June 2013

Self-Criticism, Self-Belief, and the Arranging Process

I was recently chatting to a writer friend about our respective experiences during the creative process. One of the themes we explored was how we handle it when we're at the stage when we look at our work-in-progress and think, 'Oh, that's terrible'. This is an inevitable part of the process, because creative work never comes out perfect first time, however good the underlying concept. And if we never saw the flaws in our work, we'd never make the changes that are needed to make it into a finished product.

But how can we manage our own emotions meanwhile? Clearly, if we take these self-criticisms too much to heart, we will falter and stop at the first hurdle. You only get any good at something by learning to listen to the inner voice that says more work is needed without taking its critique personally.

'What I Wish Someone Had Told Me...'

One of the many compelling moments from the recent LABBS Directors Day was a comment made by Andrea Day in her short presentation on the training needs of assistant directors. 'You don't know what you don't know,' she said, and so organised her points around the things she has discovered that she wishes someone had told her before she started.

The thing that struck me here was how clearly and concisely she had articulated the experience of taking on a new challenge. Before you start, you know in general terms that it is going to be a whole new adventure, and - if you are choosing to take it on - you also know that a whole new adventure is something you are ready for. But by the nature of things, you have no idea exactly what it is that you are going to need to learn in the process.

Discoveries with Silver Lining

SLjun13Saturday took me over to Coventry to work with Silver Lining chorus. I have visited them a number of times over the years, though not for a while, and they have developed considerably since my last visit - both in size and assurance. Their director, Sara Jackson, had sent me a to-do list of things it might be useful to work on, with the proviso that if I identified something I felt was more important or urgent, that could queue-jump.

The way this played out in practice was that I went in with some specific plans for coaching tactics right from the get-go, and was then able to diagnose and start to address other coaching needs from within those activities. It felt like an efficient way of working.

The Toggle Principle

I have mentioned the rehearsal tactic of using a 'toggle switch' in various posts on coaching visits and rehearsals, but it occurs to me that it deserves a post of its own. Not least so that I can link back to it when I mention it in future without having to explain it again every time!

The way it works is that you designate an object or spot in front of the ensemble as a switch, which toggles the group between two different states every time it is operated. In theory it can be operated by anyone in the ensemble, though with bigger groups sometimes you need to limit access to those towards the front who can get to it easily.

Examples of states I have used this to toggle between include:

LABBS Directors Day

The delegates in songThe delegates in songSunday saw 95 chorus directors, assistant directors and directors-in-waiting from the Ladies Association of Barbershop Singers convene in Birmingham for the day. That is a lot of people, I should add. We had run a consultation exercise last autumn which not only fed much of the content of the day, but had led us to project an expected attendance of about 70 delegates, and even a month ago that still looked about right.

Don't get me wrong - I was delighted with the huge response to the day. But the last flourish of registrations before the deadline had me worrying over the published programme and whether we had left enough time for the breaks, and how the noise levels were going to be in discussion sessions. One of the great things about working with directors, though, is that they understand such dilemmas and readily cooperate to make the logistics work. We also had the splendid 'sheep dog' skills of Anne Potter, who rounded everyone up regularly to keep us running to time.

The Benefits of Fresh Blood

When I was at Preston last week, one of the Red Rosettes remarked to me how seeing the way their new members were so excited about what they were doing had made her feel excited again too. It got me thinking about what bringing new members is does for a choir. We usually think about this in terms of numbers and choir survival - if we don't replace those that leave (which is inevitable for reasons of health, work and family, however healthy the choir is in spirit), you eventually run out of singers.

But this conversation got me thinking about the more intangible benefits a choir gets from new members. On the face of it, inducting new people carries something of an overhead. However experienced the new recruit may be, they still need to learn this choir's particular habits, routines and - in the case of repertoire groups - music. But I tend to think not merely that this overhead is worth it for the gain of new members, but that going through this process periodically itself benefits the group.

Cheshire Chord Coaching

CCCThursday took me up the M6 to Warrington for my second trip north-west in two days, this time to work with current LABBS chorus champions, Cheshire Chord Company. We were working on two songs at different stages of development - the first only recently off the page and thus still at a stage where it could be pulled around and played with considerably, the second a show-piece already in the performing repertoire where the task was to refine the execution of the vision.

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