Every couple of weeks I sing with an evensong chorale, singing Gregorian chant and other liturgical music for a meditation service at one of our local churches. The whole experience is deeply spiritual for everyone who comes, including (and especially) the singers. Over the past few years we have focused on how to collaborate on a level that befits the experience we are trying to generate for the congregation. And it really comes down to sustaining flow.
Our director Alison Nixon, who thinks a lot about these things, usually has some wisdom to impart to us each week. On Sunday she said this:
“When you are singing you need to listen to others in much greater proportion than you are listening to yourself. Probably on the scale of 80 percent listening to others and 20 percent listening to yourself. That way you connect more fully with what is going on around you and the choir comes together.”
This small direction created a remarkable change in what we were doing on Sunday which was Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus (.mp3; not us!). When a choir is learning a new piece, people can be so into their own parts that nothing comes together. But choral music is all about the unity of voices, and so it will never work unless the parts blend. Only by listening outside of ourselves can we give attention to the whole.
Music is a great practice field for exploring what it means to bring a particular individual mastery to a collaborative project. Mastery of a particular set of skills is useful in a collaborative environment only if one also has a sense of how to fit those skills into a bigger whole, so that instead of eight voices, there is only one sound.