Music Teams

Rehearsing Efficently with Bristol A Cappella Music Team

As I reported a while back, as well as spending two days coaching the full chorus at Bristol A Cappella at the end of April, I also had a two-hour session with their music team in the evening.

In some ways this was a rather over-ambitious programme of activities. We had an hour between finishing one session and starting the next, and a change of venue also probably helped refresh our attention, but we were nonetheless all pretty tired when we reconvened.

But notwithstanding these hurdles, the timing offered advantages that wouldn’t have been available on a stand-alone session. We had a shared experience during the day we could point back to for examples, and we made explicit use of this at the start by going through a structured reflection process based on my conductors’ four questions.

Goal-Setting with Bristol A Cappella

The Dilts hierarchy as analytical tool (plus some other stuff behind it...)The Dilts hierarchy as analytical tool (plus some other stuff behind it...)Saturday took me down to Bristol to spend some time with music team members from Bristol A Cappella. Our primary focus was goal-setting: working from values and aspirations through to concrete plans. I’m not going to write much about the detail, except to say that both the adventures they are embarking on and the challenges they are grappling with would elicit empathy from anyone who has been involved in a choral ensemble.

But there are a couple of points that I can usefully reflect on without disclosing private conversations. First is how the Dilts pyramid emerged as an analytical device for considering activities within both the music team and the wider chorus. We had compiled a collection of ideas about what the ideal chorus of the imagination would be doing that the real-life currently chorus isn’t.

Choice Theory for Choral Directors

GlasserI recently read William Glasser’s book Choice Theory at the suggestion of a friend, and it has been a thought-provoking exercise. There is a good deal in the book that is open to critique - to the extent that if I didn’t trust the judgement of the person who recommended it, I may not have bothered to finish it - but there is also a good deal of humane and sensible advice in it.

So, I’m glad I did persist with it, and I’m prepared likewise to cautiously recommend it in turn, with the caveat that you need to be able to cope with an argument that quite often overstates its case and makes unsubstantiated (indeed, unsubstantiatable) assertions. If you’re not sure you want to cope with that kind of thing, here’s a summary of what I learned from it...

Music-Team Training at Junction 14

jcn14musteamI spent Saturday with the Music Team from Junction 14 chorus, delivering a bespoke workshop that touched on all three of the themes I offer for this kind of training, but with its main emphasis on Effective Rehearsal Skills. The team has welcomed two new section leaders into their posts within the last few months, so it was a good moment both to offer support to the less experienced members and to help the whole team feel more integrated as a unit.

One of the areas the team had identified in advance as something they’d like help with was knowing what to listen for in section rehearsals, and their director Hannah had suggested a checklist of target issues might be useful. It took very little time for the combined brains of the team to compile a healthy collection of things they could usefully attend to, and we then went through each systematically identifying what would be the compliment you’d give if you heard it being done well and what would be the to-do you’d ask for if it needed improving.

Factors to Consider in Programming a Concert

Results of our discusion...Results of our discusion...

This is one of those posts that started out as notes for a particular group of people, but which I then realised will be useful beyond that cohort. In this case, it started out as a summary of a discussion amongst participants on the Association of British Choral Directors’ Initial Course in Newcastle. They had all prepared programmes for a short choral concert, annotated with the reasons for their choices. The discussion analysed the range of factors different people had taken into account

Musical Content

Everyone, unsurprisingly, commented on the musical character of the pieces - style, character, soundworld, - the things that an audience will experience directly. The discussion centred around the different ways people had grouped pieces together using these considerations. Some people themed by links between composers, others by common genre, others by common ideas in the texts.

Music Teams and Johari Windows

Johari Window model: this version (c) Alan ChapmanJohari Window model: this version (c) Alan Chapman

While we're thinking about music teams (well, I am even if you haven't been), it seemed a good moment to reflect on an analytical grid that was developed specifically as a way to think about how team members work together. It's name, Johari, makes it sound rather exotic I always think, but in fact it was named after its inventors, who went by the names Joe and Harry.

The grid categorises information about a person as either known or unknown, both to themselves and to the rest of the team. 'Information' here can be knowledge, skills, thoughts, feelings - basically anything that can be known or unknown about a person. The point of the analysis is that the more that is known to all (the open quadrant, top left), the better a team can communicate and cooperate.

New! Workshops for Music Team Training

teamroles2I am delighted to announce a new set to add to my collection of themed workshops: in addition to those for choirs and choral directors I am now offering three designed specifically for music teams. Many choral groups have a team drawn from the membership to support their director in the musical development and leadership of the ensemble, usually involving some combination of assistant director, section leaders, vocal coach, librarian, and possibly performance coach.

The team members are generally appointed on the basis of their general musical/vocal skills, but many find, once in post, that their role also demands a variety of rehearsing and coaching skills in which they may not have much prior relevant experience. Learning on the job is a fine thing to do of course - often the director who appoints them will be doing likewise - but people feel more confident if they can receive some guidance and feedback on the way.

Surrey Harmony and the Musical Music Team

Rubric for rehearsal pacing: using my special 'almost legible' writingRubric for rehearsal pacing: using my special 'almost legible' writingThursday night saw me doing another session for a chorus’s music team, this time with Surrey Harmony. It was a rather different dynamic from my last session - a similar number of people, but this time the entire team from a single chorus rather than a couple from each of several choruses. What we lost in the opportunity to compare experience between different ensembles we gained in the opportunity to develop mutual understanding and shared working methods within the group.

(As an aside: there is a truism lurking in there about the learning process. What you can learn in any given scenario is to some extent a function of your own needs, beliefs and habits, but it is also a function of who you are learning with.)

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