Charisma

Loved-Up with LABBS

LABBS Beacon of Harmony: displayed in the Convention history roomLABBS Beacon of Harmony: displayed in the Convention history roomLast weekend saw the 40th-anniversary celebrations of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers culminate at our annual Convention. I chose my title to report on it for both personal and analytical reasons. I’ll be selfish and talk about the personal stuff first, and then leave you with the broader analysis of the event, as the more useful take-away for other people wanting to craft wonderful experiences for their memberships (or, as I felt it this weekend, their tribes.)

So, I was feeling specifically loved-up as an arranger. The most obvious reason for this was being honoured with one of the 40th anniversary awards for contributions to the association, specifically for my arranging efforts. Which was lovely in itself, but they also said a whole load of other nice things about me before calling me up to receive it. There is nothing like being told publicly that you’ve made a difference to make you feel like you belong. Oh, I’m getting all teary again just writing this. Do excuse me.

LABBS Harmony College 2016: Initial Reactions

Nickie James welcomes the assembled delegatesNickie James welcomes the assembled delegatesI am just home from a rather wonderful weekend with the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers, in which singers from all over the country gathered in Nottingham for a weekend of education and musical bonding. LABBS hasn’t used the Harmony College format for some years, having focused instead on themed and regional events on a rolling schedule. This has had the advantage of reaching more of the membership in total, as well as allowing those with multiple roles (quartet singer and chorus director, for instance) to access education for each. But there is a buzz about a big occasion like this that anyone who was there would not have wanted to miss.

I have, as you’d imagine, a pile of notes about things I learned and ideas I want to explore, both from the Directors Stream I was running and the plenary sessions. But in the first instance, as I’m writing this the morning after I got home, the impressions I’m processing are about this sense of occasion, and how it impacts on the learning process.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 5

Final Thoughts

Well, not final thoughts ever about this event. In fact, I have several stacks of notes on things I learned or observed or discovered during the course of the weekend that I have yet to get around to writing about. It was after all intended to be the kind of event that would affect its participants for months if not years into the future. But I think I’m nearly done processing my thoughts about it as a charismatic encounter.

Okay, that’s weird. I stopped to have a think after writing that first paragraph, then after a few minutes looking back to the start of the event, remembering what it felt like as people arrived, I realised my pulse was faster and my adrenaline levels back up again. Even while I was remembering how pleasantly surprised I had been to find myself feeling calmer and less nervous than I had expected.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 4

Communion

The key marker of the charismatic encounter isn’t, as is commonly supposed, anything to do with the personal qualities of a leader, but in the emotional experience of the participants. The characteristic sensation is a heightened, emotionally labile state of euphoria and love, that theorist of charisma have called ‘communion’ or ‘flux’.

Things that a leader does are often implicated in creating (or indeed preventing) this feeling, principally providing a Cause to line people’s sense of purpose up in the same direction, and a sense of Crisis to energise them into action. But how that emotional energy operates within the group depends significantly on the structure of interpersonal bonds within that group. Three factors are particularly important in setting this up, and this is how I factored them into my planning for the LABBS Directors Weekend in July.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 3

Cause, Crisis, and our Guest Educator

JimCause

My last post on this subject talked about how I had set up the framing values in the delegate pack, curriculum, and specific activities of last month’s LABBS Directors Weekend as a typical cause and crisis in order to facilitate a charismatic encounter.* And the first in this series talked a little about the reputational aura that surrounded our guest educator, Dr Jim Henry, and how this likewise helped our delegates give themselves over to the experience.

Before moving onto the aspects of the event that created the euphoric bonds of communion, I thought it worth discussing in a little more detail how Jim himself deployed elements of the charismatic toolkit.

Jim both rehearses and teaches directors to rehearse using the Cause of sincerity: ‘Not what, but why’. For him, it is vital that singers should be given space to feel the music and be expressive for themselves. Instilling ‘interpretation’ by a series of technical instructions (get louder here, pause there, etc) not only produces a mechanical, device-led performance, but robs singers of the opportunity to invest their own emotions in what they do.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend, Part 2

Cause and Crisis

My last blog post for 2014 was about Facing Our Demons, which was eventually what became the central theme for the LABBS Directors Weekend in July. Looking back at it reminds me of how daunted I felt about putting that weekend together - it was the biggest and scariest thing in my Too-Hard Tray at that point.

Now, I’m not saying that the thought process behind making this the theme for the weekend was, ‘Well if I’m going to be terrified out of my wits I’m going to make sure that everyone else is too’ - though that thought did pass through my head at more than one point. But there was a definite and deliberate sense that I wanted everyone to extend themselves: to stretch beyond their comfort zone, to expand their boundaries. And that included both delegates and faculty.

Creating a Charismatic Encounter: LABBS Directors Weekend

Feeling the love: bestowing a hug and a box of Cadbury's Heros on our guestFeeling the love: bestowing a hug and a box of Cadbury's Heros on our guest

Introduction

The weekend of 17-19 July was the culmination of my biggest project for 2015: planning and then leading a training weekend for the chorus directors of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers. I didn’t do it all by myself - I had the support of the organisation’s fabulous events team, who managed all the logistics and communications with delegates, and of a glorious faculty drawn from LABBS’s most skilled and successful directors to help devise and deliver the curriculum. But, still, the project was my baby, and took up a lot of time and attention in the 6 months leading up to it.

Apologies if I sound smug at any point when talking about it. It is merely that I am immensely pleased by how it all went. The director education programme doesn’t get the budget for a big event every year, so it mattered to me that we made the most of it.

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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