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The experiences of cooperation and leadership amongst choristers and conductors to reach performance flow in university choirs



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Cheng, Marisa 


The present study investigated the experiences of cooperation and leadership amongst choristers and conductors to have reached performance flow in six university choirs. Each of these university choirs reflected a leadership style that could be described as democratic, coaching, and commanding (Pellegrini & Scandura, 2008). An overarching question and four sub-questions guided this study: What were the qualitatively different ways in which choristers experienced various styles of conducting in university choirs? Following this question, there were sub questions. a) How did the group members cooperate with each other in these choirs? b) How did the different leadership styles impact on individuals and influence cooperation in choirs? c) Which leadership styles could have operated to support choirs working cooperatively and ultimately reaching flow? d) What were the implications for group learning as a result of insights into these different leadership styles? The study was located in the epistemological position of constructivism and the theoretical perspective of interpretivism, and it was guided by three conceptual frameworks: Johnson and Johnson’s (2009) Social Interdependence Theory, Scouller’s (2011) Three Levels of Leadership, and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1997) Flow Theory. The literature review began with a broad overview of choirs and narrowed down to the university chapel choirs. Next, the discussion delved into the choral leadership styles and culminated into the leadership model. Subsequently, the literature transitioned into the applications of the “five basic elements” of cooperation in music groups. Through these experiences of leadership and cooperation, there was an argument that flow may have occured in groups. Finally, there was a summary of the literature review and the emerging research questions. Furthermore, this study employed the multiple case study methodology and the research design comprised the following methods: visual elicitations, interviews, observations, and field notes. The data analysis procedures comprised of transcribing, analysing, coding, and extracting themes. The findings were divided into three main sections: leadership, cooperation, and flow. Each section was organised according to the interview questions, which also linked to the theories that underpinned each section. The key findings included: a) The conductor’s leadership style did not necessarily influence flow directly. Rather, as the flow was related to one’s concentration and musical skills both as a group and as individuals, the conductor’s role was to create the most suitable environment depending on the particular choir’s needs. b) The degree of cooperation was parallel to social learning whilst the degree of musical learning was parallel to Flow in Musical Activities” (FIMA) (Custodero, 1997; Hargreaves et al., 2012). Moreover, cooperation and flow were interrelated and had interacting layers of involvement that were synergistic. However, the presence of difficult personalities (those who were not mature enough to put the group before themselves) may have contributed to the notion that the choir that experienced the most flow did not necessarily cooperate the most. Building on these key findings, finally, the discussion was guided by Scouller’s (2011) Three Levels of Leadership theory (public, private, and personal leadership), and each section was supplemented by previous studies mentioned in the literature, concepts that emerged from my findings, as well as Johnson and Johnson’s (2009) Social Interdependence and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1997) Flow.





Morrison-Helme, Morag


cooperation, leadership, choristers, conductors, flow, performance, university choirs


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge