Creating Communion: A Text-Book Example
One of the things we talked about in last week’s ‘Conduct with Charisma’ workshop was the idea of ‘communion’. This is the particular form of social bonding identified by sociologist Raymond Bradley in charismatic groups whereby all members bond with all other members. This sets up the free-flow of affection and fraternal love that is experienced as a state of euphoria or exaltation.
We identified a number of different activities and structures you can set up within a choir that will either promote or inhibit the building of these bonds. These included social events (particularly those in shared social spaces, and in which the director schmoozes widely, not just hanging out with the same people each time), changing rehearsal layout/groupings so that people stand with and sing with different people, and a culture of knowing and using each others’ names.
Well, the day after the workshop, Chris Rowbury published a post over on From the Front of the Choir on why he doesn’t get people to introduce themselves at workshops until after they’ve had a good sing together. And it is a textbook example of practices that promote communion.
I was just going to send the link to all the participants, but as I found the accompanying email about why they should read it getting longer and longer, I thought it might be worth posting it here instead!
So, go and read the post first:
Then, come back to note the following features:
- The focus on social equality. This is Chris’s primary message: everyone has a voice, so your social role or status in other contexts is irrelevant. This is significant at both an ideological and an interactional level. Ideologically, it is a feature of charismatic causes that the only pre-requisite they demand for inclusion in the group is adherence to the cause. So long as you believe, you are one of the blessed, not the damned. Interactionally, this sets up a group ethos in which nobody brings barriers to social connection into the group from outside.
- Diving straight into singing without any preliminaries. As we discussed in the charisma workshop, when you are in an unfamiliar situation, you tend to feel quite anxious, and look around for someone who will offer direction. The more uncertain you are, the more grateful you feel to the person who offers clarity. People in a singing workshop may be somewhat in this state – they’re happy to be there generally, but lots of strangers does destabilise your sense that you know what’s expected and what’s going to happen.
Getting straight into the singing means people are still looking for help about what to think and do at the moment you start. Spending time on introductions gives people a chance to settle in, and you lose that moment of greatest emotional and cognitive need, you waste it on talking. Much better for the act of singing to provide the answer to the need: diving straight in may feel frighteningly like leaping off a cliff, but then the feeling when the hang-glider of song catches the wind to keep you aloft is all the more exhilarating.
(Interestingly, Chris gives an anecdote of introductions undermining his confidence – but his choice to leave them out subsequently will likely disconcert people who are accustomed to standardised ways of starting events)
- Singing in groups is itself a great method to generate communion. It inherently involves becoming part of something bigger than yourself in order to create something special. Or, as Chris puts it, ‘You’ve already created something beautiful together as a coherent team of human beings.’ That’s why, as Liz Nicholas pointed out in the workshop, pretty much every religion has used it.
So as choral directors, we are incredibly well placed to help people have that euphoric feeling of merging into the group – we just need to make sure that we don’t scupper it by activities or language that make it feel threatening to the ego rather than liberating. Chris’s inclusive language is excellently suited this task – he constantly affirms equality of human value as conferring an entitlement for everyone to sing.