Friday, February 16, 2007

Performance and Practise: Group Dynamics

front row, left to right: Helen, Sally, Me (John)
back row, left to right: Clare, Alison, Tony

For the last few years, I have enjoyed playing with my sisters at a few Christmas concerts. These started as informal get-togethers, but have morphed to something a bit more planned since I joined in (mainly because I live out of town and have to plan to get down). As we contemplate doing even more concerts, I have been musing about group dynamics.

Basically, my sisters enjoy getting together and signing popular or folk songs, usually in an easy-to-sing key, with everybody singing harmony. It's fun - making music is fun. Without changing this format, a pleasant performance can be put on for people. We also realize that we can deliver an even better concert experience if we vary things.

We can change between song styles. We can sing unison, harmony and a capella. We can experiment with different keys, moods, and even different instruments (banjo's anyone?) Perhaps Clare or Helen can do a lead, or we can do call and answer. Adding another instrumentalist to the mix when I joined allows Sally to rest from guitar and play the violin. With Sally available I don't have to play every song and can also take a break, or break out the harmonica. Sally and I have different guitar styles and talents, so we can vary the repertoire more.

All of a sudden it is not so cozy. Which songs are we going to play? Who picks the songs? How do we produce a dynamic difference in performance? Who will efface themselves so that others can shine? How much should we push ourselves to learn different things? All these put a bit of a strain on the group - are we still having fun?

Fortunately the answer is still "Yes", and I am learning so much about music just by performing with others. As long as we listen to each other, give respect, and know when to let things just slide, I am sure we will continue both to have fun, and get better. It is interesting to see how much things have changed the last few years, but hopefully the main reason to get together will never change.

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