LABBS Directors Day
Sunday saw 95 chorus directors, assistant directors and directors-in-waiting from the Ladies Association of Barbershop Singers convene in Birmingham for the day. That is a lot of people, I should add. We had run a consultation exercise last autumn which not only fed much of the content of the day, but had led us to project an expected attendance of about 70 delegates, and even a month ago that still looked about right.
Don't get me wrong - I was delighted with the huge response to the day. But the last flourish of registrations before the deadline had me worrying over the published programme and whether we had left enough time for the breaks, and how the noise levels were going to be in discussion sessions. One of the great things about working with directors, though, is that they understand such dilemmas and readily cooperate to make the logistics work. We also had the splendid 'sheep dog' skills of Anne Potter, who rounded everyone up regularly to keep us running to time.
Our first session was on diagnostic listening skills, which had people discussing how they would plan rehearsal strategies to help performances on the basis of what they heard in them. One of the questions that arose from it in later discussions was people wondering what the 'right' answers were. Something I didn't manage to articulate very well at the time (possibly because it is something I had assumed implicitly and therefore was not expecting the question), is that I don't think in this kind of exercise that there are any wrong answers.
If you heard something, you heard it, and the point of discussing your perceptions with others is to clue each other into things you might each listen out for in future. The fact that someone else noticed something else is interesting, but cannot invalidate your own observations. This is the principle that underlies the rehearsal strategy of duetting as a way to increase the awareness of an ensemble. In a more structured way, it is also built into the barbershop judging system, in which people are trained to listen from different category perspectives precisely in order to make sure a range of different listening experiences are brought to bear.
Our first session after lunch had all the delegates singing as a massed chorus for delegates to direct and be coached in front of. This is a potentially daunting task, but all our volunteers stepped up to the mark without looking in the least daunted. The session was focused around the theme of 'conducting for voice' - the way that how we operate as directors directly impacts how our ensembles can sing. Hence the feedback from the singers was framed in terms of two questions: in what ways does this director help us sing?, and in what ways could they do things differently to help me sing better?
Really, it was such a fun session. I am fascinated by these processes, and I can think of no more interesting way to spend an afternoon than exploring them in practice with such an engaged group of people. It was like all my friends had come round to play my favourite game on my home patch. (Yes, I know it sounds a rather self-centred way of putting it, but my favourite game really is helping people direct better; it's even more fun than helping them sing.)
While I'm being self-indulgent, I also had the opportunity to hear my arrangement of 'Let Me Be There', which LABBS commissioned as its new pole-cat, sung for the first time. It was very distracting - I was trying to pay attention to the director, but my ears were full of the voices of the association's musical leaders singing my chart. I don't think anyone minded that it made me smile immoderately.
More helpfully, here are some blog posts that resonate with some of the discussions we had during the day: