I recently received an email from Dr Carl Smith, a choral director based in El Paso, discussing among other things ideas from the book Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. In particular, he was interested in the idea of ‘savoring’, and how that might intersect with the conductorly notion of charisma. He said:
To Seligman, "savoring" is is "...the awareness of pleasure and of the deliberate conscious attention to the experience of pleasure." Perhaps another way to describe the term is "being in the moment."
I have very recently learned (and am STILL learning!) to focus on what is happening right in front of me NOW and enoying the pleasure. In choral rehearsal at with the small church choir I conduct, it means to listen intently with a smile and with positive feedback to myself and the singers. IS THAT A PART OF "CHARISMA?"
My immediate response was: good question.
There’s clearly some connection here - we use the word ‘presence’ to describe both that sense of being fully here and now and that quality of personal magnetism that also gets labelled as ‘charisma’. The idea of authenticity is important too – the idea that the outer social persona is true to the inner experience and belief system.
Tom Carter develops these ideas in depth in his writing and coaching about choral charisma. Tom is in the business of helping choral singers connect more genuinely and meaningfully with the music they perform, with the goal of both enhancing their emotional response to the music and helping them produce much more compelling performances for their audiences. I am sure that he would be most willing to connect the sense of ‘being in the moment’ with charisma.
But I have a hunch that simply identifying this connection might not be terribly helpful for the conductor or singer wishing to be charismatic. As Oliver Burkeman writes about the dilemmas of insomniacs, trying to aim for the condition of being in the moment can be self-defeating, because aiming for a particular state triggers self-monitoring. And the whole point about being ‘present’ is that it is a state of unselfconsciousness – if you are fully in the here-and-now, you have no attention left over to check whether you are fully savouring the moment.
This could be a classic confusion between performance indicators and goals. We notice that charismatic people have the quality of living in the moment, and think therefore that if we can live in the moment ourselves, we will become more charismatic. Whereas it may be that the sense of ‘presence’ is actually a symptom of whatever it is that charismatic people do - such as having a strong sense of core values, and an obsessive commitment to their personal agendas.
Which is not to decry the value of making sure to relish the pleasures of your choir’s sound during rehearsal. I am sure that it is important for both director and singers to look up from their self-appointed tasks of learning and polishing music to notice that they are creating wonderful things. And indeed we will get better value from that experience if we don’t accompany it by checking to see if we’re charismatic yet.