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Magic Choral Trick #339 Extraordinary Measures – What Are You Willing to Do?

We know that light aerobic exercise, like walking, for an hour every day will dramatically increase our well being. Does everyone do this?

We know that a diet seriously heavy on a wide variety of vegetables is like medicine for the body. Is that what ends up on our plates?

We know that mediation is good for our mental, physical and spiritual health – but how many of us actually get around to the two twenty minute sessions recommended by the Transcendental Meditation people?

The point here is that what’s holding our choruses back from being fabulous is not stuff that’s unknown to any of us.

I remember taking a course one time where it was pointed out that if your life is not what you want it to be in one area that’s especially difficult for you (one of the spokes of the wheel that is your life) make a change for the better in some other area of your life (one of the other spokes) and the whole wheel shifts.

For years my women’s Barbershop chorus struggled with small numbers. We’d gain a couple of members, only to have an equivalent number then drift away.

Then one day we did two things. We altered what we were doing with two of the spokes of our ‘chorus life’ wheel.

We decided as a chorus that we were willing to work harder on singing well.

We gave a green light to one of our members who was really enthusiastic about promoting the chorus through almost non stop PR. (It felt immodest – shameless really – and she was relentless!! Every aspect of chorus life was photographed, written up and sent out as a press release!) Now we have a permanent PR team.

And now, just a few years later, the chorus has more than doubled in size, and is singing and performing at a much higher level. And because more bodies, and more excellence is more fun, new singers keep showing up!!

Were these extraordinary measures? Not really. What was extraordinary was the chorus’ dogged commitment to following up on these two things that we’d agreed to do.

I felt this commitment every time I’d stop them to work on some vocal technique point.

I felt this commitment every time we had to freeze what we were doing so that we could be photographed for the next announcement or press release.

The chorus culture had been shifted – and we were gradually falling in love with excellence.

And in my almost 40 years of directing singing groups, that is extraordinary.

Magic Choral Trick #311 Shifting the Chorus Culture

As we Northern Hemisphere folks head back to our chorus and choir rehearsals this week we are given an opportunity to review our dreams and aspirations for our groups – and to consider what would make our weekly experience even more fun.

However, even though the group’s leadership – the director or music team – may have a shift they’d like to make, nothing will happen until the chorus decides as a unit that this is something they’d like to do.

It’s useful to have the music team sit down and talk about which Cultural Shifts we’d like to see this season. And by Cultural Shifts, I mean anything at all to do with chorus life that will make the experience more joyful and positive. The shift can be something technical, like perfecting the group’s staggered breathing, so that no one ever, ever again snatches a breath between words or syllables – or it can be some off-riser cultural agreement, like deciding to complain only to those with the authority to solve a particular musical, or social problem. It might even be the decision to incorporate more of a certain type of repertoire – and to become the chorus that’s really good at it.

All change requires agreement. In my experience, the top down demanding of change never works in a group where people gather to escape all the other ‘top down demanding’ in their lives.

This is one of the beauties of competition. When we look over and see that the chorus that just placed ahead of us has enacted a particular change that won them their spot – there’s no problem with motivating our own chorus to shift a specific behaviour.

As a director I prefer to just calmly keep presenting and presenting (and presenting and presenting) the opportunity that a specific shift would create, and sooner or later somebody jumps on board. When that first person jumps on board, they inspire all the others. And sooner or later, even those who might originally have argued against the change notice the fun that’s being had and want to be a part of it all.

Directors – all you need is the guts to be the Lone Nut, and the patience to wait for your First Follower….

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