Adapting for the sake of beauty: The role of leaders, levels, and learning in the coordination of a choral group
Qualitative Organizational Research: Best Papers from the Davis Conference on Qualitative Research,
Successful coordination in complex collective work sometimes depends on constant adaptation, as observed in the work of action groups like firefighting or SWAT teams. For members of other kinds of action groups, such as musical ensembles, the cues that are salient for their adaptation emerge from actions within the group, rather than some external stimulus. What matters most in such a context is how actors perceive and respond to the quality of how their joint efforts are being interrelated. Such gestalt, holistic qualities can be tacit, and current theory on performance adaptation does not fully explain how a group collectively perceives and responds to these kinds of cues in order to adapt their performance. In this study, I use ethnographic data from the concerts and rehearsals of a large, amateur, adult community choir to address the question of how individuals manage their perception of, response to, and creation of tacit cues for collective adaptation in the course of performance. These data reveal how perception and adaptive responses to cues emerged at different levels within the group, and how learning enabled group members to link together the various mechanisms that facilitated adaptive, beautiful performance.