April 2016

So...What Do I Do With My Mouth?

The benefits for a choral director of not mouthing the words are something that I have explored on several occasions in this blog over the years. Let's assume for now that we've covered those points well enough to make the point; I'll append a list of those previous posts at the end here* for anyone who's not seen them yet. For today, our question is the perfectly reasonable one of what to do instead.

It was asked by a conductor I worked with recently who found himself at something of a loss about how to use his face once he stopped mouthing the words. My first thought when he said this, I have to say, was admiration and delight that he had taken the advice seriously and acted upon it rather than the more usual response of making cogent arguments about why it is hard to do so. My second thought was that it's a good question, and one that other directors who grapple with this element of technical control might also be interested in, and thus a prime candidate for a blog post.

On Keyboards in the A Cappella Rehearsal

I recently participated in an online conversation about the use of pianos or keyboards in a cappella rehearsals - basically, are they a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? The debate covered the pros and cons pretty much as you’d expect, and it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I realised that behind my general que sera sera position on the question lay a more specific, and - to me, more interesting - point.

So the main argument in favour of using a piano is the pragmatic point that we should make use of any available tool that can be useful when helping people make music. Uncomplicated and to the point - not much that needs elaborating there.

ABCD Initial Course: Thoughts on Learning Structures

Justin Doyle's rather elegant illustrations of patternJustin Doyle's rather elegant illustrations of pattern

I spent Saturday up in Newcastle teaching conducting with Justin Doyle for the Association of British Choral Directors. This was the first of four full days, each a month apart, that makes up the abcd Initial Course. The course is very well established, though this is the first time it has run in this location and with this team. (The Newcastle course will also feature Martin Cook and Keith Orrell in future sessions.)

Regular readers will know that I like to think about the way the structure of events affects the learning experience, and there are several specific features of this course to reflect on in this context.

Doug Harrington and Helen Lappert on Planning for Freshness

I neglected to take a photo during the session, so here is a pic of two very positive people to set the sceneI neglected to take a photo during the session, so here is a pic of two very positive people to set the sceneAt last week’s Harmony College, I was running the Directors’ Stream, in my capacity as LABBS Chorus Director Development Specialist. (Nice job title, eh? Useful for when I need to tell people what my role is in the association these days.) Our theme for the weekend was ‘Keeping it Fresh’, and one of the ways we kept things fresh for our delegates was having input from a variety of the faculty on hand for the event.

This included a rather wonderful double act from guest educator Doug Harrington and Helen Lappert, director of Amersham A Cappella on the subject of planning for freshness. I wanted to have a mull on it today as not only did include lots of useful practical advice, but there were some interesting resonances with the session I had done on Saturday on the psychology of Flow, and with Philip Zimbardo’s ideas about our relationship with time I explored some years ago.

LABBS Harmony College 2016: Initial Reactions

Nickie James welcomes the assembled delegatesNickie James welcomes the assembled delegatesI am just home from a rather wonderful weekend with the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers, in which singers from all over the country gathered in Nottingham for a weekend of education and musical bonding. LABBS hasn’t used the Harmony College format for some years, having focused instead on themed and regional events on a rolling schedule. This has had the advantage of reaching more of the membership in total, as well as allowing those with multiple roles (quartet singer and chorus director, for instance) to access education for each. But there is a buzz about a big occasion like this that anyone who was there would not have wanted to miss.

I have, as you’d imagine, a pile of notes about things I learned and ideas I want to explore, both from the Directors Stream I was running and the plenary sessions. But in the first instance, as I’m writing this the morning after I got home, the impressions I’m processing are about this sense of occasion, and how it impacts on the learning process.

Music Teams and Johari Windows

Johari Window model: this version (c) Alan ChapmanJohari Window model: this version (c) Alan Chapman

While we're thinking about music teams (well, I am even if you haven't been), it seemed a good moment to reflect on an analytical grid that was developed specifically as a way to think about how team members work together. It's name, Johari, makes it sound rather exotic I always think, but in fact it was named after its inventors, who went by the names Joe and Harry.

The grid categorises information about a person as either known or unknown, both to themselves and to the rest of the team. 'Information' here can be knowledge, skills, thoughts, feelings - basically anything that can be known or unknown about a person. The point of the analysis is that the more that is known to all (the open quadrant, top left), the better a team can communicate and cooperate.

New! Workshops for Music Team Training

teamroles2I am delighted to announce a new set to add to my collection of themed workshops: in addition to those for choirs and choral directors I am now offering three designed specifically for music teams. Many choral groups have a team drawn from the membership to support their director in the musical development and leadership of the ensemble, usually involving some combination of assistant director, section leaders, vocal coach, librarian, and possibly performance coach.

The team members are generally appointed on the basis of their general musical/vocal skills, but many find, once in post, that their role also demands a variety of rehearsing and coaching skills in which they may not have much prior relevant experience. Learning on the job is a fine thing to do of course - often the director who appoints them will be doing likewise - but people feel more confident if they can receive some guidance and feedback on the way.

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