Time Management, Brain Management

intelligenceI was having an online conversation with some choral directors recently in which we were grappling with the perennial issue of how to fit in preparation of music. In particular, the issue was the prep needed for special events above and beyond your regular musical activities. The person who started the conversation is going to two training events over the summer that each require prior learning of music and was finding herself in a state of some overwhelm trying to fit this in around an already busy schedule.

This is in a music-specific version of the classic workflow issue of how you accommodate projects within a role that is already full-time. By their nature, projects are relatively short-term commitments that start, go through a period of focused activity, and then finish. So they demand considerable inputs of time and attention, but since they are inherently temporary, you rarely have that kind of time and attention going spare in your capacity. Take on two at once and you get a real bottle-neck.

Learning with Lemov: No Opt Out

One of the first techniques Doug Lemov introduces in his collection of classroom methods is the principle of No Opt Out - the notion that students don’t get to choose whether or not to participate, or indeed whether or not to succeed. It is interesting to consider, both because of the way it typifies his approach of finding practical ways to structure classroom interactions so as to embody a fundamental set of values, and therefore also as a case study for adaptation to the choral rehearsal. The specific form(s) of the interaction will change, but we can still find concrete, actionable steps to embody the principle.

So, the way this plays out in the classroom is as follows. The teacher asks a student a question. If they answer correctly, fine, carry on. If they struggle to answer, or try to slide out of trying to answer by saying ‘I don’t know’, the teacher finds a way to help them out of the impasse, but makes sure the interaction ends up with the student stating the right answer.

Values and Skills Audits with Bristol Fashion

BFjun15Over the last couple of weeks I have been helping Bristol Fashion with a similar kind of review/audit process that I undertook with Hallmark of Harmony back in March. As with that exercise, I am not going to share the detail of what the review produced here - as that is for the chorus use - but I would like to reflect somewhat on the process.

The review with Bristol Fashion worked as a two-stage process. It started off with a visit to observe their Music Team in action on a regular rehearsal night, which produced a report that identified things that are working well (i.e. to make sure they keep doing them!) and areas that can be developed as individuals and as a team.

This was followed, two weeks later, by a second visit in which I facilitated a values- and goal-setting exercise with the whole chorus. The aim of this was for the singers to articulate to each other the things that matter the most to them about their musical life together, and to generate concrete actions that each individual could undertake to enhance their shared experience.

Soapbox: On ‘Leaners’

soapboxThis is a spin-off from my current project of adapting ideas from Doug Lemov’s taxonomy of effective classroom methods to the rehearsal room. As I wrote my introductory post on the project, I had the following tangential thoughts on a subject that is a mainstay of choral discourse.

It is a widely-held truism that ‘leaners’ are a Bad Thing for a choir. Their failings may be treated as moral deficits: that they are lazy in letting other people do their learning for them. Or they may be seen as lacking in ‘talent’, and thus a drag on the choir’s progress. The literature tends to treat them quite impatiently, with the basic imperative that they just need to get a grip and learn to think for themselves. The very label ‘leaner’ places the blame for their condition squarely on their own shoulders.

But it occurred to me when writing about Lemov’s techniques that there are two kinds of leaning going on in choir, and they need quite different solutions.

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