Four singers show how to strike a balance between the individual and the collective
Take one group of experienced singers; give them a difficult piece of music that they have never sung before; and watch what happens.
That is Dr Pegram Harrison’s recipe for reflecting on teamwork and on the ‘process through which people who are good at something can collaborate and sublimate their individual personalities to a common goal.’ And it was one that he cooked up for an Engaging with the Humanities event on 27 March 2019, handing four singers a copy of Es war ein wunderlicher Krieg from Bach’s cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden.
His additional ingredient – that he claims was ‘part of the reality of the exercise’ – was to be ‘annoying and disruptive’ and interrupt the proceedings at various points to make sure we noticed what was going on. We saw how the team bonded, negotiated, and found different ways to reconcile the individual and the collective.
Setting the emotional scene
Before the initial attempt at the piece there were jokes and self-deprecating comments. The singers were finding ways to relax and reduce anxiety before opening themselves to a situation in which they would be vulnerable. ‘The emotional landscape of a hard task is just as important to deal with as the technical side of it,’ said Harrison.
The singers identified mistakes they made that they knew they could correct, marking their own music when they had a problem but continuing to sing. But they also recognised the mistakes that they would need help with, and raised their hands so that the others would stop. Being able to think about problems in this way – what you can handle on your own and what you need help to solve – is an important aspect of effective teamwork.
Correcting your team-mates
One singer carefully pointed out that another had hit a wrong note. It was by no means the only wrong note that had been sung at that stage of the process, but it was an important one musically. The correction was accepted with grace and not taken personally. It was clear that all the singers respected the others’ musical expertise and commitment to producing a good performance.