The Communicator and the Manager
The Communicator and the Manager are two characters who have popped up in several previous posts, and who are making increasingly frequent visits to my coaching sessions. So I felt it was time they deserved a post of their own.
I think I first met these two characters in the guise of the Writer and the Editor. When I was on the final leg of my PhD a lecturer friend advised me that the only way to get anything done is to send the Editor off for a cup of tea while the Writer gets on with things. Yes, it will need a good deal of editing in due course, but if the Editor gets on the case while the Writer’s still trying to write, you’ll never get anything done.
I always imagined these two as sitting on either shoulder, like a devil and an angel. Which is slightly strange imagery, since the Writer-Editor (and indeed Manager-Communicator) pair have much more of yin-yang than a good-evil one. You do actually need both, but they need to get involved in different stages of the process.
In performance contexts, the Writer becomes the Communicator – the part of you that cares about the content, the message and its impact on those who receive it – and the Editor becomes the Manager – the part of you that cares about getting things right, keeping it coherent, not getting in a muddle and disgracing yourself. They are like the two halves of the mind in French Classical acting: one that knows all your lines and all your moves, and one that is experiencing everything in the play for the first time ever.
Now, thinking about performance in terms of these two figures is helpful because it gives you more control over the preparation process. It is clear that in the early days of rehearsal, the Manager is going to have a strong role to play. But it’s also clear that once you get into performance, the Communicator needs to be the dominant personality. You’ll want the Manager to be present during the performance, but its role by then is purely trouble-shooting – rescuing the performance from distractions, unforeseen glitches and any other stuff that might get in the way of the Communicator doing their job.
So it’s useful to think of the balance between the two shifting over time like one of those old fashioned car heater controls that has all cold air at one end, all hot air at the other, and a gradual mix as you slide across.
Having said that, there are ways this general picture can be usefully inflected. First, just as the Manager still needs to be in the room once the Communicator is in charge at the end of the process, it is important that the Communicator is present and on duty right from the start. The soul-destroying notion of note-bashing is essentially an attempt to learn music with only the Manager in the house.
Second, there will be a good deal of shunting between the two roles during the rehearsal process, and whilst the Manager must not be allowed to take over, when they do leap in with a technical question, it will usually be on the critical path. Arguably, one of the key skills in rehearsing efficiently and effectively is recognising when the Manager’s questions should legitimately interrupt a Communication focus, and when they can reasonably be put to one side until later. Don’t leave them too long, though – there is nothing so distracting to an artistic performance as an unsatisfied Manager.
Third, you need to be careful not to build the Manager into the performance itself. You want to be conceptualising the material in terms of its meaning, characterisation, emotional shape, not its technical execution. Whatever is in your mind, after all, is what your performance will express. So, if you’re thinking, ‘Big breath here,’ the audience will notice your big breath rather than emotional significance of the turning point in the story.
In this sense, the Manager and the Communicator correlate with the categories of musical and didactic gesture that I discuss in my book on choral conducting. Musical gestures are holistic and nuanced, capturing the essence of musical shape. Didactic gestures are mono-dimensional, and abstract out a single element for particular attention. The most successful choral directors, I observed, are those who stop repeating a didactic gesture as soon as possible: yes, their singers need the reminder at first, but as soon as they have grasped the technical point, the focus goes back onto musical shape.
The last thing to note is that composers and arrangers have a key role here in providing music that is intuitively communicative to performers. In fact, I think I first used the terms Manager and Communicator in a post on arranging. Technical obstacles for the performers become emotional obstacles for the audience. We need to be sure if we set these up that the artistic benefit is going to be worth not only the cost of extra rehearsal time, but also the risk of making the Manager work too hard in performance.