Personal Development

Stepping off the Treadmill…

Despite having left full-time work in academia in 2009, I still experience September as a moment for fresh starts. And this year I have come back from my summer holiday to find the surprising thought that I would like to relinquish the discipline I have maintained for nearly 13 years of publishing a blog post every four or five days.

There are a number of interrelated reasons for this, all to do with how this blog interacts with my lived experience.

It has always been the place where I process discoveries, and clarify to myself what I have learned from my various musical adventures. And I am at a moment when I suddenly find I’m not having the intensity of new experiences to generate the regular need to write. Whilst I am – thankfully! – now getting regular opportunities for in-person musicking with my own chorus, the other groups I'd normally work with as a visiting coach are mostly likewise at the point of restarting live rehearsing, so they’re neither quite yet ready for in-person coaching nor wanting to spend time with me on zoom.

On Privilege and Mediocrity

A chance encounter led me to reflect on a correlation I have noticed periodically over the years between self-satisfaction and mediocrity. There are people who present as plausible and urbane, charming and confident, yet whose actual achievements are rather ordinary.

Their written prose has the rhythm and cadence of authority, but the ideas remain shallow, smoothing over the surface of received opinion rather than offering any penetration of insight. Their musical performances likewise offer the general shape of what a good performance would sound like, but lack depth and nuance, and indeed are often also somewhat inaccurate – lack of attention to detail manifesting in multiple dimensions at once.

It occurs to me that most of the people I have encountered who fit this profile are male, all of them white, and they all speak with accents associated with levels of affluence that afford private education. They all, that is, enjoy multiple levels of social privilege. For the record, I’m generalising from a list of 7 or 8 specific examples here – a small sample in some senses, but enough to allow a pattern to emerge.

On Re-Expanding our Boundaries

I have been thinking a lot recently about a post I wrote some years ago on expanding our boundaries. There I was reflecting that if we don’t stretch ourselves, in terms of where we go, what we do, and who we meet, our capacities have a tendency to shrink to fit the restricted range we’ve been operating in.

That was of course written at a time when we could choose to travel or to take up new pastimes as ways of meeting new people. These are choices that have been severely curtailed for a year now, and as we in the UK contemplate our various regional roadmaps back out of lockdown, we are all feeling the emotional and psychological effects of not having been able to stretch in many of these dimensions for so long.

On Getting Stuck, and Unstuck Again

This is a theme that anyway who reflects on creative practice will need to visit and revisit periodically over the years. It’s been a while since I’ve reflected on it, and going back to see what my past self had to offer, I find it still valid, but a bit tangential to the hurdles I have been encountering this autumn. Today we are going to explore the place where stuckness intersects with apathy.

One of the things I learned early in my life as a researcher was that when writing is hard, it is usually because you’ve not yet done enough thinking (and also possibly reading). Analogously, when arranging is hard, you’ve not done enough noodling about (and also possibly listening).

When you realise that this is the issue, there’s no point beating up on yourself for having started without having fully prepared, because in fact you often need to have started to discover the exact nature of the preparation you needed. You think you know what direction you’re headed, but it’s the process of getting stuck that identifies the specificity of the groundwork you need and thus guides your return to thinking/noodling. The material needs the chance to talk back to you.

Some Words of Encouragement

I’m interrupting the series on the Myth of the Power of Singing for a quick pep talk to my choral colleagues. I’ve had a number of conversations in the last week or so which have featured caring, hard-working choral directors expressing a sense of overwhelm and inadequacy in the face of the technological challenges of remote rehearsing. If several my personal friends and acquaintances are feeling this way, I bet there are other choral leaders out there suffering similar doubts.

I’m going to start by stating the obvious. The situation we find ourselves in is wildly beyond what we thought we were signing up to do when we chose to become directors. We have no training for it, and those of us starting to offer training for it are really no more than a couple of weeks ahead than anyone else. And yet we have stepped up to keep the music going.

Book Review: Singing Through Change

singingthroughchangeTl;dr: this is a useful book, and you should read it.

Singing Through Change: Women’s Voices in Midlife, Menopause, and Beyond is, as you would imagine, relevant to the vast majority of people involved in singing. If you are a man who never makes music with adult women it may not touch on your activities very much (though you may well have female friends and relatives who would be happy for the men in their life to have some insight into their experiences), but for everyone else there will be direct relevance either for yourself, for the women you make music with, or both.

Principles for Creative Work, aka Things Not to Worry About

This post started out as a framework to guide a group with whom I’m starting a new creative adventure. (Yes, you will hear about it in due course, but we actually have to produce some stuff first.) Sharing it for all my other friends and colleagues who might find it useful.

  • You will have more ideas than you can use. This means you will have to throw a lot of them away. Don’t worry about this apparent ‘waste’. Discarded ideas don’t go into landfill, they become the compost that makes your creative soil more fertile.
  • You will start more projects than you finish, especially in the earlier stages of your creative adventure. This doesn’t mean you lack staying power, it is a normal part of the process. See above re composting.

Remote Rehearsing and Trust

When I asked the Telfordaires Music Team what we’d look back on this period and see as something we gained from it, our bass section leader Eddie identified increased levels of trust within the chorus. This not only warmed my heart, but offered some interesting thoughts to reflect on about the structure of activities and how they shape relationships within a group.

When he talked about trust, Eddie was thinking primarily about the way the practicalities of remote rehearsing mean people spend much more time singing to each other than singing together. It makes you feel more vulnerable to do this, but by the same token your fellow singers are moved to be more supportive in recognition of this. We do much of this in smaller groupings – sections, pairs/threes – so that it’s a more personal and private environment in which to put yourself on the line. This also allows reciprocity – if everyone is taking it in turn to do this, everyone is in the same boat.

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I'm spending 2017 getting to know some of the music by women that was missing from my education.

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