Monday, March 24, 2014

Process vs. product: are you along for the singing ride or just the final performance?

Learning and polishing a song can be a long process. Some people find it a chore and can’t wait to get to the end result: a public performance.

ABBA, Brussells May 09 (1)

But others enjoy the ride, going deeper into the song, finding the nuances, becoming immersed in the whole process and not having any particular end in sight. However, process and product don’t have to be different things.

something to work towards

I had a singer in my choir who was thinking of leaving after a few terms until I announced that we would be having a concert. They decided to stay because now they “had something to work towards.”

But in rehearsal that same singer never really got to grip with any of the songs, found rehearsing a bit of a chore and was easily put off by the other parts. You’d think that performing in public would be the last thing they wanted to do!

At the end of all of my singing workshops I go back over the songs we’ve learnt and record the group singing them. It’s great for people to have something to remind them of the songs they’ve learnt (most people forget them by the next morning!), but also a good way to demonstrate to people how great they sound (not something you’re always aware of from within your part).

Inevitably, at the end of a long day people are tired and will have forgotten what they learnt a few hours earlier. Even though we revise the songs it’s invariably not the best version of them that we’ve sung that day.

Often in the comments afterwards people suggest that we record each song immediately after we’ve learnt it so that it’s fresh and accurate. But that’s not the point! That’s focusing on product whereas my aim is to assist the process of learning.

By revising the song a few hours after learning it and having a clear goal (i.e. making a recording), it focuses the mind and revisits new learning just before it’s forgotten (something that recent research has shown is the best way to get something into long term memory).

So the end result is not the best performance of the song, but so what? By going over the songs at the end I hope I’m helping people learn and remember them better.

However, people still worry about the quality of the end product. If we spent the whole day trying to record perfect renditions of the songs we wouldn’t get through many, it would stop being fun and turn into something else entirely.

be here now, don’t just think of the end

The danger with focusing on the end product rather than simply enjoying the journey is that we end up looking to the future rather than being attentive to the moment. We also begin to believe that once we’ve performed or recorded a song that somehow we’ve arrived and the process is over.

But a song is never finished. There are always improvements to be made, nuances to understand, depths to reveal.

One way of avoiding this is to think of performance as process. A recent blog post by Jennifer Mackerras (Performance as process, not product) points out that the performance is not the end point, but just another stage in the journey.

The danger of thinking of it as an end result is that we think that all the work has already been done in rehearsal and we stop paying attention to the moment, in the performance itself. And that’s when everything can go wrong!

Chris Rowbury