Learning

In Search of Myelin and Flow-states in a Time of Covid

Last autumn, I was reflecting on the relationship between a collection of psychological concepts that have informed this blog, and indeed my work with musicians, over the years: flow, locus of control, team-work, and the process of repetition/self-correction that builds myelin, and thus develops skill.

In the musical world we took for granted back then, the group situation was integral to the process. Having the sense of contributing to the team-effort of pulling something wobbly back together in an ensemble secures your locus of control internally, and – as I observed from a different direction in my last post – the constant feedback from the choral sound around you guides your ongoing self-correction. Real-time feedback is also one of the essential components for achieving a flow-state.

On the Melody of Harmony Parts in the Time of Covid

The value of writing harmony parts that are intuitive to sing is something I have been going on about, in various contexts, for years. At a practical level, it saves you rehearsal time; at an artistic level, it allows performers to focus on singing expressively without needing their technical brains monitoring the detail all the time.

As with so many things, the exigencies of life under covid have brought this imperative into even sharper relief. When we first took our rehearsals online, and found ourselves in a world where people can’t viably sing together, there was a lot of bright-siding on the theme of how this would require all our singers to take more individual responsibility for learning their music.

Conducting, and Teaching Conducting, Online

The new multiple highlight function is great, but only if everyone has the newest version of the appThe new multiple highlight function is great, but only if everyone has the newest version of the app

On Saturday afternoon I spent an hour teaching a session on Basic Directing Skills as part of the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers’ eOnline programme. (As an aside, it’s a fab programme – really varied classes, and there have been a couple or three a week all summer.)

This is a set of skills I have taught many times over the years, but never previously in a situation in which you can’t use sound as part of the learning process. Which is rather the point of directing, isn’t it? The process at the heart of both teaching conducting and the act of conducting itself is to listen to what you’re getting back and adjust your own posture, gesture, and facial expressions to make it sound better.

Music Theory’s White Racial Frame: a non-Schenkerian Case Study

I have often told the story of the most useful thing I learned as an undergraduate. My tutor had sent me away to read any one of three books by L.B. Meyer and asked me what I thought of it. I said I had found it interesting but wasn’t sure I agreed with him. ‘Good God woman!’ he exclaimed, his fist pounding down on the desk top, ‘You’re not supposed to agree with books, you’re supposed to think about them!’

I don’t believe I have ever told the story of what it was precisely in Leonard Meyer’s Music, The Arts, and Ideas that I disagreed with, but I have been thinking about it a lot again this summer.

Several of the essays in this book develop Meyer’s implication-realisation model of musical meaning, first conceived in terms of gestalt psychology in Emotion and Meaning in Music, but now in terms of information theory. In the essay, ‘On Value and Greatness in Music’, he moves on from the processes by which music communicates to how one might measure the relative worth of such communications. Some music is obviously well-formed but trite, while some music touches us profoundly – can this theory explain the difference?

Directors Connecting

dirday2020Saturday 13 June was supposed to have been the day when directors of LABBS choruses convened from around the country in Coventry for our annual training event. Instead, we met online. On the bright side, it meant that costs for both individuals and organisation were negligible, and notwithstanding all the drawbacks of the medium, it was wonderful to get everyone together. It is wonderfully supportive community.

Inevitably, the shape of the event had to change. Instead of a whole day, we shortened it to an afternoon in recognition of the obstacles to focus and engagement on Zoom. And the practical training model I was so looking forward to sharing, involving small groups working on the intimate connection between gesture and sound, will necessarily have to wait until we can get into a room together once again to make that connection.

Principles for Creative Work, aka Things Not to Worry About

This post started out as a framework to guide a group with whom I’m starting a new creative adventure. (Yes, you will hear about it in due course, but we actually have to produce some stuff first.) Sharing it for all my other friends and colleagues who might find it useful.

  • You will have more ideas than you can use. This means you will have to throw a lot of them away. Don’t worry about this apparent ‘waste’. Discarded ideas don’t go into landfill, they become the compost that makes your creative soil more fertile.
  • You will start more projects than you finish, especially in the earlier stages of your creative adventure. This doesn’t mean you lack staying power, it is a normal part of the process. See above re composting.

8-Parter Project: Reflections on Process

All of a sudden I find myself over halfway through the time I set aside for my project to explore arranging in eight parts. In some ways it feels like I have hardly started – it’s not fair that the time should have passed so quickly! – but then I also notice that I have completed 4 arrangements from scratch, reworked an older one, and have a small collection of sketches and part-done trials, at least one of which I intend to return to and finish. So things seem to have been moving.

In the last month of course I have been in a state of almost continual distraction as life has reconfigured itself around a global pandemic. When we stopped going out to do things with other people, we imagined that would give us all extra time to get on with our other projects. But it turns out that having to rethink all your automated habits takes a huge amount of cognitive capacity, never mind the work involved in taking rehearsals online. And the anxiety.

A Virtual Visit to Ocean City

In place of my usual warm-up pics, a screen-grab...In place of my usual warm-up pics, a screen-grab...

It’s a good 3-4 hours by train to Plymouth, so previous visits in that direction have usually been for a whole weekend, sometimes taking in multiple ensembles in the South-West en route. Tuesday evening I popped down for an hour or so, in one of the silver linings of taking rehearsals online. Ocean City Sound had warmed up before I arrived, and continued their evening after I had left – including, I understand, welcoming another visitor, this time BABS Chair Martin Bagelow.

We divided the hour into three sets of activities, aiming to maximise engagement. When you’re all together in a room together, the context binds you together and the novelty of a visiting coach sharpens the concentration. When you’re all logging in from your own homes it takes a lot more cognitive input to stay connected with the virtual activity, so there’s much more need to be structured about it and to refresh attention with changes of task.

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