The Inner Game of Choral Rehearsals 2: Awareness

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Awareness is the first of the three cornerstones of the inner game approach. It refers to the non-judgemental perception of what we’re doing. Instead of the kind of self-monitoring that immediately classifies what we’re doing as either adequate or inadequate, it aims simply to get a clearer a picture of what’s going on, without leaping to judgement. It’s rather like the NLP principle that there’s no failure, only feedback, and involves replacing the instinct to say to yourself, ‘that was crap,’ with ‘what happened there?’

This is important for two reasons. First, as I mentioned in my first post on this subject, our perception is significantly impaired when we are in a negative emotional state, so rushing to judgement actively diminishes our capacity for artistic sensivity. Second, good/bad is a very monodimensional filter through which to listen to ourselves. Removing this primary classification allows us to substitute a much broader and more varied palette of imaginative responses to music.

There are structured ways you can build this principle into rehearsal. Say for example you’re concerned with the precision of synchronisation of a passage. Do it once, and ask your singers to gauge on a scale of 1-10 how synchronised it was. Then – without asking them to do anything different – repeat the passage and ask them to rate it again. You’ll find that the actual level goes up an down over two or three repetitions, but after the fourth it will be markedly better than at the start. This is because the singers have stopped trying to synchronise and starting attending to it instead.

This approach is also very useful for vocal issues where anxiety about getting it wrong can translate directly into counter-productive physical tension. Got a high bit that’s tending to sound tight and over-controlled? Score it a few times on how uninhibited it sounds.

Working through metaphors is also a useful tool – in particular, inviting the singers to develop the metaphors through which they understand a piece of music. Ask the choir: if that chord were a colour (or flavour), what colour (or flavour) would it be?; if this passage was an animal (or a character from a movie), what animal (or character from a movie) would it be? There’s no right answer to these kinds of questions, so there’s no fear of being wrong attached to them – but they do require people to listen in a much more holistic way to the whole musical texture rather than just singing their parts. You’ll find that chords balance themselves, and passages start to acquire a new sense of character and shape once people start listening imaginatively like this.

Giving people something specific to attend to seems to be important for building awareness. That specific thing can be either technical or artistic, as in the above examples, but it gives the attention something to do - a task to accomplish - to replace the internal commentary that holds us back.

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