Thursday, 29 October 2015

Tango Embrace!

I was recently invited to the launch of violinist Yijia Zhang's debut album: Tango Embrace.







Here I am, speaking to the organiser of the event: Olivia Brown of WildKat PR     







It was great to see Yijia in action, playing music he clearly loves!

To find out more about Yijia and his music click here.
    

Monday, 26 October 2015

Peter Cook on the links between music and business

Here is a great interview with management consultant Peter Cook about the links between music and business:

https://soundcloud.com/wesleygransden/001-managementtalk-interview-with-peter-cook-from-the-academy-of-rock

It lasts about 35 minutes. If you are interested in a unique, engaging and undogmatic approach to business, management and creativity, etc., it is well worth a listen.

Towards the end of the interview Peter describes 'Mathematical Creativity', which is about creatively problem solving by adding things, subtracting things, multiplying things and dividing things.

One way of adding things is to  'colour up your ideas'.

One way of subtracting things is to 'go back to the original'.

Here is a very simple, very human way of 'tapping into the power of multiplication'.

As Peter says, applying division to creative problem solving requires a bit of careful thought, but re-expressing division as being about dividing into groups, as being about separating out and creating space, may reveal a few ways of doing it. The world of choirs and choral music may offer some insights: 'mix, place and (above all) space'.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

This is how a creative person works

I recently discovered the music of contemporary composer Marc Yeats. I find his music intriguing. Similarly intriguing is the way he goes about his work, which he records in engaging detail on his Blog.

The availability of such a rich seam of information about an established composer's work and how he creates it presented me with an opportunity too good to miss, so I set about reading sections of his blog (mainly his composer in residence to the Observatory posts) to see what insights I could gain from the way Marc goes about his work. More specifically, I was interested in how he creates new and interesting works on a regular and consistent basis.

Reading and reflecting upon Marc's blogs gradually revealed that he has a healthy number of habits of thought and action that support and enable his creative process, and they are not only applicable within Marc's musical world: we can all develop and use them, whatever our areas of interest and activity.           

Here, in no particular order, are the habits I found, together with some ideas about how we can all develop them:


Thinking and acting in three dimensions

When Marc is creating he does things, responds intuitively to things and thinks logically about things. He will walk, gather, sketch and talk; he will reflect upon, respond to and form feelings about his situation, environment and work; he will analyse and, eventually, conclude and decide.

Most of us are good at thinking logically about things. This is what we have been educated and trained to do, and it is what most employers encourage us to do: analyse, conclude, decide.

But to enhance our creativity we need to work at developing the other two dimensions: we need to do more and feel more. 

If you are stuck there, thinking harder and harder, take a walk and ask yourself what you can do. Can you start gathering more information? Can you visualise and 'draw out' your thoughts by sketching or using a Mind Map? Can you talk things through with someone? In addition to thinking logically about what is good or bad about something ask yourself what you find intriguing or concerning about something (perhaps use a PINC Filter) Ask yourself why this may be.           


Intertwining ideas

When Marc is composing he intertwines and entangles his ideas and activities. He will mix the visual with the musical; he will mix the figurative with the abstract; he will mix the common place with the unique.

Most of us are good at building on an idea by applying our skills, experiences and perspectives to it. Again, it is what most of us, most of the time, are encouraged to do. 

To enhance our creativity, however, we need to work at combining ideas and approaches that might, at first sight, seem unrelated.

In addition to building upon an idea ask yourself how it could be intertwined with the ideas of others from other sectors, businesses and industries (perhaps use the related worlds technique as part of this process). Capture butterfly ideas that flutter by you each day and ask yourself how they could be intertwined with each other and the idea in front of you. Take two ideas and work at combining them to create one, better idea (perhaps use Successive Element Integration)   


Suspending judgement

When Marc is considering the creative path he will take when making his music he avoids coming to hasty conclusions and decisions. He makes time to explore differing perspectives and approaches, so giving his mind and intuition the time they need to process things and eventually uncover the most appropriate, and sometimes unexpected, options to take.     

The pressures of daily life and work force us to come to quick conclusions and make timely decisions. They make us think in shorthand and adopt tried and tested approaches that coincide with our assumptions about the problems we face and how best to deal with them.

This shorthand thinking serves us well most of the time. However, if we need to be creative we must be able to stop our assumptions in their tracks and, if necessary, change our tracks to follow a different, more innovative and effective path.

Maintain your ability to form quick conclusions and make timely decisions based upon sound assumptions but also develop the ability to 'suspend your beliefs'. Before coming to conclusions and making decisions look out the window from different perspectives. Think about a problem in different ways (perhaps use De Bono's Six Thinking Hats). Make time for the creative pause and think first and act a little later.                    


Balancing predictability and unpredictability

Marc's compositions balance predictability with unpredictability. The lines or parts of his music are each skilfully and carefully written but then combined asynchronously; they do not stack together like bricks in mortar; they layer and move like oil on water.    

We all need to do things that make us predictable. We all need to do things that lead to predictable outcomes. Being predictable reassures, promotes trust and builds confidence. 

Being creative, however, demands a meaningful measure of unpredictability, a willingness to take risks and trust in processes (and people) that are not completely within our control.

Use the trust you have built up through your predictability as capital to support innovative risk taking. Let others play with your ideas and use and develop them in their own ways according to their own needs. Bring a diverse range of people with predictable but different outlooks, expertise and experiences together (as happens at the Unusual Suspects Festival) and encourage them to slip and slide against each other and mingle and merge in unexpected ways. Add a little randomness to your thinking to gain unpredictably useful insights and solutions (perhaps use the Random Stimuli approach).        


Working at Spontaneity

Marc forces himself to be spontaneous. Whilst walking and thinking about a project he will stop to quickly sketch his ideas and inspirations, intentionally limiting his sketching to thirty seconds or so. He does this to hold back the influence of his rational, critical thoughts and release his initial intuitions and feelings, so enabling them to fill his mind, flow onto the paper and form new insights, directions or approaches.

As has already been stated above, we are all good at thinking logically about things. It is what we have been educated and trained to do. More specifically, we are all good at thinking critically, sorting out what is right or wrong or good or bad and making decisions for or against something. In fact, this type of rational thinking is so ingrained within us it becomes our default way of dealing with the world: we judge before we reflect; we select before we explore; we can even decide before we discuss.

So to enhance our creativity we need to force our intuition to the front of our minds, putting it alongside, and occasionally just ahead of, our rational thoughts.

Develop the habit of looking for not only what is good or bad but also what is interesting: those things that for some unknown reason have caught your attention and you find intriguing (perhaps use de Bono's PMI Thinking Technique). Keep a note pad beside your  bed and with you at all times and immediately write down ideas and insights that occur to you without judging them. When you need to do something that involves some creative thought just start physically doing something rather than continuing to think about it. 


Welcoming, exploring and using unexpected insights and suggestions

When the musicians Marc works with identify unexpected facets of his music, for example unforeseen combinations of melodic lines and instruments, he is not only keen to acknowledge them but also welcome, embrace, explore and use them, in many cases eventually adding them to his completed compositions.

As alluded to above, we often very quickly form assumptions about what things are like and how things should be. This is especially the case when we have invested a great deal of time and effort into creating something, be this a new idea, a new process or policy, or a new product or whatever else.          
    
It is good for us to feel passionately about what we have created and how it should be used and developed. But really effective creativity demands that we put our passions (and the assumptions they generate) aside and welcome and explore unexpected insights, suggestions and contributions.

Remember that no one person can create a truly new, attractive, feasible and finished idea (just as no one person can make music). Allow people to play with your ideas and be curious about their insights, experiences and suggestions. (Cultivate curiosity.) Let go of the ego and status of being the originator of an idea; work with others to make your idea the best of ideas.          
  

Describing and expressing things differently

Marc, whilst doing some research for a new composition, became intrigued by some graffiti he discovered, describing it as ''layers of comment and memory'. His re-expression of the word 'graffiti' immediately enabled him to think about it in different and interesting ways.

We all get used to describing things with the same old words in the same old ways. This leads us to perceiving and dealing with things in the same old ways. This is particularly the case when we are at work, where many tasks and problems become routine and routine, jointly understood ways of describing them help us deal with them quickly and effectively.

Trickier tasks and problems, however, and sometimes routine ones that have become mysteriously problematic, demand less routine words that can uncover more creative ways.

Start describing difficult tasks and problems (and routine ones that have become frustrating) in new and different ways: use different words and phrases to describe them (perhaps use the Metaphor Technique); ask what words or phrases capture their essencere-express them by using other people's words or phrases, or by not using words at-all.   
  

Keeping your purpose and goals in your mind but not always to the very front of it

Marc's discovery of the graffiti and his fascination with it also illustrate his ability to keep his purpose and goals in mind but, importantly, not to the exclusion of other things of interest and potential artistic value. 

The purpose of the project Marc was working on, which was to create a piece of music inspired by a specific environmental landscape, did not encompass a fascination with and exploration of graffiti culture. If Marc had allowed his current purpose to lead him by the nose he would likely have kept his head up and walked on by the 'irrelevant' graffiti, so missing an opportunity to add to his stockpile of interesting ideas and experiences which could inspire future works. Instead, as his blog makes clear, he was able to stop, explore and record the graffiti and simultaneously remind himself of his current purpose and goals, so keeping his direction clear but his creative horizons wide and uninterrupted.

We can often allow our current purposes and goals to blind us to potentially useful ideas, insights and experiences; they pass by unseen as we allow our goals to pull us insistently along, like a parent in a hurry. This is particularly so in the pressurised world of work, where legitimate demands for efficiency, effectiveness and achievement can lead to us placing the achievement of goals above the discovery of ideas. This makes it very likely that we will achieve many things, but not many things that are new and innovative.

To be creative we need to be able to look beyond current purposes and goals towards ideas and insights that will coalesce into future goals capable of uncovering new and innovative things.   

So, keep your purpose and goals in your mind but not always to the very front of it. Remember that a goal effectively achieved is not merely the end point of a journey but the culmination of a journey fully experienced. If you stumble across something that is interesting but currently irrelevant, stop and take the time to explore and record it. If you take a wrong turn in pursuit of your goals do not immediately resume your previous direction but instead travel back to and explore your going wrong point. Ask yourself what insights and ideas you can gain from it. As well as enriching your journey towards your goals you will add to your stockpile of potentially useful ideas and inspirations.   


Asking simple questions

At the end of a period of research for a new piece Marc asked himself a couple of very simple questions about the landscapes that were to inspire his new works. How did each landscape differ from the other? What gave each landscape its uniqueness? Asking these questions enabled Marc to move away from his expertise and the complexities of composing and move nearer to the physical 'just is' qualities of the landscapes that were the focus of his works.    

The more involved in something we become, the more expertise we gain about something, the harder it becomes to ask the simple, na├»ve questions. Our ever increasing knowledge and experience leading to ever strengthening and question-inhibiting assumptions about what things are, how things work, why things happen, etc. 

This is acceptable, even advantageous, when we are dealing with complex but well established processes and tasks. It enables us to do difficult things quickly (just think of the life saving decisions and actions that go on within an accident and emergency department!)

Creative thinking, however, often demands that we put our established expertise aside for a while and develop a new expertise: an expertise in naivety. 

Start asking the questions everyone is thinking but no one is asking because they do not want to look silly. Find out what questions the least experienced person in the room wants to ask? Ask non-experts to help you put aside your expertise by telling you the questions they are dying to ask.              


Using multiple senses

When reading Marc's blogs it quickly becomes clear that he uses multiple senses to process the information he gains and the experiences he has whilst doing his research and preparation for new works. This video from his blog is a particularly good example of this: there is sight; there is sound; there is movement; and also descriptions of smell, all in a very short space of time.

His ability to take in and process information through multiple senses increases the palette of inspirations available to him as he prepares and writes his music, enabling him to deliver works which broil with rich and diverse interconnections and associations.

Most of us have one or two senses that we tend to use the most. Some of us are very visual, some of us are very auditory, some of us are very touch feel physical, etc. Being creative, however, demands that we widen our sensual horizons so, like Marc, we can increase the palette of inspirations available to us.

Make a point of noticing what you see, hear, smell and feel as you go about your daily life. If you go to art galleries begin going to concerts as well (or vice versa). If you usually see a lot and hear a lot start doing a lot as well: take dancing classes, pottery classes, or just go for a walk more often. 


Using a diverse mixture of things to trigger inspiration

Photos, sketches, videos, graffiti, poems, boat yards, patterns of currents and eddies, objects found along the way: Marc uses all these things and more to trigger his inspiration. The more diverse the mixture of things Marc experiences, the greater the chances they will trigger inspiration and nudge him towards new ideas. 

We all have our favourite things: things we enjoy and respond to the most; things we surround ourselves with. We have favourite books, favourite music, favourite films, favourite photos, favourite whatever. It is good for us to luxuriate in these things; they make us happy and they help us relax. They may even, because they put us in a good frame of mind, spur the occasional creative idea. To significantly enhance our creativity, however, we need to move beyond our favourite things towards experiencing a more diverse mixture of things: things that will stimulate, challenge and inspire us in new and unexpected ways.

Those things that you do not give a second glance: give them a second glance; take a photo of them. That music you do not listen to: listen to it; download it to your smart phone. That newspaper you would not be seen dead reading: read it; subscribe to it for a month. That TV series you never watch: watch it; buy the box set. Those meetings you never attend: attend them; offer to contribute to the next one. Make it easier for you to introduce freshness to your thinking by allowing a diverse mixture of things to inspire you.            
   

Reworking and reusing old material

A key part of Marc's creative process is reworking old material to create new works. He will take the music from a previously written piece and challenge himself to develop it in new ways. This gives his work not only a consistent style but also a strong sense of continuous growth and development. 

When trying to be creative we can easily fall into the originality trap, where we assume that innovative ideas must be based upon completely new concepts and approaches. This is not the case. In fact, as Marc's example shows us, being creative is as much about putting demands for originality 'back in their box' as it is about thinking 'outside the box'; finding ways to reimagine and reuse old ideas in new ways to solve new problems is an often undervalued but essential aspect of effective and productive creative problem solving.        

So, remember the phrase 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue' and focus upon the old and borrowed: adapt old ideas and approaches to current problems; borrow existing solutions from elsewhere and adapt them to your needs. Go back to the original idea, uncover what has been forgotten or is no longer used and find ways to adapt it to your current situation. Time shift your thinking: ask yourself how you would have solved a problem ten years ago and find ways to adapt the approach to your current needs.             


Working at doing things differently

Almost as a counter-balance to reworking and reusing old material Marc works hard at doing things differently from other composers, especially those from previous eras. His aim in doing this is not about being original for originality's sake. It is about offering something fresh for his musicians to play and his audiences to hear.

It is not always necessary or appropriate to do things differently. Many of the demands of life and work are best dealt with in tried, tested and generally accepted ways. This not only helps others quickly understand what we are doing but also helps us quickly achieve things. Creative thinking, however, requires fresh and stimulating thinking and approaches and one of the best ways of achieving this is to work at doing things differently.

When you need to be creative practise the previously described skill of suspending judgement to avoid automatic assumptions about how you will do things. Set yourself some awkward rules to help you not only suspend your judgements but also encourage you to do things differently. Look out the window again, but this time look for what someone else is doing to solve your problem and start doing it yourself. Force yourself to do things differently by setting yourself a one-day challenge to solve a problem or address an issue.                


Developing a driving purpose and mission

On reading Marc's blog one gains a strong feeling of mission and purpose, of a burning desire to create music that is not merely original but new, innovative and stimulating in meaningful and lasting ways. This desire is a major source of his creative energy, driving his efforts to uncover diverse perspectives that can enable his music to develop in intriguing ways.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will probably admit that developing a driving purpose and mission is not something we think about very much, if at all. It is undeniable, however, that those of us that do think about it tend to discover more, innovative more, achieve more.

If you need or want to be creative find your strong purpose for being so: be purposeful.
    
    
Having a planned and timed process in mind

When researching, writing, rehearsing and performing his compositions Marc has a clear sense of what he is going to do, where he will do it, when he will do it, how he will do it, why he will do it.

He allocates and timetables times to walk, times to sketch and make videos, times to reflect, times to revisit past ideas, times to rest, times to begin composing, times to share his ideas, times for rehearsal, times (and places) for performance. When reading his blog one can sense that Marc has a timeline in mind that he populates with the various tasks and activities he needs to do to complete his work and deliver a new piece of music.

The real challenge is not to be creative: it is to be productively creative. This requires that we marry a strong sense of purpose with the discipline to achieve it. Effective creativity equals purposeful and productive creativity made possible through the planned use of time.

Plan out the what, when, where, how and why of your creative process. Write out a timeline of your activities and keep them in mind as you go about your work. Identify the key milestones of your creative journey and mark them as you reach them.
  

Sharing at a distance

An interesting aspect of Marc's creative process is his use of social media. As well as writing a blog detailing his tasks and activities he regularly posts on various social media sites, sharing his latest thoughts and experiences and informing about commissions and performances. These posts obviously raise his profile and the interest in his works but also, given their ongoing and often quite specific nature, provide tangible touchstones inscribed with ongoing reflections and insights that Marc can use to not only mark out his progress but also crystallize his thinking. They also attract feedback and comments from readers which can provide additional insights and/or reinforce specific ways of thinking or proceeding.

And the use of social media means that this sharing can all be done at a distance, so allowing Marc's creative process to evolve and mature unhindered: to develop in its own way in its own time.

Each of us can do a lot to develop our creativity. Sharing our creative ideas in a managed way 'at a distance' can help us do even more, crystallizing and adding to our insights and delineating and illuminating interesting and innovative paths we can take.

Work at finding ways to share your ongoing ideas and experiences with others. Carefully manage social media so that you not only share with people but also create and maintain an empowering distance from people: a distance that creates an incubating space between your creative process and those that see and comment upon it. Perhaps go further; build upon Marc's practice by creating a virtual version of Amy Beach's supportive attic club.
 

Developing and practising the above habits over many years

Marc has developed his musical talents and expertise over many years. First he developed his technical expertise which, given time, enabled him to express himself fluently through music. Once fluent in music's accepted technical languages Marc was able to experiment and gain experiences that, again given time, enabled him to create his own creative habits and processes. Eventually, after many years, these helped him to begin discovering his own unique musical voice.

Creativity and innovation seldom happen without significant expertise and experience which are developed over many years. As we gain this expertise and experience and become fluent in our chosen disciplines we also become curious about what more we can discover and what more is possible. We then use our expertise and experience and the tools we have gained to uncover new insights and craft our own ways of doing things; this is where creativity and innovation happens.

Follow the example of the great composers and other very creative people by studying your subject with curiosity: immerse yourself in it; gain expertise in it. Gain experience of using your expertise. Gradually find your own voice; gradually find your own way of doing things.

Then ask what more is possible.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Not only music but also musicians can change people's lives

'I initially got the idea to do a charity concert when I read an online article about kids who got left behind in my hometown. I then contacted some local authorities to ask if I can do something to help. I pitched to them the idea of doing a charity concert to help raise money for the children, which would help them continue their education. The local authorities responded positively and after discussions, they cooperated with local business organisations that helped set up a foundation. I was taking care of the concert part; we invited both the children and donors to attend the concert. The first concert was a success; I was extremely moved by people’s kind actions and support. The goal of the charity is reflected by its name ‘Under the Same Sky': we wish there to be fewer and fewer youngsters who are left behind. In the past three years, we have had three ‘Under the Same Sky’ concert series and more than 200 children have benefitted from them.'

The violinist Yijia Zhang speaking to Amati Magazine.

This is a great example of how a gifted musician can use his position, profile and expertise to benefit those in need.

Yjia Zhang's words require no elaboration from me. All I will do is emphasise that many of us have positions, profiles and expertise that we underestimate and under-utilise, so missing opportunities to use them to our own and, more importantly, others' benefit.

When was the last time you reflected upon your position, profile and expertise? Can you begin using one or all of them to benefit not only yourself but also others? I think these are questions we can all ask ourselves from time to time.

To enhance Yijia's profile further, and also his ability to use it to good effect, here is a link to information about his debut album 'Tango Embrace'. If you want a flavour of the music here are some very 'short snippets'.

The album consists of nine arrangements of tango music by the Argentinian composer Astor_Piazzolla, who combined tango with elements from jazz and classical music. Smoky seductive stuff!

Study!

The great composers would immerse themselves in the works of others, studying them tirelessly. Felix Mendelssohn was extremely interested in the works of J.S. Bach. Bach himself was so interested in the work of one of his contemporaries (Dieterich Buxtehude) that he walked 250 miles to hear him perform and, as Bach explained, ‘comprehend one thing and another about his art’.

This capacity for studying a subject deeply is not only characteristic of composers but also of anyone who is creative. When creative people study a subject deeply they become curious about it, and as they become curious they start to ask questions, and as they gain answers they enrich their thinking. This enrichment is the fuel that powers their imaginations and launches their creativity.

If you want to enhance your creativity begin by studying the problem in front of you: dig into its history and explore its context; thoroughly rummage through areas related to it; greedily root out anything you can find.

If you become ravenously curious you will enrich your thinking and opportunities for innovation will form in your mind.
 
 
To see the 'Creativity in the Air' workshop click Here

 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Simply make a start and take it from there!

A while ago I heard Andre Previn, the famous conductor and composer, giving a radio interview. He was asked about how he went about the task of composing. He immediately replied by saying the simplest of things: he said the most important thing was to write something, anything. He also said that you might end up throwing it all away the next day, but that this did not matter. The key thing was to make a start and take things from there.

This gets to the heart of the creative process, which is not about being intellectual and theoretical but about physically creating something new that you and others can grapple with, seek to understand and develop.

Quite often, when we are doing our best to come up with creative ideas we can think too much and do too little.

Creating something new takes time and there are likely to be many false starts and unexpected obstacles that will need to be overcome. Obviously, however, until you physically make those starts and experience those obstacles you cannot begin to acknowledge, appreciate and address them effectively.

In essence, the more you think about being creative rather than actually getting down to doing it the longer the process will take! So the next time you need to generate new ideas begin by physically creating or doing something you can build upon.

Simply make a start and take it from there!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Kleiber’s Lens

Carlos Kleiber is considered by many to be the greatest orchestral conductor of the twentieth century. This is despite the fact that when compared with other conductors he did not make many concert appearances and his repertoire was quite small, concentrated mainly upon music from the early 19th to early 20th centuries. His recordings of some of the Beethoven symphonies are particularly well regarded.

He was a paradoxical man. On one hand he possessed very wide interests: he had an interest in many styles of music, he loved language, literature and art and could become fascinated by the most unexpected of things. (At one stage he developed an interest in aircraft engines and how they were designed and sold separately from the rest of the aircraft.) On the other hand, he limited his conducting to a relatively small area of musical repertoire and ensured that he prepared and rehearsed it meticulously before performance.

The key to Kleiber’s success was his ability to manage his paradoxical nature. He possessed a mental lens that enabled him to gather up and magnify the small beams of insights he gained from his many interests and then concentrate them upon a small area of focus.

He wanted his orchestra to create a sudden unexpected loudness so he used a subtle conducting technique used by the jazz musician Duke Ellington. He wanted an orchestra to play more expansively so he used the metaphor of a romantic landscape painting to explain and emphasise his point.

The small insights he gleaned from the richness of his wide knowledge and experience combined with the rigour of his musical craft to produce performances that many people attending his concerts found nothing short of incendiary.

By widening our sphere of interests and developing our very own ‘Kleiber’s Lens’, we too can enhance our performance within our chosen disciplines. We can do this by:
  • Asking questions and being curious.
  • Taking up a new hobby and reading widely.
  • Talking to new and different people.
  • Going on new journeys and exploring new places.
  • Asking ourselves what new and intriguing things have happened to us recently.
  • Recording what we have found interesting and intriguing and highlighting any insights we have gained as a result (however small they may seem to us initially).
  • Clearly defining the challenges we need to focus upon and willingly exploring them in detail.
  • Being open minded and looking for connections, however tenuous, between those things that have interested and intrigued us and our current challenges and problems.
  • Being determined and meticulous in finding ways to exploit these connections so that they can enhance our ability to address the problems we face.

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.