A compliment really makes me feel good

What do we want if we are together in a group with other people? Expressed briefly, we want (1) to feel safe and comfortable, (2) have influence, (3) personal contact, (4) autonomy (5) competence and (6) a challenge. Some of these factors are also important for people as individuals, but they all score high in a group context – including choirs. Let’s consider the case of Pedro. Pedro has been in the choir since he was twelve years old. To feel safe and comfortable (1), Pedro does not need bodyguards to protect him from danger. But he does not want the other choir members to tease him or poke fun at him, or to steal or damage his things. He wants the freedom to be himself and to say what he thinks, without being excluded by the others. Pedro will have influence (2) in the choir if people frequently listen to what he has to say, if they seriously consider his proposals and comments, if he can change something in the choir with a new idea, if people show interest in his suggestions for new songs, or if the choir leader takes account of his character and his wishes when allocating roles for a new performance. If Pedro wants personal contact (3), he approaches other members of the choir to talk together, make plans or exchange experiences. In this way, he gets to know the other choir members and is also better able to show them who he really is. And it’s great if he can exchange a wink with the choir leader without the others seeing; that makes him feel really special! Pedro understands that the choir can only perform well if there are clear rules and agreements, but he likes it best if occasionally he can decide for himself how, when, where and with whom he does something. When this happens, he feels independent; it gives him a sense of autonomy (4). Pedro experiences competence (5) when things go well. This does not always have to mean singing. Not telling a secret he has been told, helping the younger singers with their musical scores, thinking of tasks that need to be carried out before the next new performance: he feels really pleased with himself when he does these things successfully. Sometimes he is unsure whether he has been successful or not, but a compliment from someone else in the choir helps to reassure him and makes him as proud as a peacock! Finally, Pedro wants to feel challenged. Just repeating the things he knows he can already do no longer interests him. He wants to try new things that test his limits, even if this can sometimes be difficult at first.

The experiences within the group do not all need to be super-experiences. It is the overall feeling they create that counts. Some of these experiences will be more or less important, depending on your age. And some of the experiences actually compete with each other: as a teenager, how can you talk, behave and dress like the others, so that you belong in the group, whilst at the same time trying to show that you are a unique individual? Whatever your age, the most crucial thing is to express your thoughts and needs in a positive manner. There is a world of difference between shouting and screaming at someone until they listen to you and listening to the opinions of others and then discussing things with them in a calm and reasoned way. Or between throwing your score on the ground in disgust when you have problems with a difficult piece of music and asking the others if it is possible to repeat the fragment until you have mastered it. Because all the members of the choir experience these basic needs differently, the choir leader needs to watch his young singers closely, so that he can pick up and respond to the signals that they are sending out, whether consciously or unconsciously.  And being prepared to discuss these basic needs in a frank and open manner is the best way to help a good choir become a really great choir.