Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Formative assessment... BEFORE it's too late!

I was going to call this post RIP old friend. The reason will become clear in due course.

Imagine that you are a child in school. You think you are doing very well thank you at your favourite subject - for the sake of argument, let's say physics. No-one ever mentions that your performance is below par. And then comes the exam. You fail miserably and the teacher who is giving you your feedback tells you that there has been a general consensus among the staff that there have been cracks in your work for some time. They did ask the physics teacher to address the issue with you, but he never got that far. How do you feel?

Imagine that you are an employee in a workplace. You think you are doing your job very well thank you. No-one every mentions that your performance is below par. And then comes your appraisal. You are advised that there has been concern among management for some time that there have been cracks in your performance. They did ask your line manager to address the issue with you, but he never got that far. How do you feel?

Have you ever been in the situation where you have found out by chance that someone you cared for deeply died some time ago, but no-one thought to tell you. How do you feel?

Last night I was compelled to come to terms with the loss of a very dear friend. No-one died, though.

As I have said in many spaces, I have always been able to sing, and sing well. I have independent witness to this fact. I have been recorded, I have sung on television, I have performed live. For the past several years I have done little more than use my singing in service of my local church as a member and occasional leader of the worship team.

Last night I discovered, quite by chance, that there has been consensus among the leaders for some time that I have not only lost my ability to hold a tune, I have also lost the ability to tell when I am off key - something which is happening more and more often, apprently. They asked the team leader to address the issue with me, but he never got that far. How do I feel?

The word gutted comes to mind. I have lost something extremely precious to me - something I have always simply relied upon to be there (I cannot begin to describe the utter joy that singing has brought me throughout my life. As my mother always said: if Karyn's breathing, she's singing). Worse, no-one saw fit to tell me. I cringe to think of the torture that I have been inflicting on people week after week as I stepped confidently up to the microphone and spewed forth discord.

One way or another, we are all formative assessors. If you are aware of something in someone's life that needs addressing, whether it be professional, personal or educational, please, PLEASE discuss it with them. Today. Don't wait for someone else to do it. And especially, don't wait until the revelation is going to be utterly gutwrenching and humiliating. The longer you leave it, the worse it will be.

And especially avoid dumping the bad news in their lap on their birthday!


Graham Wegner said...

Are you sure that they all don't have some hearing deficiency? The problem might in their perception ... but happy birthday, Karen. I'm sure that you'll get some sunshine somewhere along the way.

Inge (Ignatia) de Waard said...

voiceless instead of wordless, bad news is a difficult thing to get across, but I agree with you that it is better to get any kind of news up in your face than too late, too unclear...

That said: HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! This is the day on which you can begin the quest for your voice.

About a year ago I was looking for 'good news' and found a post from Scott Addams the creator of Dilbert, that specific post is now gone it seems, but a bit of the post is here

Not to sound to psycho oriented, but a friend of mine is a singer (liederen en opera) and a psychologist. She has helped me getting a clearer (= louder) speaking voice and she emphasized the effect of the inner psyche on the capacity of the voice.
When did your off tone singing start? If it started when the pressure in your workplace grew stronger, it might be related to stress. In that case your voice is just getting a hint of your soul that you are out of tune with the pressure that is put upon you.

I would not give your voice the RIP word yet. Because you are a more creative flamboyant type, it looks like a possibility that your voice is expressing your body feels.

... Well, this is very personal I guess, but hey! you were the one to emphasize immediasy of message :-)

I do hope you will refind your voice.

warm and best wishes

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Graham. It is tempting to think that I am still fine and they must be the ones with the problem, but there are several of them, and it seems they are in agreement. So I must accept that they are right. Apparently the team leader agrees with them, and, as a musician, he should know!

It is also tempting to adopt my usual airily optimistic stance, but I am genuinely grieving today and I'm going to resist cheapening it by pretending otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Ignatia - thanks for the encouragement. There is much in what you say, and I would be less worried if it weren't for the fact that the loss seems to be related to my hearing.

It's not as if I never hit a bum note before. Heck it's happened in some fairly critical situations, but I've always been painfully aware of it. Sometimes you can bluff it out with a bit of a jazz slide, but other times it's just too, too obvious.

Now it seems that I've lost the ability to detect my own mistakes, and I can't think of a way to fix that!

Mark Berthelemy said...

Karyn, as an enthusiastic singer myself, I can empathise entirely. If anyone told me I couldn't sing I too would be gutted.

Have the leadership team given any suggestions on how you might improve? Have they offered anyone who can help recover that voice of yours?

Anonymous said...

Mark: short answer? Er...no.

I'm sure I could improve with the aid of an expensive singing teacher, but expenses of that nature are so way down the list as not even to be on it. Maslow would be proud;-)

Perhaps I can find something among Chris Bowater's musicademy materials.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a former music teacher, I would hate to hear you giving singing entirely because of this. This doesn't sound like something that should be a permanent death knell for your singing. Baring some physical problem like vocal nodes or damage to your vocal chords, this is something you should be able to retrain for yourself.

My guess is that it's your sense of pitch that's going rather than anything with your voice. So, focus on retraining your sense of pitch. Private voice lessons would be great, of course, I understand not wanting to pay that expense.

Here's my inexpensive solution: Buy yourself a tuner with a digital display that shows you how far sharp or flat you are. Sing a note with your eyes closed, just listening for the spot where the note sounds "right" to you and it feels settled. When you have the note, take a look at the tuner. How far off were you? Keep doing this and look for the trends. Are you always sharp? Always flat? Good in the middle range but flat in the high range?

Practice intervals next. Get the first note in tune, looking at the tuner, then close your eyes and sing a fifth higher (do-sol). Open your eyes and check your tuning. Practice different intervals and look for patterns again. Are your major thirds too small or too big? Are your fourths a little wider than they should be?

With some time working on it, I think you can identify your problem areas and gradually improve. The tuner will give you a lot of the formative assessment you need. It isn't a quick solution, but I do think it's possible.

Good luck to you. Don't give up yet!

Anonymous said...

Christie: Thanks so much for your constructive suggestions. I agree that it seems to be my sense of pitch that is going rather than my ability to sing.

Along the same lines as your tuner suggestion, my sons came up with the idea of SingStar - ironically, they have just sold their PS2, but perhaps there is an XBox360 equivalent.