an afterthought

After writing my post last week about the way the intermittent responses you get as a performer play a key role in creating the desire to repeat the experience, I had a penny-drop moment about that whole psychological dynamic. We’re used to thinking about it in terms of its problem dimension – those addictions that get in the way of life, such as gambling or computer Solitaire.

But it struck me that these problems aren’t the norm for this kind of operant conditioning, merely some unfortunate side-effects. The difficulty isn’t the psychological effect of intermittent reinforcement, it’s when it occurs in overly simple contexts in which you have little control over the outcomes.

Let me explain.

Fascinating Rhythm on South Rampart Street

FRmar12Saturday saw me back with my friends Fascinating Rhythm to work with them on David Wright’s arrangement of ‘South Rampart Street Parade’. It is a classic chart for reasons that I came away with a renewed appreciation for, and it is a good choice for them at their current stage of development: they have to raise their game to sing it, but it is a challenge within their reach. And it has that wonderful characteristic that, tricky as it is, it lifts performers – it actually helps them out-perform what they previously thought they were capable of.

Performance and Addiction

Magenta engaging in addictive behaviourMagenta engaging in addictive behaviourAs I have mentioned before, taking an evening class in stand-up comedy has given me some interesting new perspectives on the act of performance. Some of what we’ve been learning is specific to the art-form*, but I am also getting reasonably frequent penny-drop moments when something suddenly sheds a new and illuminating light into my regular life of music and musicians, often bringing some half-understood dynamic into startling focus.

One such moment was during a discussion between course tutor James Cook and visiting comedian, Andy Robinson on what provides the impetus to keep going, especially if you’ve had a bad gig.

Charisma and Flow 2: Nature of the Common Ground

In my last post on this subject, the question emerged as to what kind of overlap there is between activities/approaches that generate a flow state with activities/approaches that generate a charismatic encounter. I’m thinking particularly of the choral rehearsal here, since that’s the primary context in which I’m likely to apply these ideas – though if we learn more generalisable things in the process, that’s fine too.

Now, for all the structural and experiential resonances between these two states, theorising their overlap has been trickier than I expected. This is partly because there is one huge apparent contradiction between the two. A key element to Flow is the sense of personal control, that what you are doing makes a defining difference to the outcome of the activity. Whereas, a key element of a charismatic encounter is the way people hand over their sense of executive control to the leader.

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