Friday 24 November 2023

Reflect or don't look back?...

Yesterday evening I was singing Vespers with the Schola Cantorum (Gregorian Chant choir) that I lead. Vespers, for those few of my readers who may not have been recently, consists largely of five psalms, a hymn and the Magnificat. The psalms are deceptively difficult: chanted largely on one note, each half line has a lightly decorated ending - each with the same pattern, but with the precise notes varying according to the number of syllables in the final words of the phrase, thus:

The bottom line is that you really need to pay attention (particularly if slightly under-rehearsed as we were last night) or you come a cropper.

And if you do trip over your words and notes, the very worst thing you can do is allow that to occupy your attention, or you will surely trip over the next line ending, too.  (Guess who did this last night...)  So don't look back is the order of the day: stay absolutely focused on the present moment.

I think that applies to all music-making; certainly at the level I practice it. Which, in part, is why it is of such tremendous value, akin to meditation in that way.

Yet, in so much of my work I am an advocate of reflective practice. Obviously, as in my famous sandwich analogy, there is value in reflection after the event, to learn for next time; and that applies as much to music as to anything else. 

But I also strive to practice - and to teach - reflection-in-action. Thus in facilitation, for example, I think it is valuable to work rapidly through a set of considerations before doing or saying anything as a facilitator. 

My current working set is: 

That first question is clearly a moment of reflection; and I think an important one.  If I do not take stock of the fact that something has changed in the group dynamic, my next intervention is likely to be (at best) sub-optimal.

And yet, as Nancy Kline would insist, I think that offering my generative attention to the group is also essential at every moment; keeping my focus on the here and now, just as when singing or playing an instrument. 

Nancy talks of giving 100% of our attention to listening, and 100% to managing the process, and 100% to our response, all of the time. She calls that a paradox, and I think it an impossible ideal.

So how do I make sense of all that?  I am still wrestling with it. (As my more perceptive readers will have realised, my blog posts are often my way of musing on topics that stimulate my curiosity). But perhaps there is something valuable in the idea of waves and pauses that may help here. 

During a wave (singing a psalm, listening to a thought being developed) the focus must be on the here and now, with no looking back (or forward). But there are pauses: between psalms, at the end of someone's utterance; and it is at those moments that one can do a lightning reflection, in order to surf the next wave with complete attention.

And, it occurs to me as I write, that this is where intuition has a role, when understood as the practical wisdom that springs from cumulative experience that has been reflected on and polished so that it is near-habitual. It offers us a very rapid hypothesis in answer to (at least) the fourth question, meaning that we can move through the considerations to a practical outcome very quickly and reasonably reliably.

At least, that's what i think right now - but I feel the need to go away and reflect on it...

1 comment:

  1. Very interested in the notion of intuition. What is it, where does it originate and is it as infallible as we like to think. Thanks for sharing this!