New Book!

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Me and my Magnum OpusMe and my Magnum OpusWell, the new book has arrived! The project was first sketched out in December 2002, when I was part-way through writing my first book, and I started in on it in earnest in October 2003 after The British Barbershopper had been packed off to Ashgate for publishing. The first year consisted of bibliographical groundwork, and then I started visiting choirs in rehearsal in September 2004. I put together a book proposal over summer 2005, and finally got the contract agreed with Ashgate in spring 2007.

At that time, I also made an application to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for research leave to write the book up. That would have given me 8 months to write 90,000 words - 4 months funded externally, and 4 months provided by my own institution. Did you know that it is possible to have a funding application rated as 'highest priority for funding' and still turned down? Fortunately, Birmingham Conservatoire still honoured the 4 months they had offered as part of the funding bid, so I compressed my schedule and knuckled down to writing from December 2007-March 2008.

Some stats:
I worked an average of 7 hours a day - which sounds like quite light work, until you remember that this is doing nothing except working on the book - no phone calls, no emails, no chatting while you make a coffee. Call me a wuss, but 7 hours a day is about all I can sustain of really intensive intellectual work. I had a complete draft by 7 March, at which point I had averaged 1,564 words per working day.

I spent 42.95% of my time on research leave actually writing, nearly 20% of the time processing ideas (planning chapters, organising evidence, getting stuff figured out so I could write about it), and nearly as much on presentational things (footnotes, copy-editing, tables and figures). 11.3% of the time was spent working on the video material for the accompanying DVD and 3% on admin (such as maintaining these nose-bleedingly detailed records of my working patterns, and backing everything up daily). Just over 4% of the time was spent on non-book activities, including supervising research students and attending a staff research event at the Conservatoire.

And to celebrate the publication, I thought I'd share with you the list of typos I compiled during the course of the four months of writing. These were not the only typos I made (ahem), but these are the ones that made me laugh out loud at what appeared on my computer screen as I attempted to create something that made sense. (I realise that, if this is the kind of thing I find entertaining, I should get out more - but if I'd have got out more, I wouldn't have got the damn book written, okay?)

  • Pisture
  • Rigth
  • doncuct
  • metaphoical
  • wee (for we)
  • Chicagoe
  • Attemption
  • Triped (for triple)
  • Pervy (for Percy)
  • Sinrtuementalists
  • Throse
  • Dong (for doing)
  • about a minute and a quartet
  • metaphoric matting
  • lassified
  • shingers
  • subsidairy
  • equibilibrium
  • wimply, dimply (trying for simply)
  • goo-natured
  • attribrutes
  • vibratoe
  • pragmantic
  • haoever
  • blonging
  • technoliges
  • despostic
  • snother

If you'd like to see any of these words spelt correctly, you are most welcome to purchase the book!

Hi Liz,

I just followed a link from Tom Metzger's site (www.owningthestage.com), and found your site.

I'm intrigued by your book's subject matter, and I'm wondering if you and I agree or disagree. Here's an essay I wrote on one aspect of the conductor/choir relationship -- you'll know pretty quickly whether we're on the same page. If you'd like to correspond about it, I'm always interested.

THE DIRECTOR’S FACIAL EXPRESSION

Have you ever witnessed a choral director desperately attempting to “breathe some life” into a somewhat passive or disengaged choir? The director’s arms waving wildly, their face contorting, their eyes pleading or demanding... “People, COME ON! Please! PLEASE be expressive!!!,” their every pore seems to be shouting. Alas, most of the time this is ineffective, leaving directors exhausted and frustrated – even though they might try to hide that from the choir as they give a suppressed nod of “Good job, folks” once the song is (finally?) over.

For directors to take such an approach makes sense, for it continues to be the dominant notion that they are responsible for the singers' facial expressions and emotional connectedness. WHILE THEY CONDUCT. How are directors supposed to do this? Here’s one published quote reflecting the established pedagogy: Facial expression and eye contact are two of your most important tools. Use them constantly.... Use your eyes and face to tell the choir what expression you want them to put in the music.... When the music ends, show an expression of appreciation and approval[!].

While it is true that humans tend to reflect the facial expressions of others, this advice is misguided. Even if it worked well, it would lead to inauthenticity – ultimately failing to have a genuine impact on the audience.

The key here is that Emotional Contagion results in one person “catching” what the other is authentically experiencing. For example, if a singer asks Mother Mary to deliver peace and healing to the children of Darfur during the singing of Ave Maria – and the singer's objective is sincere in-the-moment – then the audience members will get that authentic Ave Maria-related thought and feeling from the singer's face.

On the other hand, if the director 'makes a face' which they want the singers to emulate, THAT face is not communicating the desire for Mother Mary to save the children. THAT face is communicating the desire for the choir to be facially expressive! This can’t be helped – what’s really on the mind is really on the face!

So, when a director makes faces to guide the singers’ expressions, the initial face in the human-connection chain is inauthentic – if by inauthentic we mean "disconnected from textual meaning." The singers pick that up and either unconsciously model it (modeling inauthenticity), or they realize that the director wants them to be more expressive, and they attempt to do so. Their objective then becomes, "To sing with more expression and / or make the face that my director is making.” So, they remain disconnected from authentic connection ... and so does their audience. (Of course, what more frequently happens when directors make those faces is that singers ignore them; they’re too busy concentrating on technical elements, or they’re uncomfortable with the request –perhaps realizing that ‘putting on a face’ will be seen by the audience for exactly what it is.)

INSTEAD of trying to affect them externally, directors might consider empowering the singers to connect authentically to text and music. So, what’s a director to do, then, with their own face? Certainly, directors can allow themselves to express their own music or text-related thoughts. Joy, serenity, pathos, peace.... They might also allow themselves to be affected by the singers, if that effect is genuine rather than forced.

Or, they might buy into the singers' notion of who they're singing to, playing the part of Mother Mary in their Story. This, however, is more difficult and ultimately unnecessary -- the singers will do fine as they try to impact their Other, as long as the director isn’t trying to simultaneously impact them!

Choral singers as expressive artists in their own right – just like soloists in that regard. The end result of this approach is that the audience members will be watching the first generation of authentic emotional connection, and will then be able to respond authentically as well.

But the impact on the director may be even more significant: When doing a workshop in which directors experienced what it was like for the choir to affect them rather than the other way around, one director said, “That was a completely different experience. I didn’t have to worry about the singers’ expressiveness anymore. I was free to make music with them!”

All my best,

Tom

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