Process vs. Product
Updated: Feb 15, 2019
By: Chris Rowbury with forward by Michelle Graham
Do we practice so that we sing better at a performance, or do we practice being better singers? I have students who enjoy the process inside the studio where we are working on technique and fleshing out vocal “issues” and learning different ways to “hear” and sing a passage. I also have students who practice learning enough technique to sing a song correctly, and only long enough to learn it for a recital or performance.
I love Chris Rowbury’s blog! I love that he encourages people in a free and natural sound. He leads entire weekends of singing in unison and harmony… oh, my dream!! Most of all, he seems to encourage singers, young and old, to KEEP SINGING!
In this post (original blog here) he says the very words that I have often thought ( with a much nicer accent, I imagine)! Read this and think about who you are in your choir, or in your private lessons. Why are you there? What is your goal?
Process vs. Product: Are you along for the singing ride or just the final performance?
Learning and polishing a song can be a long process. Some people find it a chore and can’t wait to get to the end result: a public performance.
But others enjoy the ride, going deeper into the song, finding the nuances, becoming immersed in the whole process and not having any particular end in sight. However, process and product don’t have to be different things.
Something to work towards -
I had a singer in my choir who was thinking of leaving after a few terms until I announced that we would be having a concert. They decided to stay because now they “had something to work towards.”
But in rehearsal that same singer never really got to grip with any of the songs, found rehearsing a bit of a chore and was easily put off by the other parts. You’d think that performing in public would be the last thing they wanted to do!
At the end of all of my singing workshops I go back over the songs we’ve learnt and record the group singing them. It’s great for people to have something to remind them of the songs they’ve learnt (most people forget them by the next morning!), but also a good way to demonstrate to people how great they sound (not something you’re always aware of from within your part).
Inevitably, at the end of a long day people are tired and will have forgotten what they learnt a few hours earlier. Even though we revise the songs it’s invariably not the best version of them that we’ve sung that day.
Often in the comments afterwards people suggest that we record each song immediately after we’ve learnt it so that it’s fresh and accurate. But that’s not the point! That’s focusing on product whereas my aim is to assist the process of learning.
By revising the song a few hours after learning it and having a clear goal (i.e. making a recording), it focuses the mind and revisits new learning just before it’s forgotten (something that recent research has shown is the best way to get something into long term memory).
So the end result is not the best performance of the song, but so what? By going over the songs at the end I hope I’m helping people learn and remember them better.
However, people still worry about the quality of the end product. If we spent the whole day trying to record perfect renditions of the songs we wouldn’t get through many, it would stop being fun and turn into something else entirely.
Chris Rowbury directs the OK Choir Ensemble's Annual Concert in Suffolk, UK.
Be here now, don’t just think of the end -
The danger with focusing on the end product rather than simply enjoying the journey is that we end up looking to the future rather than being attentive to the moment. We also begin to believe that once we’ve performed or recorded a song that somehow we’ve arrived and the process is over.
But a song is never finished. There are always improvements to be made, nuances to understand, depths to reveal.
One way of avoiding this is to think of performance as process. A recent blog post by Jennifer Mackerras (Performance as process, not product) points out that the performance is not the end point, but just another stage in the journey.
The danger of thinking of it as an end result is that we think that all the work has already been done in rehearsal and we stop paying attention to the moment, in the performance itself. And that’s when everything can go wrong!
Chris Rowbury is a choir and singing workshop leader based in the UK. He teaches unaccompanied harmony songs from across the globe, all in the original languages. He is a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners’ Network and shares their ethos: “We believe that singing is everyone’s birthright and we are committed to teaching styles that are accepting and inclusive of all, regardless of musical experience and ability”. Chris has 30 years’ experience of teaching and running workshops in singing, voice and theatre. He has worked all over the world as a teacher, director and performer. He has taught at the Royal Festival Hall in London, at several well-known UK drama schools, at music festivals and for major corporations. Chris runs regular world music singing groups and community choirs as well as working as a freelance workshop leader and performer. His approach to singing is informal, energetic and empowering with plenty of fun and laughter.