The Intervention and Enforcement Cycles, Part 2

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Having looked in my post last week about what the Intervention and Enforcement Cycles are and how they work, it’s time to have a look at how to use them more efficiently and effectively. So, here are some of the commonest forms of inefficiency in rehearsal that dilute our effectiveness.

  • Confusion of diagnosis and intervention.
    ‘Basses are muddy’ is not an instruction, it’s a statement of the problem. ‘Brighter from the basses please’ is an instruction. The more you can keep the diagnosis to yourself and just give the intervention to the chorus, the more you collectively will achieve.

    This was actually something of a penny-drop for me. I have been saying for years that rehearsal vocabulary should be couched in positive terms, for all the reasons of mental focus and emotional tone you might expect. But working through these cycles made me realise that a statement of a problem is actually a different thing from an intervention, not merely a negative version of it. And it is not surprising that it is the first thing that comes to mind: diagnosis quite naturally precedes intervention.

    The trick is to recognise that diagnosis is the director’s (or coach’s) concern, but it is only the pre-requisite for intervention, not the intervention itself. Indeed, there may be (will be) many different ways of addressing the same diagnosed issue, and it is the director’s job to choose which to apply. Being precise about this in your own mind not only helps you give clearer and more followable instructions for your singers, it hones your own knowledge of what kinds of interventions are really effective with your particular group

  • Leaving too long between interventions
  • Trying to do multiple interventions at once
    I’m commenting on these two together, because they are often a symptom of each other. You sing 3 pages, and then go back and give four instructions for improvements. First off, you’ve left it 3 pages before you’ve given them a chance to achieve something, and then you’ve given them more than they can do at once. This is why long periods of singing and long periods of talking feels slow.

    Do the music in smaller chunks and do one intervention at a time. That way, people remember to do each in turn, and consequently they get to feel good about themselves for achieving all of them.

  • Leaving too long between intervention and enforcement
    If you make the change but don’t revisit it until next week, will anyone remember it? People need to do things more than once in a row to be sure they can do it again at will. Indeed, near misses are part of the learning process, so people need the chance to take multiple attempts to experience the difference between nailing it and not nailing it.

    It will still take further enforcement after this initial period of skill acquisition, as other things come in to take up the forefront of attention. Indeed, the best time to revisit something is when you are just on the point of forgetting it. But this subsequent enforcement will be much more effective if you have done enough enforcement right after the initial intervention to be sure your singers have a degree of control, and thus ownership, of the task.

  • Trying to communicate an enforcement in the same channel as the singers are using.

    While the chorus is singing, they have possession of the channel of sound. They won’t be able to absorb instructions that are spoken, sung, or clapped over them. While the singers are making sound, the director gets to use gesture and eye contact. If the you want to use sound, you have to stop the singers, and then you can talk, sing, clap to them to make your point.

    This is another way of saying that the music needs to stop for Intervention, but you can do Enforcement within the flow. But it’s adding that you need to be aware of your enforcement methods. The brain can only handle so much aural information at once so if you are trying to put information into people’s ears while they are singing, you are actively taking their attention away from what they are doing. This is both counter-productive and rude. Likewise, clapping over a choir in song to correct their rhythm or tempo is the musical equivalent of shouting someone down while they’re still talking. Remember your conversational good manners and take turns.

    Miming clapping, or clicking your fingers are both more effective and more polite as they function as gestures rather than sounds, and thus people will be able to integrate them into their ongoing musical consciousness.

These are all rehearsal habits that we’ve all seen (and done) many times, sometimes partly aware that we’re not being as effective as we might be, but still pushing through from a combination of habit and impatience. I have found thinking them through in terms of these cycles incredibly helpful as a way to sharpen up my own praxis. I still find myself giving too many interventions at a go (my particular bête noire) but these days when it happens, I spot it much more readily and am able to rein myself in.

I make this point in case it came across that I was going around insulting everyone else’s rehearsal technique. I’m not: I’m insulting everyone’s rehearsal technique, including my own....

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