I used to watch two of my kids file in to the karate dojo with all the other small wiggling people, and immediately transform into disciplined martial artists.
One of those two kids is now a teacher in the El Sistema program and I’ve watched as she corrals masses of small wiggling people holding violins. At one word and one movement from her, they become as focused and disciplined as an elite military squad.
In the yoga class that I’ll be going to this morning we’ll walk into the space, speak fairly quietly to one another and maybe share a joke. But when our teacher says “Let’s begin”, a powerful, palpable focus will be felt in the room. For the next hour, there is only her voice, and intense listening to our bodies.
What all three of these have in common is that they are opportunities for transformation. And while transformation is quite possible on our own, there is more power readily available, and more quickly available in a group if that group is willing to take advantage of it.
Some singing groups have an intuitive sense of this, but to be honest, most don’t and won’t ever until they can get a ‘felt sense’ of the power of focus.
I have five regular groups that I direct, and currently the one with the most focus during rehearsal is the one that went from the bottom of their competition standings to becoming champions last year. They have experienced the power and excitement of what focus can do, so they seem to be able to call it up more readily. They don’t even seem to need reminders from me.
Full disclosure here. Whenever I was singing in choirs I was probably the most chatty person in the room. Just too many opportunities for hilarity. But some of that is necessary as a release from the mental heavy lifting. So I really get that aspect of chorus life.
Every group needs to find its own balance of social fun and intensity of the work – but ultimately it’s the director’s job to keep refocusing the group if the goal is to experience more of their power and potential.
Whatever the chorus’ level of focus, there’s much more power and transformation available when it decides as a unit that that’s the desired outcome. And it might take only a bit of education about how even a little more self discipline can change everything.
Then if everyone agrees, the rehearsal hall can instantly switch from social gathering place to Dojo at a chord from the piano, or the first note from a pitch pipe.
Transformation is simple – just not easy.