The Intervention and Enforcement Cycles, Part 3

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Having outlined the basic framework, and analysed some of our commonest errors, it is time to finish with some extra advice on how to use the Intervention and Enforcement Cycles to best effect.

  • Positive framing: “Do this!”

    Don’t breathe at the end of this phrase
    Join these two phrases together

    These are identical in intent as interventions (or, indeed, enforcements), but the second is a far easier instruction to follow. Likewise:

    Less volume in this section
    More hushed here

    If we always frame our instructions in terms of things to add to the performance, rather than things to take away, it keeps people focused on what you are achieving together. This means that not only is it more emotionally satisfying (succeeding at something feels better than merely not failing at something), but it gives your singers more control over their developing skills to think about them in terms of actions they can do rather than mistakes to avoid.

  • Isolate and repeat.
    This is what happens when you minimise the delay between Intervention and Enforcement. The more precisely you can home in on specifically what needs to be better, the faster everyone gets control of it.
  • Be specific in Recognition.
    The point about giving someone Recognition is both the emotional pay-off of success and informational feedback about how they’re getting on. The more specifically this is targeted, therefore, the more effectively it works.

    So, we need to be able to distinguish between, ‘nearly there, let’s do it a couple more times,’ and ‘that was beyond my wildest dreams amazing’. Both will encourage the singers, but the first will encourage them to keep working at it, and the second to keep doing it like that. A generic ‘Great!’ won’t give them that information.

    It sounds obvious, but it takes more discipline than it sounds. It is all too easy to either forget to complete the cycle at all when your singers meet your expectations (because you expected them to be able to do that) or to over-compliment in an effort to keep the mood buoyant (which is effectively a way to lower everyone’s expectations). In particular, we need to distinguish between when people have just done something we asked without any specific achievement (e.g. sung through a passage at the start of a session working on it) and when they have succeeded in making an improvement. If we say ‘thank you’ for the first, then we can say, ‘lovely’ for the second more meaningfully.

    Recognition is partly about the vocabulary you use, so it is worth thinking through the range of compliments you use as a matter of course to identify if you need some more nuanced turns of phrase to make these distinction. But it is also about tone, energy and body language. ‘Well done’ can mean anything from, ‘I’m pleased that you made this small improvement with the ease I expected of you,’ to ‘I am genuinely impressed by how you out-performed what I thought we could achieve’. Emotionally competent singers will make judgements about how much they respect your opinion depending on how appropriately you pitch it.

    Specificity of Recognition is also about whom you are acknowledging. Singling out individuals is a subject I’ve written on at greater length elsewhere, but for now note that eye contact is a medium for frequent, targeted Recognition that builds warm and satisfying bonds between conductor and singers.

  • Match scope and style of intervention to the size and nature of the change needed.
    Work on detail wants to be quick-fire. Small local changes are important, and their effect adds up, but if you spend much time on each, you never get through a song.

    Conversely, holistic, big-picture changes often need longer, more carefully-thought-through interventions. And it’s worth investing rehearsal time in things like understanding the rhythmic feel, getting buy-in to the story, or identifying who has the melody when it’s passed around, because the investment pays back over the whole song, and in depth.

    This distinction is why the quick-and-dirty pacing rubric isn’t the last word on rehearsal experience. If your intervention applies to a long span of musical time such that people are continuously engaged on the task in hand as they sing, then longer stretches of music won’t feel like a relaxation of rehearsal intensity. (Happy moment while I think about bubbling.)

    In general, quick-fire interventions work in response to details perceived in the moment of rehearsal activity, whereas these larger-scale interventions benefit from planning in advance.

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