At some point, in the life of every quartet, the need for a “fifth ear” or coach becomes a necessity. Other than the desire to improve, it is generally because internal coaching can only go so far, and often not all quartet members take well or appreciate internal coaching. This, of course, can often put a strain on the quartet members’ relationships. However, a good coach can do wonders for a quartet’s development, much like a good teacher can improve a student’s grades. And so the question becomes who? The most obvious place to begin is by asking other successful quartets who they use. But how do you know which coach is the right fit for you?
Perhaps the most important factor is that all quartet members respect the coach and feel comfortable working with him or her. There are several egos involved so you have to be able to trust your coach in order to try new things the quartet or an individual is ask to do. If you have never been coached, there may be apprehension in the beginning especially if asked to do something outside your comfort zone or different than the way you have always done things. This is where respect and trust comes in. You’re much more likely to reach your goals if you respect and trust the person who is helping you get there. This may all seem obvious and elementary but I have been in quartets that wasted time and money with coaches that just didn’t click. They were good coaches with good reputations … just not for us or at least for where we were in our development at the time.
Is the coach effective? One way to determine effectiveness is to look at which quartets the coach has worked with and their before and after results. Something that I believe few quartets consider is the level of coaching needed. For instance is a 60 quartet working toward a 65 or 70, a 70 quartet working toward a 75 or 80, etc.? I was once told by a very good coach that he felt that he could help a quartet until it reach about an 82, beyond that he was unable, at that time, to hear what was needed to help the quartet improve and move on. The point is, there are good coaches who can be a great asset to C and B+ quartets. You don’t necessarily need the top coach in the district or Society. The bottom line is whether the coach has the ability to identify technical and performance issues, diagnose the cause and offer your quartet practical solutions.
What type of coach are you looking for? Some coaches focus primarily on correct breathing, placement, resonance, tuning, tempo, etc., while others may focus more on interpreting and singing a song vocally and visually with emotion, and performing well. Some coaches do both, but not all. What are you looking for and what does the coach offer? Most C through B+ quartets need a “utility” coach who can work all areas and can help eliminate the major performance distractions. At some point the quartet may need to be told the truth. Far too many coaches and often judges are guilty of sugar coating the truth regarding a quartet’s ability and or expectations. Honesty should be an important quality with any coach you choose.
Does the coach record your sessions? Someone should always record rehearsals. Sometimes you will have a breakthrough or have an “epiphany moment” in rehearsals. Recordings make it much more likely that you’ll get back to that place again on your own.
How convenient is the coach? It’s much more important to find a good coach that the quartet clicks with and is effective than it is to find a convenient coach. Even if you must travel a little to work with a good coach, you will save time and money in the long run.
Respect the coaches time. Do not engage a coach until everyone in the quartet knows notes and words, but get coaching before the notes, words, and interpretation is so engrained that change is too difficult. Last but certainly not least is that coaching is an ongoing process and every quartet needs coaching, not just competing quartets. Plus, you need a coach who is willing to help your quartet improve over an extended period of time, not just one or two rehearsals.
Duane Henry is a retired business owner, co-founder of the Indiana Harmony Brigade, Cardinal District Quartet Champion, International Quartet Quarterfinalist, 4th Place Seniors International Quartet Medalist, Cardinal District Director for Quartet Development, President of the Association of eXtreme Quartetting Harmony Brigades, and 20 year barbershopper.