Tom Carter’s “Choral Charisma”

I really do read other blogs besides the inestimable Dr. Garnett.  But she blogs often, and about things I’m interested in…

Like her comments on this book by Tom Carter, Choral Charisma: Singing with Expression.

I definitely need to get hold of it.

Even before getting the book, I can read the website, which is full of information–and some of it, once I go through it, seems to answer (for me, at least) Dr. G’s primary question: can a choir, a group, really display “charisma,” or are they just expressing/reflecting a conductor’s charisma?

Carter’s site says:

The bottom line is this: IF the singers are actively engaged in trying to affect their Other, and have fleshed out the text in a meaning-filled way, the director can relax their emphasis on the facial and physical cues. When a choir of unified expressive artists joins forces with their conductor, there’s so much more potential for transcendent music-making (as compared to the the traditional “I LEAD/you follow” directing paradigm).”…

I’d say, yes, that kind of charisma is exactly what he is advocating and working on.  And it’s exactly what I’ve been trying for years to address with my groups, not really knowing how or having the right tools in my box. And I have this feeling (having read the site and not the book) that he’s not even talking about the ensemble developing a single group-charisma as he is each individual using his or her own personal charisma at the same time and toward the same end.

I do get a little hung up on his frequent talk about “emotion” as the goal/vehicle. Emotion is one of those dicey words; we use it a lot, everyone thinks they know what it is, but I’m not convinced we all have the same definitions.  I personally think it’s ultimately less about emotion than about connection, although emotion is a tool we can use, perhaps, to get there. I love the “safe space” and trust-building priorities he holds up, although I’d be unlikely to use a set of tools as talky-oriented as his seem to be; God, the amount of time it’d take, and most singers I know would feel deeply dis-respected to have so much of their singing time taken up by non-singing activities.  For myself, I’d probably head more in the direction of ritual identity building and liminality and such, cloaking the trust-building work under the guise of “useful” rehearsal prep…but it’s an important aspect of building an ensemble and so few of us take the time to do it.

(Maybe it’s just that I have problems expressing emotion. :-)) (No, that’s not it…I just don’t think they are the be all end all that some think they are.)

Anyway, this is definitetly a book–and a pedagog–I’m going to need to learn more about.


  • Chick with a Stick,

    I enjoyed reading this! RE “emotion,” I try not to use the word much, believing (as you do) that it’s about connection.

    Hope you enjoy the book. And feel free to email me for further discussion/clarification.

    All my best,


  • J.

    Thanks! It’s wonderful to have found you and your work!

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