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.

The Holonomic Voice: Part 2

In the confused ramble that was my last post, we explored the concept of the holonomic order, as discussed by Raymond Bradley. The reason I wanted to get to grips with this - apart from its interest in considering the social structure of choirs - is because it resonates with a remark made by a barbershop chorus director I was talking with back in the summer.

One of the questions this director was addressing was over-identification with voice-parts rather than the chorus as a whole. It was manifesting musically as too much contrast in vocal colour between the parts and consequently the harmonies were not always gelling. Socially, there was a degree of us-and-themness going on too.

It’s not just barbershop choruses who run into this problem of course, although some of that genre’s characteristic methods can encourage it. It is likely to emerge in any group, though, with some or all of the following features:

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