January 2012

Resonance, Legato and Support


These are three qualities that are desirable in choral (and many other types of) singing.* They are also related to each other in interesting ways – and contemplating these relationships can help clarify our thinking about rehearsal and practice strategies to develop them.

Creating Communion: A Text-Book Example

One of the things we talked about in last week’s ‘Conduct with Charisma’ workshop was the idea of ‘communion’. This is the particular form of social bonding identified by sociologist Raymond Bradley in charismatic groups whereby all members bond with all other members. This sets up the free-flow of affection and fraternal love that is experienced as a state of euphoria or exaltation.

We identified a number of different activities and structures you can set up within a choir that will either promote or inhibit the building of these bonds. These included social events (particularly those in shared social spaces, and in which the director schmoozes widely, not just hanging out with the same people each time), changing rehearsal layout/groupings so that people stand with and sing with different people, and a culture of knowing and using each others’ names.

Well, the day after the workshop, Chris Rowbury published a post over on From the Front of the Choir on why he doesn’t get people to introduce themselves at workshops until after they’ve had a good sing together. And it is a textbook example of practices that promote communion.

Conduct with Charisma: Post-Workshop Reflections

What is the collective noun for charismatic directors?What is the collective noun for charismatic directors?
Saturday saw leaders of singers from around the country meeting in Birmingham for my workshop ‘Conduct with Charisma’, which regular readers will have seen advertised on my front page for the last few months. As you know, I have been blogging on this subject since last summer – and I have been researching it for over 3 years now. It started out as an off-shoot from my choral conducting book, and has developed into a fully-blown fascination in its own right.

Charisma is one of those things that a conductor is supposed to have, but is usually placed in a box marked ‘magic – do not think about’. Not helpful, especially to someone starting out in the craft, since it can so easily undermine your faith in your own legitimacy as a director. (Or is it only me who worried about this?)

So the day’s central theme was to explore the social dynamics of charismatic encounters, to understand that it’s not just about what the director does, but about a particular type of relationship between leader and group, and within the groups itself, that arises in particular types of situation.

Instrument and Character


Barry Green is a well-established professional double-bassist who is known internationally for bringing Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game principles to musicians. Given that this was a huge boon to performers at many different levels of development, it’s not surprising that he is much more famous for this rather than for his musical performances. But then again, double-bassists somehow don’t end up being the big-name performers anyway. How many can you name?

The reason I’m thinking about him in these terms is the way he has organised his 2003 follow-up to the Inner Game of Music, The Mastery of Music.*

How to Prioritise in a Coaching or Teaching Session


This is a subject I was thinking about in a very particular scenario – giving feedback to competitors after a contest – and gradually realised that the thought-processes involved generalised very well to many other teaching and coaching situations I have found myself in over the years.

There are 4 basic types of factor involved.

Charisma, Cults and Theoretical Traditions

My recent posts about the recruitment techniques used by new religious movements and their parallels with choral recruitment practices made an implicit connection between the sociology of religion and the sociology of charisma. I thought it might be useful to make this connection a bit more explicit, but didn’t want to get distracted in the midst of all the choral detail, so the subject has a separate post of its own.

Now, both branches of sociology have a common origin in the work of Max Weber.* But they’ve not been as closely interlinked in the literature (as far as I can see) as you might expect from that. Weber was the first to propose the distinction between church and sect that has informed much of the sociology of new religious movements, but he stopped writing about it once Ernst Troeltsch picked it up and developed it.

Now Inviting Requests for New Arrangements

As of 13 January 2012 I am available for new arranging projects again! So, for all of you who have been asking me while I was all booked up, thank you for your patience.

With this new intake, I am changing the procedures for accepting commissions and seeking copyright permissions, such that you get the agreement in principle before making the commission. There are guidelines for how to do this (for UK customers) on the Bespoke Arrangements page of this site.

This may seem like an extra fuss, but the reason I have decided to try doing it this way is to avoid a number of difficulties ensembles and I have encountered in leaving the requests until after the arrangements are done. These include:

How to Prevent Your Choir from Singing Well

I recently read Robin Stuart-Kotze’s book Performance: The Secrets of Successful Behaviour. I picked it up wondering if it was going to be one of the business-management genre books that have been feeding into my charisma project. Not directly, it turns out, and where it does, mostly by contrast. Nonetheless, it proved a stimulating read, both in the dimensions in which I found myself persuaded, and in those where I found myself wanting to argue back. (Possibly that is the definition of a stimulating book!)

Anyway, one of the areas I found particularly useful was where he discusses performance-blocking behaviours – i.e. those habits and forms of interaction that actively prevent people from doing well. The problem with these is not just that they are counter-productive, but also that they are highly contagious. So one person’s blocking behaviours very quickly inspire similarly unhelpful habits in others.

Moments with Handles On

Just before Christmas, a friend showed me this video entitled 'One-Moment Meditation'. Its basic premise was that meditative techniques don’t necessarily require a special time and place and commitment, but can be integrated into our daily lives and still have a positive impact.

In addition to its primary message, it set off two related trains of thought.

Stanislawski Follow-up: Tactical Performances and Musical Character

Back before Christmas, Tom Carter came over here and engaged in some really productive debate in response to my post on Stanislavski and Schenker. (Joke on me: I had wondered whether it was going to be an excessively obscure subject, but got probably the most response I’ve had for ages. Shows the limits of my predictive power!) This post is a follow-up to a couple of loose ends that got left dangling.

First, Tom asked:

So, could you talk more about the performances you experienced in which the singers identified local objectives without integrating them into a super-objective? Or those in which they had detail but missed on the global?

Recruitment to Cults and Choirs: Part 2

This is a continuation of my last post on the techniques cults use for thought reform and their parallels in the worlds of choral recruitment and choral discipline.

Reminder: while it does make somewhat disturbing reading in places, we need to remember that new religious movements aren't necessarily or inherently malign. And, whilst I first started down this track of using the sociology of religion to analyse singing organisations because of the evangelical language used by choral enthusiasts ('Let's spread the word!'), I am of course using the word cult for deliberately provocative purposes. I find it challenges me to think more deeply, and am hoping it has the same effect on you.

So, to continue our list:

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