On Managing Persistent Mistakes: Part 2 – Cure

In my last past, I reflected on ways to support singers in learning their music accurately, to save everyone the frustration of having to unlearn and relearn, which is much harder. But of course, as you are working with human beings, you will still encounter times where people have learned something wrong. And, like the scenario that prompted these posts, the problem is often not getting people to correct their errors, but of keeping them corrected.

I have been thinking about this from two perspectives. The first is how to interrupt the behaviour pattern that includes the mistake(s). A persistent error is persistent because it has been practised, and if you want to replace that pattern with something else, you need to prevent them strengthening that neural pathway any more. In Alexander Technique terms, this is called Inhibition.

On Managing Persistent Mistakes: Part 1 - Prevention

There was an interesting conversation recently in a Facebook group for chorus directors about the challenge of a singer who was consistently getting some notes wrong. They were able to sing the right notes correctly in section, but reverted to the wrongly-learned version when back in the full ensemble.

The director who raised the question framed it in terms of the dilemmas of expectation-setting and qualification for participation in performances. They didn’t want to be the kind of group who excluded people, but equally the errors were disturbing other singers and obviously had an impact on the quality of performances. The ensuing discussion included a lot of wisdom about setting up systems to manage quality control in the context of individual development. The shared goal was to support people to succeed.

On Musicking in the Moment

Music is, by definition, a time-based art-form, so producing sounds one after another is inherent to its praxis. But, as I explored a few years back, the unrelenting march of musical time can create unhelpful pressures on musicians, and, when not actually performing, it is often valuable to suspend time and let moments elongate themselves around you.

I recently remembered a lovely exercise that Jim Henry did with the White Rosettes at the LABBS Directors Weekend in 2015. He had them sing the target vowel of a particular syllable in the lyric of their song, but without knowing until he signalled whether they were going to sing that word, or another with the same vowel. I forget which actual words were involved, but for example sustaining ‘moo’, without knowing until the signal whether the word was going to become ‘moon’ or ‘mood’.

On Having a Starting-Point

When I sat down to write today, I thought I was going to be using the title ‘the problem with cleaning’ to reflect on the way that the process of cleaning can have the effect of raising your standards of cleanliness, such that the job is never done. It’s not simply that it’s only when you’ve removed the film of dust over everything that you can see the stain on the carpet clearly. It’s that as you give it attention, you just keep noticing more that needs cleaning.

But as I started to write, the thoughts felt awfully familiar, and the search function reveals that I reflected on this experience as a metaphor for rehearsing back in 2011. (I should add that today isn’t the first time since then I’ve done any dusting.)

Musings on Section Leadership

This post emerges from having a number of conversations over quite a long period of time, and noticing a pattern that needs interrogating. I don’t know if by the end of it I’ll have any answers, but I hope to have a better handle on the questions, which is arguably the most useful stage.

The conversations have been with choir directors, mostly (though not exclusively) of barbershop choruses, but all groups in which section leaders play a significant role in the groups’ processes for learning music. The choruses have included all-male, all-female and mixed groups, ensembles of a range of achievement levels, and are based in several different countries. What they have in common are reports of a particular dynamic within one of their sections, whereby the section as a whole is perceived as fragile, despite having a very strong singer for their leader.

The Dilemmas of Depping

I had a message from a friend recently that looked like a blog post waiting to happen. In fact, she was rather hoping that it was a blog post that already existed, but as it happens she’s the first person to ask me this. But it’s one of those situations that you know other people will also have to deal with so worth us having a think about it for future reference as well as the immediate need.

Her question was this:

This new group I've joined, the MD has confided in me that she's not well and is going to be away for some considerable time between the June and December concerts while she has, and then recovers from, an operation. She wants me to mind the shop for the (not yet fully specified) time she's away. Do you have any pointers for how to keep things going musically and striking the balance between contributing something useful while I'm in charge and changing/breaking stuff so she can't come back easily?

On Recordings, Post-COVID Vulnerability, and Overcoming the Fear of Being Heard

This is a long title, and it’s going to be a longer than usual post. But I felt it all belonged together rather than being chunked up, as all the different elements are related to each other. It’s partly about coping with human beings, and partly about the nitty-gritty of learning activities, but as we experience the two things simultaneously it seemed best to consider them together.

Conversations with a number of chorus directors at LABBS Harmony College revealed a pattern of common experiences of chorus members having unexpectedly strong negative reactions to things that in the past might have seemed perfectly routine. These often revolved around being asked to record themselves to check on their note-accuracy, and part of this post will be about managing that specific issue.

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.

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