Holland Harmony Education Weekend: Further Reflections

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A drawing of what Adam was doingA drawing of what Adam was doingA few weeks on, and I’ve had time to untangle some of the notes in my thinking book about the Holland Harmony education weekend back in September. As I discussed in my main report on the event, both the teaching process and the interactions with other coaches offered manifold opportunities to grow. So here are some of the things I learned that are going to be useful in my ongoing quest to help people make good music.

  • The Dilts Pyramid was one of the models we discussed in my Coaching Techniques classes. It became a useful concept to discuss the phenomenon of people who resist coaching, where changes to musical behaviours are only temporary and revert back to habit almost immediately. The problem here is that the new behaviour conflicts in some way with what the singer cherishes at the higher levels of belief or identity, so if they are to be able to embrace a new skill, you need to work with them at these levels as well as the practical/technical.

    Transformational coaching is where the change comes at these more profound levels, which then cascades down through the pyramid, facilitating rapid changes in capability and behaviour.

    We also discussed how one should always aspire to affect capabilities as well as behaviours – don’t just fix this song, furnish the tools to transfer to other songs too. But consider the stage in the performance cycle before delving too far into those higher levels – it is too risky to reconfigure someone’s relationship with themselves just before a major performance.

  • Adam Scott gave a virtuosic demonstration of the Intervention/Enforcement cycles in his warm-up on Saturday morning. Led entirely through demonstration and gesture, he not only got us doing the exercises, but gave us constant feedback on how well we were doing them. His recognition techniques in particular were really rewarding: his transparent delight in a well-produced tone was a great motivator.

    I thought about this warm-up again on the Sunday afternoon when David McEachern talked about the importance of leaving your dignity behind when you perform. Adam’s leadership persona was both playful (creating a positive emotional tone to the exercise) and utterly committed (he really cared about the process and its results). The way he threw himself into it without self-consciousness imbued the warm-up with a sense of significance – it really mattered to do this well – whilst also creating a safe space in which we could engage leaving our own self-consciousness behind too.

  • A discussion in my Diagnostic Listening Skills sessions flushed out a useful distinction between how singers feel about a song, and how they manage to get the audience to feel about a song. In more than one performance we listened, the participants observed that it didn’t sound like the singers knew what the story was about.

    But I was pretty sure that if you’d asked an individual singer to tell you, they would have been able to do so. They would probably also have told you how much they loved the song, what it meant to them. That feeling may have ended up so buried under the technical work needed to get the chords locking (have you ever noticed there are a lot of chords in a barbershop song?) that the audience didn’t perceive it, but it was probably still there in their hearts. I say this because I have met human beings before.

    From a coaching perspective, it is going to be much more effective to say to singers that their understanding of the song isn’t coming over as well as they’d like than to insult them with a presumption of lack of feeling.

  • Mikael Wikström introduced me to a lovely turn of phrase to use when a note is sounding slightly flat: it needs to be more fresh. Isn’t that wonderful? The thing is, ‘flat’ is a more complex perception than just the pitch being too low, though that is often part of it. It is also often a qualitative issue: the note may also be out of balance with the chord and/or sung with too heavy a tone quality. ‘Fresh’ is a complex, holistic solution to this complex, holistic problem. And it is an inviting metaphor: we take pleasure in freshness in a way that ‘just an onion skin higher’ can’t somehow match.

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