Channelling Wonder Woman

wonderwomanRecently a friend shared a rather wonderful TED talk with me, that resonated with all kinds of interests I have about performance and musical identity. It was given by a social psychologist called Amy Cuddy, and it dealt with research into the relationship between body language and how you feel about yourself, with particular reference to questions of power and social status.

If you know my second book, you’ll know why I find this so interesting. One of the things I was looking at there is the way that particular musical traditions share particular ways of using the body and the voice as integral to the style. Gesture, timbre, inflection - all those things that are too subtle to be caught in notation but are essential to competent performance - are encoded in the body. Getting the music needs a degree of willingness to empathise with it, to ‘mentally sing along’ as Schumann described the act of listening.

Four Non-Musical Contributions You Can Make That Can Transform Your Choir

We spend a lot of time and energy in choral groups thinking about how to improve the performance of the ensemble. And, not unreasonably, we focus much of this attention on musical and vocal skills. I would be the first to agree that learning how to sing better, and how to make better music are useful outlets for a choir’s energies.

But every so often, it is worth reflecting on habits and ways of being that a choir has developed, as individuals and as a collective, that are nothing to do with music or singing, but which can either facilitate or hinder the overall progress that choir makes.

Here are four things that every choir member can manage, whatever their current skills or levels of experience, that will actively help their choir improve.

The Role of the Director

The director as part of the chorus lineThe director as part of the chorus line

At the directors’ day I led down in Saltash in October, we started our first session with a discussion of the primary purpose of the choral director. There are lots of things on the director’s to-do list, but it is useful to home in on the central end to which they are all means: to help the choir sing the music.

I was thinking about this again after watching the chorus contest at the LABBS Convention in Harrogate, particularly in the context of the barbershop performance tradition that sees the director turn around and become part of the presentation. Does this contribute to or distract from this central purpose, and in what ways?

Maslow and Performance

MaslowWhen I was working through the implications of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for choirs back in the Spring, my focus was on the rehearsal environment, and in particular how the director can diagnose and thus meet singers’ needs within it. As it’s the time of year when choirs find themselves performing a lot, I found myself reflecting on the way that performance environments generate and satisfy the various types of need.

At the basic end of the scale, performance nerves are a symptom of safety needs - the combination of unfamiliar circumstances and personal vulnerability of putting yourself on the line in public can leave people feeling psychologically insecure. Many of the strategies I have discussed over the years for managing this form of environment are essentially about helping people feel safer. These include such things as preparation to anticipate the experience and thus diminish the fear of the unknown, building trust within the group so they keep each other safe, and managing adrenaline levels to attain a state of useful readiness rather than loss of control.

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