Directly Speaking - April 2018

The Art of Feedback
By Joan Boutilier, Director Liaison, Education Direction Committee

Hi, Directors and DCP participants!  

I composed this message for my chorus musical leaders to assist when giving feedback to singers.

1. Use the Oreo Cookie approach.

Say one good thing, identify an area that needs work and end with one good thing. Pick your battles and keep perspective. Some things you identify may not make a huge impact on the overall sound or look of the chorus and may not be worth mentioning. On the other hand, performers may transform and blossom when they are told seemingly small things which they are doing well. As they say, "Catch 'em doing something right!"  Always end on an encouraging note. People tend to hear more loudly and remember the negative things you say, so don't be concerned that you're watering down the critical comment by making positive statements. 

2. Critique the performance, not the performer.

Refrain from making personal statements; stick with assessing the criteria for each area. If energy isn't high enough, say so, but keep the statement neutral, rather than judgmental of the singer's abilities. If a note is wrong, say so and leave it at that. Make coaching comments if you feel confident doing so.

3. Avoid making assumptions.

In many cases, we enter into evaluations knowing the performer's personal track record.  For example, we may know if she tends to be a procrastinator, if she works on her own, if she works in front of a mirror or if she is a leaner. Granted, there are times when pre-existing knowledge can be beneficial because it helps us to relate to the performer and her specific needs. It could be, however, that we don't really know if someone has procrastinated, worked on her own, etc. If you're going to assume anything, assume the best and give someone the benefit of the doubt. Again, evaluate the performance (behavior) not the performer (person.)

4. Know your own hot buttons and prioritize areas that need attention.

If you know that your eye or ear is drawn to one thing above and beyond others, determine what it is, acknowledge it but don't get stuck on it. Move on and continue analyzing the performance. For example, singing under the pitch is a hot button for many evaluators, but the degree and frequency of singing under the pitch need to be determined so that you don't over-penalize the entire performance unintentionally, or swing the other way and forgive an egregious error because of worrying about over-penalizing. Identify the most critical area for improvement, let her know what it is and move on. Help her to prioritize her effort, especially when you see or hear several areas that need improvement.

5. Be honest, humble and kind.

One of the most difficult things we face as leaders is that we are peers with one another. We may be asked to evaluate our best friend and we may be asked to evaluate people we simply don't care for. We are all equal members of our chorus. We all pay the same dues and have one spot on the risers. None of us is above the rest. At the same time, we have to assess our singers' preparation not just because we want to earn good scores in contest, but because we want to feel proud of our work, our product and our chorus. Understanding that none of us is perfect and that we all have work to do keeps us humble and relatable.

If we can separate the performance from the performer, give honest feedback, and still show that person that we care about her as a person, we'll have a more positive influence on our chorus's product and morale. Being kind is not the same as being weak. Being a leader among our peers takes great strength and needs to be mixed with compassion and humility. There should always be a bit of "That could be me!" when we are responsible for the evaluation of a performance of our peers.

Finally, be careful that aiming to be perfect doesn't get in the way of being good!

(Joan Boutilier is a certified sound judge, international faculty member and master director of River City Sound Chorus. She serves on the international board as secretary and sang tenor with the 2008 international quartet champions, Four Bettys.)

Have you visited the Members Only Education Center on recently? The materials you’ll find — from articles, handouts, vodcasts and more — are just for you!  Competition season is underway. Check these directing tips from a Master 700 director.


Directly Speaking - March 2018

Regional Contest Tips
By Lea Baker, Master Director, Endeavour Harmony Chorus, Region #34

The Regional Contest season has started and many of us are preparing our choruses for the contest stage. It's a very busy time that can be full of excitement, but it can also be stressful as the countdown continues until contest day. Ideally, this is the last few weeks/months of a 12-month plan. So what are some of the things directors can do in these last few weeks before contest?

  • Have realistic, measurable and achievable goals for contest, which are shared and owned by the chorus, not just you.
  • Review your score sheets from last contest, and pick two or three things to work on as contest day nears.
  • Mix things up! Keep it interesting so that the fun stays in rehearsals. For example, split up the chorus and have one-half listen to the other half perform the contest set. Then swap. Maybe ask the half who are listening to write notes about particular aspects of the four judging categories. This also builds ownership of the musical product by chorus members.
  • Find different ways of saying the same thing. Employ all your kinesthetic and visual tools. Get creative.
  • Become more singer driven. Have the chorus sing the ballad without a director at all. Just sit and listen. This is very empowering to the chorus and you’ll find out when they really need you (and when they don’t).
  • "Coach” your chorus when there is no coach present.
  • We sometimes treat our contest songs as “serious,” getting bogged down in the technique compared to our other repertoire, but we want those songs to be as joyful, free and uplifting as our favourite show songs! Find the balance.
  • Find two or three things from your last coach and really work at implementing those things at rehearsals. As directors, it’s easy to go back to our “default” of what we feel comfortable working on. But we need to be working on higher level skills too, just like our singers.
  • Pick your battles. Not everything will be “fixable” in these last few weeks, so let some things go that just don’t want to budge and work on improving one or two things you can improve. Maybe something that appeared on all four contest score sheets last time?
  • Stay positive and encouraging. It’s easy to get short tempered at this time of year. Stay cool and calm and keep a smile on your face!

(Lea Baker is an international and Region #34 faculty member, and a Sweet Adelines Worldwide  Coordinator.)

If you'd like to know more about the subject, click here to read a related article.