Thursday, 1 October 2015

Mix, place and (above all) space

A choir director will experiment with the singers of her choir; she will mix, place and space them.

When she starts working with a choir she will probably arrange her singers according to voice type (usually soprano, alto, tenor and bass). Then, as she gets to know her singers, and the singers get to know her and the music, she will begin her experiments.

She may mix the voice types to create a rich blend of sound and make her singers feel more responsible for singing their parts and more aware of the harmonies sounding around them. She may place individual singers in specific positions within the choir: stronger voices at the centre; rhythmically accurate singers at the sides; 'unique' voices at the back; stronger more experienced singers beside weaker less experienced singers. She may also vary the space between singers: bringing singers together to gain confidence from each other; spreading singers to diminish feelings of tension and a tendency to 'over sing'; creating room for the music to circulate freely within, through and around the choir.

Experimenting with spacing is particularly interesting, as research done by the University of Kansas suggests that increased spacing of choir members can achieve much of the quality of sound choir directors seek through mixing and placing.

We can all learn from choir directors' experiments: we can learn from when the experiments start; we can learn from the reasons for mixing and placing; perhaps most importantly, we can learn from the effects of varying spacing.

A choir director does not start experimenting straight away. She waits until her singers get to know the music and gain confidence. She also waits until she becomes familiar with the qualities, strengths and weaknesses of her singers.
  • If we want to experiment it is best to wait until we are familiar with our subject and/or the people we need to work with. We also need to ensure that those we are working with 'know their parts' and are confident enough to handle our experiments.

A choir director will mix her voices because she wants to: create a rich blend of sound; encourage her singers to feel responsible for their parts; make her singers more aware of the music going on around them.
  • If we want to mix people from different areas, disciplines and backgrounds are we clear about what we are seeking to achieve? Are we seeking a blend of people that will enhance creativity and innovation? Do we want people to feel an enhanced sense of ownership and responsibility for their work and contributions? Do we want people to develop an enhanced awareness of the work going on around them?

A choir director will place individual singers in specific positions because she wants to: create a strong core of sound; clearly define the sound and rhythms of her choir; manage unique singing voices so they enhance rather than impair the quality of sound; create pairs consisting of one strong or experienced singer and one weak or inexperienced singer.
  • If we want to place people in specific positions are we clear about what we are seeking to achieve? Do we want to create a strong core of expertise? Do we want clearly allocated and defined gate-keepers, boundary and process managers? Do we want to enable people with unique perspectives to be effectively rather then ineffectively involved? Do we want less skilled and experienced people to learn from more skilled and experienced people?

A choir director will decrease or increase the space between singers if she wants to: bring singers together to enhance confidence; reduce physical tension and 'over-singing'; concentrate the sound of the music or allow it to flow freely within, through and around the choir; give singers the chance to shine and express themselves.
  • If we want to bring people together or give individuals more time and space are we clear about what we are seeking to achieve? Do we want to enhance confidence? Do we want to reduce tension and competition? Do we want to tighten or widen the flow of information and ideas? Do we want to give people the space to express themselves through their skills and expertise? 

Lastly, do not rush to mix and place when all people may need is space. Remember that spacing may achieve what mixing and placing seeks to achieve. Sometimes giving people the time and space to think and express themselves may be all that is needed to enhance their creativity, innovativeness and overall confidence and effectiveness.

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