by Dr. Jeffery Wall
During our monthly Advocacy and Collaboration Committee meetings we always talk about unique collaborations or transfers we hear or see from our colleagues as a way to spark ideas or celebrate what folks are doing. What’s a transfer? According to the recent book by Jessica Nápoles and Rebecca B. MacLeod, transfer is “the ability to take an idea or concept from one context and understand or recognize that same idea in another context.” In a recent conversation with Dr. Jeff Wall, director of choral activities at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, I heard him making transfers between jiu-jitsu and choir and I was intrigued. We recorded a full episode over on the “Music (ed) Matters” podcast (episode 160, releasing later this month), but here are the bullet points and more. Take it away, Dr. Wall!
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a grappling martial art that is often used as a vehicle to impact practitioners positively, building resilience, patience, confidence, and discipline through terraced skill-building in a community of individuals from all walks of life. The benefits of this art form deserve our attention in the choral music world. A form of submission grappling, it is described as having many of the mental challenges of chess with physical consequences via pins and joint manipulation. It is a highly effective method of self-defense, a competitive sport, a hobby, and a lifestyle for many. There are unexpected, yet transferable lessons and methods from the jiu-jitsu mats that can be effectively applied in rehearsals. Not only are these skills musically and practically applicable, but are also valuable to combat mental stress, hyper-anxiety, and other mind-body barriers in ourselves and our singing musicians. I am a “BJJ” black belt with 17 years of experience and I use many of these principles in rehearsals every day. I hope this is helpful to you and that it encourages you to find transferable meaning and purpose from other seemingly unrelated skills, hobbies, or disciplines.
Parallel Methods – Successful methods of instruction, sequencing, and communication:
- Warm-up drills – This translates to activating the voice and body through warm-ups, sight-singing, or music literacy review. These are not warm-ups for their own sake. They are reminders of previously learned skills or in preparation for the coming technique of the week.
- Focused technique of the week – This translates to a particular skill in the rehearsal or piece of repertoire.
- Practitioners circle-up around a focal point to view the instructor demonstrating the technique with commentary
- Practitioners break into partners or small groups to drill the technique with minimal resistance
- Instructor walks around to assess and troubleshoot with individual practitioner pairs or groups
- Practitioners circle-up to view the instructor add more detail or clean up perceived errors in the technique
- Practitioners again break into partners or small groups to apply detail or further knowledge
- Live sparring – This translates to application of the particular technique combined with previously learned techniques. Practitioners attempt to execute the demonstrated technique in real-time with resistance (i.e. the extracted technique is placed into “stream-of-consciousness” context within a larger section of the repertoire or the entirety of the piece).
- Fights mental illness through community, camaraderie, and focused skill-building
- Builds body awareness/mapping
- Stress reduction through the mental-physical activity and communal act of singing together.
- Strong sense of community – having those to look up to and those to bring up in their own journey. “If you want to be a lion, you must train with lions.” Continually develop your pride/community – encouragement through and across the ranks.
- Teaches humility – i.e. making mistakes, gentle correction, and overcoming adversity towards success.
- Builds discipline – motivation waxes and wanes; disciplined action overcomes.
- Increases confidence – success breeds success over a stable foundation. Train/rehearse to the point where you can’t do it wrong (muscle memory). Disciplined training (rehearsal) leads to more comfortable execution under stress (performance).
- Progression and mastery opportunities – Competition/Concerts allow for display of skills learned over time. Stress-testing.
- Develops problem-solving skills – a daily activity in musical literacy.
- Inculcates a never-give-up attitude – falling short is always an opportunity for growth. Every black belt has “tapped out” more times than they have ever won.
- Always challenging – the right repertoire always challenges, but provides achievable goals.
- Real-time application of learned techniques – drill it; then do it; repeat. Theorizing and drilling technique; then, putting it into practice; troubleshooting; make improvements; see measured progress.
- Teaching opportunities – after skills acquired, passing on knowledge to others.
- Communication skill-building – when we understand each other, we train/sing better with each other.
- Develops ability to deal with pressure – establishing a culture that accepts mistakes and learns from them.
- Develops patience and resilience – this is not an easily-attainable goal; work is required with dissolution of ego.
- There are no “black belt techniques”. There are only fundamental techniques done at a black belt level.
- “Inspiration exists – but, it must find you working.”
- Have fun while training – jiu-jitsu practitioners describe themselves as jiu-jitsu “players”. Bringing the play into the work makes it enjoyable.
- Terraced benchmarks and earned rewards – developing a ranking system with minimum time and skill requirements for each level.
- No age limit – these skills are applicable at any age. It’s never too late to start.
Take these ideas and think about your “thing.” Can you make transfers from your world to enhance, inspire, or motivate your choir world? Let us know and let’s keep sharing collaborative thoughts, ideas, and activities. And remember, have fun!
Learn more about Dr. Wall: www.jefferywall.com.