The Benefits of Being ‘Young and Talented’

Having picked over some of the hurdles that face the sprightly new director when they take up their first post with an older choir in my last post, it occurred to me that there are also some advantages to this situation that it is worth pointing out. It may seem redundant to tell someone why they are fortunate to be both youthful and skilled, but when you are struggling against the twin obstacles of inexperience and condescension, it doesn’t necessarily feel as enviable as outsiders assume.

But there is a specific advantage that any new director has, and which is amplified significantly by both the qualities of relative youth and high skill. Your very existence bounces people out of their comfort zones.

The Challenges of Being ‘Young and Talented’

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There’s a scenario that happens frequently enough that it is possible to generalise about: a well-established choir acquiring a ‘young and talented’, but relatively inexperienced director. I put the ‘young and talented’ in scare quotes, as that’s how the director is usually described by the choir, but may not be how I would put it.

The dimension of youth is generally quite clear (though possibly not quite as purely objective as you might think - the perception of juniority can be magnified or diminished by other factors such as gender and class). But the concept of ‘talent’, as regular readers will know, is open to critique - it is a concept that mythologises the products of dedication as innate rather than hard-won.

Hallmark Healthcheck

Hallmark

Nearly three years ago I visited Hallmark of Harmony in Sheffield to spend an evening observing their rehearsal prior to producing a report to feed into their five-year plan for the chorus’s development. In the intervening time they have gone from success to success, having won a succession of contest medals, the most recent one of which has qualified them to go and compete at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Convention this summer.

This week I went back for a return visit, which they framed this time as giving them a healthcheck. This seems a most apt metaphor - they have clearly found their mojo as a chorus and didn’t need help fixing problems that were conspicuously holding them back. But just as if you wait until you are suffering to seek medical advice, you miss the opportunity to nip ailments in the bud, reviewing how you are getting on as a chorus while things are going well can help you head off issues that could become problems in the future. You can also identify ways to turn good health into even better health - indeed a chorus has rather more scope to do this than the medical profession!

The Quandary of the Abandoned Assistant: Part 2

In my previous post on this subject, I was mulling over the phenomenon of reduced attendance at rehearsals taken by an assistant rather than front-line director. I had got as far as analysing it as a side-effect of the director’s function in creating charismatic encounters. It’s not that the assistants are not inspiring and compelling as people, it’s that it is the role itself of director that confers the power to galvanise.

We had got as far as starting to think about the routinization of charisma when the post got too long, so that’s where we’re starting today.

To recap the theory: Weber’s classic formulation of charismatic authority, upon which pretty much all sociological studies in this area build, saw it as an essentially volatile social relationship, born in situations of crisis, outside and indeed often in opposition to, more stable forms of authority (such as the traditional or bureaucratic). Later studies have observed that, whilst this inherent instability is often apparent in charismatic groups, some organisations manage to sustain themselves for considerable lengths of time.

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