Personal Development

On Punching Up

This is one of those ‘writing it out to see if I can work out what I think’ posts. I have been thinking recently a lot about the dynamic in which a choral director finds themselves being bullied by a member of their choir. Chris Rowbury wrote an insightful post on the kind of dynamic of which this is a particular type some time back, which prompted some painful and heartfelt conversations within various communities of choral directors in which I’m involved.

There’s stuff going on behind the scenes to develop training and support for choir leaders – both musical and administrative – with the aim of both helping reduce its incidence and help people cope with and resolve difficult situations whilst keeping relationships and emotional health intact. It may be appropriate to blog about some of that in due course, though it’s currently at too early a stage to go into any detail.

On Vulnerability

The leadership literature, both conductor-specific and general (which, come to think of it, I usually read through the lens of the conductor’s role), often talks about the importance of allowing yourself to be vulnerable as a means to inspire trust. This is usually framed in terms of admitting when you don’t know something, or that you need help.

All of which, on the face of it is perfectly reasonable. A leader doesn’t have to be omniscient or infallible to be effective – which is just as well given that human beings are typically neither. And I’ve always read these pronouncements with a degree of complacency, since I am very comfortable sharing my fallibility. I’ve known myself long enough to know how well developed my capacity for truly dumb errors is, and am endlessly grateful when people spot them for me.

Thoughts on Belonging: an Addendum

My three recent posts about belonging, and specifically the experience of feeling disconnected at a belonging-inducing event (and also sometimes being rescued from that state), have produced far more response than my posts normally get. Much of the ensuing discussion took place either in Facebook threads or in private messages rather than in the comments on the post itself, so I thought it might be useful to reflect some of the points in a follow-up post to share the extra insight they generated.

There was a fair bit of sharing of good practice, much of which resonated with the approaches Daniel Coyle makes in The Culture Code. A useful comparison was with making things accessible for people with disability: rather than focusing on the needs of specific individuals, you aim to make your building/institution/process accessible to everyone.

How to Practise when you Haven’t got any Time

Tl;dr for the time-poor

  • Listen to the music whenever you might normally have the radio on
  • Look at the music whenever you might normally read the newspaper
  • Sing in the shower

I recently started a conversation in the Barbershop Chorus Directors Facebook group, in the belief (correct, it turned out) that there would be a lot of wisdom collected there on this subject. Some choirs work on the principle that you can just rock up whenever you can make it and everyone will learn the music together in rehearsal. But many, particularly those that aspire to more (and more complex) repertoire than you can handle in that scenario, expect their members to do a lot of the groundwork in learning notes and words at home between rehearsals.

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 3

In my previous post on this subject, we arrived at a clearer understanding of when someone attending an event is most at risk of not experiencing the sense of belonging events usually aspire to offer, and of feeling isolated and left out instead. Before we move onto the practical strategies we can develop to minimise the chance of this happening, it may be worth reflecting on what’s going on when someone is heading into that state but is rescued from it and ends up feeling like part of the community after all.

I use the word ‘rescued’ because that it a word I’ve heard people use to describe what this felt like. And it aptly describes how I have felt in such situations too. And that itself says something about how quietly desperate the feeling is when you feel alone in a situation where everyone else seems to feel connected.

The tales of these experiences I have heard have a few traits in common:

Thoughts on Belonging, Part 2

In my previous post I reflected on the problematics of creating a sense of belonging at events. Why do some people sometimes feel horribly left out at an occasion when most people are feeling happily connected? What can we do, when organising events, to make that less likely to happen?

Finding some common patterns in my own and friends’ experiences of alienation (Scenario 2 experiences as classified in my last post) seems like the best place to start to increase our understanding of what’s going on. I’m intending to anonymise both the sources of these tales, and the events at which they took place, which risks making it all rather abstract. Of course, I’ll know the details of what I’m inducing from, so I’ll be able to learn effectively from the experience. I just hope I can present it in a way that isn’t too unhelpfully vague for everyone else!

Thoughts on Belonging

I’m writing this post (or maybe posts, I don’t know how much this will develop) not because I have answers, but because I have questions. The need to feel a sense of belonging is one of the more fundamental levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and has received in-depth attention as to how it operates in organisations in Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code. (And how this plays out in choral rehearsals is the subject of my article in Choral Directions from a couple of years back.)

So, the general understanding of what a sense of Belonging feels like, and how it is generated, is in place. My questions arise from my own experiences and conversations with friends about their experiences. It’s not a huge sample I’m working from, but it is big enough for some striking patterns to emerge; I’m confident that where I draw on my own experiences to theorise about wider things in this context that it’s not just me, other people have been through very similar experiences.

On Breath and Tempo

For the last year or so I have been attending tai chi classes in local parks. I tried it on a whim when I was looking for things to take me away from my screen, and have kept doing it both because it is enjoyable during the session and I always feel good afterwards. It’s good for a sense of balance, both physical and mental.

Recently our teacher, Perry, was making some interesting observations about breath and tempo in the context of the Form (the extended sequence of moves that always features in the last 15 minutes so of the class), and I found myself wanting to reflect on parallels with musicking. Breathing and tempo are, after all, pretty central to our craft too.

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