Directors Connecting

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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.

Abandoning the practical work, though, meant that the faculty could attend each other’s sessions, and moreover that we could offer a Q&A session with the organisation’s three most recent gold-medal directors, Helen Lappert, Jo Braham, and Sally McLean.

I have been looking after director training for LABBS for getting on 8 years now, and every event I lead reinforces the realisation that the best resource I can offer this constituency is each other. One of the major challenges of coming online was how best to access this resource in this format. You can put 70 people in a building together, and know that some of the best education is going on in corridors, in coffee breaks, over lunch. Scrolling through 3 pages of little boxes doesn’t offer the same amenity.

We addressed this by making sure that the three of us presenting had at least half of our session time dedicated to discussion tasks in breakout rooms. Given that we had already chopped our session times down from one hour to 30 minutes each, this required us all to be very focused in what we attempted. ‘Here are some key ideas; here is what you can do with them; go now and use them to generate insight together’ was basically all we could do.

But more valuable than anything we might have added in taking more time to present was the opportunity for everyone to connect with different collections of intelligent, dedicated musicians and learn from each other. I am endlessly impressed by the collective creativity and wisdom these people bring to their work, and the questions and comments that came back at the end of each session showed that the delegates had all been getting the benefit of this.

The other thing that gladdened my heart about these questions and comments was how specific and detailed they were. It was clear that people had been able to transcend not only the immediate obstacles of the video conferencing environment but the wider, over-arching challenges of life in lockdown, with its impact on not just chorus activities but everything else, and get their heads deep into musical subject matter together.

Given the proportion of time we all spend fretting about our current circumstances, having the world drop away while we debate the implications of balance and voicing for the relative sense of climax in a 4-bar passage is something to cherish.

Two other things I cherished were in the gold-medal Q&A, when the answers weren’t necessarily what people might have expected. The first was in response to a question about how long the respective choruses spent developing a winning mindset. All three directors cam out with variants on, ‘Oh we never talk about winning’.

The second was the way that a couple of questions around raising and maintaining standards elicited answers that each time circled back to support networks within the chorus. It felt as if people were asking for ways – and possibly, for permission - to insist, but were being told instead how to facilitate.

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