Sunday, June 22, 2008

Calm down dear, it's only a song!

I was running a workshop the other week, and somebody who had not been on the receiving end of my workshop leading before grabbed me in the break and said: “I can’t believe how patient you are with us!”. I must admit that I have heard this before in various forms, but this time it set me thinking: what is the alternative to patience?

When I teach or rehearse songs I try to create a relaxed and friendly atmosphere where ‘mistakes’ are all part of the learning process and are nothing to be feared. I use laughter a lot, and behave as if everyone present is equally capable of getting a song ‘right’ and of singing beautifully. When people seem to be having trouble learning their part, I try and break it down into smaller, more easily digested pieces. If people are having trouble with finding a particular note, then I emphasise the intervals between the notes either side, or make reference to how they can pick up their note from one of the other parts. If people keep stumbling at the same place, then I discuss it with them to find out what the problem is: timing? pitching? interval? If everything goes completely pear-shaped, then we just stop and start over. Gradually the song comes together, and even if it’s slow progress, by the end of a few weeks (or hours if it’s a one-day workshop), usually everyone is singing with confidence.

I try very hard to never lose my temper (although I can get a bit snappy when a concert is coming up!), I try very hard never to single anyone out, and I try very hard never to blame the singers – it’s just the song that’s hard.

So, if you describe that as ‘patience’, then yes, I do have a lot of patience. But I find that it comes naturally: I don’t have to make an effort, I don’t have to bite my tongue or pretend to be calm. In fact, I can see no other way of doing things! And I must be doing something right since we perform to a high standard and get excellent feedback from our audiences.

What, then is the alternative to patience? I can only imagine since I am fortunate enough never to have been on the receiving end. I can imagine a choir leader getting frustrated, perhaps even shouting at the singers when they keep making the same mistake, of singling out particular singers who might sing a wrong note. I can imagine tension in the body, tight voices, apprehension, an atmosphere of fear (of making a mistake), a lack of fun and enjoyment, a dour seriousness. I can imagine a place which is the enemy of creativity, team work, pleasure and music-making. I sure hope there aren’t any people out there who create those sorts of places!

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