Choice Theory for Choral Directors 3: The Rehearsal as Solving Circle
The Solving Circle is a technique that William Glasser developed in his work as a relationship counsellor. It is designed to get people out of that impasse where they are both complaining about each other’s behaviours and throwing blame about for the ill-feeling generated by their attempts to control each other. I am interested to see if it offers a useful model through which to conceptualise the choral rehearsal.
The principle of the Solving Circle is to create a space for the safe negotiation of differences. In Glasser’s formulation of marital therapy, there are three entities within the circle: the two spouses and the marriage itself. The ground rule for stepping into the circle is that, whilst you may each have strongly-held positions based on your individual needs, by stepping into the circle you agree that the marriage takes precedence over those individual needs.
If either of the couple can’t or won’t agree to this, the relationship is doomed. But generally people go into therapy because the relationship is still important to them (it is still an important part of their Quality World), so often this safe space does work. The negotiations are predicated on the central Choice Theory principle that each individual can only affect their own behaviour, and thus involve each offering what they are willing to compromise on in order to stop wounding the relationship.
There are two things I like about this model. The first is the framework of agreed rules of engagement. The choral rehearsal is a highly structured social environment in which there is a lot of potential to abuse power, so having a clear sense of social contract is very useful to regulate how the power wielded. To say: in this social space, we proceed thus brackets off the rehearsal from other arenas of life and marks the social relations therein as local and temporary. The power a director has over their choir on rehearsal night does not transfer over to their interactions in the workplace or the PTA.
The second thing I like is how the composite entity created between the people takes on the status as the most important entity within the circle. Yes, the director has a lot of power in this relationship; yes, the singers all have their own differing profile of needs; but the thing that brings us all together is the choir, and we need to make all our decisions in service to the music we make together.
The rules of engagement are thus designed to prevent abuse of power. The director isn’t saying ‘Do this because I tell you to’, they are saying, ‘The music will sound better if we do this.’ This is true of the structure as a whole, but it can also come through in the vocabulary we use: ‘Bar 27 needs a little more warmth of tone’ rather than ‘Give me more warmth’ reminds both singers and director that it’s about the music, not the conductor.
And in a more general sense, I like the idea of rehearsal as solving circle. It has a positive, active feel to it, a sense of purpose. Rehearsing isn’t just going through the music until you know it well enough to perform it, it’s a corporate act of making the world better. When we step into the circle together, we get to make music in the now, and we also get to do things that will make our future music-making more skilled and beautiful.