Choir Discipline, Conductor Discipline

This image relates to the idea of stillness below; it is not a picture of a novice conductor...This image relates to the idea of stillness below; it is not a picture of a novice conductor...I was working with a relatively novice conductor recently who was grappling with the challenge of how to command the attention of the choir. Anyone who has spent time either teaching or running rehearsals will sympathise, indeed will probably have had recurring anxiety dreams about failing to do so. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who has these!)

So we started out looking at various specific techniques you can use to command a room (more of which below), but very soon stumbled over a fundamental point that underpins their success or failure. It relates to the truism that you can’t control anyone else’s behaviour; all you can do is create an environment in which they will choose to control their own in the ways you desire.

How to build a warm-up

warm-upI wrote these notes for a session at Magenta’s retreat back in September in which a team of seven choir members prepared and led one element each of the warm-up. This was part of our general principle of handing round leadership in various activities as a way to develop the choir as a whole through experiencing different people’s perspectives, and the individuals within it through the act of leading. It was also intended as a way to raise everyone’s awareness of the elements of warming up and thus increase our sense of purpose as we engage with it each week.

As so often happens when I’ve written some notes for Magenta, I thought: you know, other people might find these useful too. Let’s publish this as a blog post. So here you go.

On the Fragmentation of Attention

I have often thought that when people complain of being short of time, it is more often that they are short of brain space. If you do an audit of every minute in your day, there are often plenty of minutes that are ‘unproductive’ if regarded from the outside. But, from the inside, you can’t make use of those minutes for anything very much because it just takes too much energy to upload something productive into your head for a brief time, and then - just when you’ve got going - dump it out again for something else.

This is of course that standard wisdom about why multitasking is inefficient - there are frictional costs of attention involved in every switch, so switch often enough and you get nothing done. Multitasking still has its place, I’d say, but only with routine tasks that you have at the tip of your brain anyway. I quite like the definition that multitasking is a technique for avoiding several dull tasks by doing them all at once.

Adrenaline and Tempo: Taking Control

I recently had a question from a director that struck me as one of those that I’m sure a lot of us grapple with on occasion. So I gave her some specific advice for the performance she was preparing for in the immediate future, but said I’d give it a think and blog in more detail about other things to consider after the big gig.

This was her question:

When I'm directing, even if in my head it's painfully slow.... It's much faster! I know it's linked to my nerves/adrenaline of competition but recently realised it happens a lot

My immediate advice was twofold:

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