A Menagerie of Metaphors

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Floddy the Hippo of Belonging: sorry about the camera-shake - it must have been an emotional moment...Floddy the Hippo of Belonging: sorry about the camera-shake - it must have been an emotional moment...Everyone likes a good animal metaphor. At least, anyone who’s any fun does. After running into some new ones at the BABS Directors Academy in January, I realised I was getting a nice little collection together, enough to share as a group.

Floddy, the Hippo of Belonging Anyone who has come to my house for coaching in the last decade will have met my side-kick Floddy the hippo. But his main claim to fame was as the personification of love and belonging needs in a session I did for LABBS directors on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs back in 2012.

Elephants appeared twice during that recent weekend. Alex and Boo de Bruin told of how in their time at Avon Harmony they would work on engaging the breath by asking singers to push Boris the purple elephant from in front of them out to the side. It wasn’t clear why Boris needed to be purple, but it was definitely an important attribute.

Jordan Travis used an elephant metaphor I first heard from David Wright, but to make a subtly different point. David said that ‘left-brain, technical coaching is like trying to kill an elephant by clogging up all its pores’ – his point being to address fundamental underlying issues in coaching rather than trying to ‘fix’ individual moments. Jordan used the same image to illuminate the problems of lack of focus in rehearsal. If you don’t have a clear sense of what you want to achieve in a particular segment, you’ll just get endlessly distracted by and fixated by details. Both are wise observations about the futility of that approach to elephanticide.

A surprised giraffe popped up in conversation too. This is the brain-child of Andy Allen from Hallmark of Harmony: imagine that you are a giraffe, about to take a mouthful of leaves from a bush, and you suddenly spot a beautiful flower on it. It surprises you so much you come back upright to look at it. And thereby achieve a nicely poised alignment of head and neck, as well as an emotional tone well suited to singing. As with Boris, I’m not sure how well this image comes over in print, but I can assure you it is most appealing when narrated and demonstrated by Sam Hubbard.

The kangaroo is an animal persona I have been living with since last summer, when Mo Field suggested it to me as a way to organise my conducting stance. It was perfectly suited to capture several things I had been working on via Alexander Technique, but coming holistically in a single image allowed me to free up cognitive resources so I could integrate it more easily with attending to the music.

The huge long feet connect me to the ground, while the long, counter-balanced tail keeps my back open and free. (It was such a vivid image that for the first week or two of playing with the image I felt rather disturbed sitting in closed-backed chairs – where was my tail to go??) I forget the role that the ‘big-ass thighs’ played in the process, but I remember the relish with which Mo enjoined me to own them.

At the same time, the contained poise of the arms fit comfortably with my style of gesture, and the head position prefigured my later acquaintance with the giraffe. Mo didn’t mention this bit, but I like feeling I have a little pouch on my tummy to hold the music (and I mean that both in the literal sense of the sheet music and the abstract sense of how music feels).

The zebra is the last animal for today’s musings. This is the least developed metaphor of the menagerie, but has the honour of being created especially for it. A conversation in the bar at BABS DA about the animals we had collected so far sparked I think it was Peter Bryant to speculate about what a zebra could represent. The conundrum of whether it was a black animal with white stripes or a white animal with black stripes might tell us something about the intertwining relationship between lead and baritone lines in a barbershop texture. We laughed in delight at the metaphor and the conversation moved on without working out exactly what that something might be.

And now of course I find myself singing 'All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir'

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