Sunday, August 05, 2007

It does exactly what it says in the blurb – or not!

Just a quick one this week as I’m just about to leave for two weeks travelling in the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It’s supposed to be a holiday, but I’m hoping to pick up some songs for future use! I won’t be posting next week as I will be somewhere in the middle of a Latvian national park and I’m not taking any technology with me. Normal service will be resumed on Sunday 19th August.

Last week I ran an open workshop for the Warwick Folk Festival. It was billed as “World Songs” with a sub-heading “community choirs”. Rather an odd way of describing what I do, but nevertheless we had a healthy 40+ people turn up and they seemed to enjoy themselves. I’m always very nervous before a workshop, no matter how many times I’ve done them, especially when there are no advance bookings. I had absolutely no idea how many people would turn up, and convinced myself I would be happy with just six or so. Hence I was very pleasantly surprised by the turnout, even attracting about eight blokes.

As is often the case, the first few people through the door were a bit hesitant as they too did not know what to expect. I always try to put people at ease and usually ask: “Have you come to sing?” (just in case they had expected to attend a ceramics class and had wandered into the wrong room by mistake). I get many responses to this question. Often: “Oh, no, I’m just here with my friend. I can’t sing”. More often than not I persuade them to join in and they end up having a good sing by the end of the workshop. This time a couple of women looked especially hesitant and said something like: “Yes, I think so, but it depends what it’s going to be like”. They went on to say that the day before they had been on a ballad workshop and had been made to feel rather inferior and left out as they didn’t know all 30 verses of a particular song!

I tried to put their minds at ease, and very soon they were smiling and joining in wholeheartedly with the African songs. It made me realise that there were still people out there who somehow managed to put people off singing, even when those people had made the effort to turn up to a workshop and were looking forward to sing. I wonder what would have happened to those two women’s confidence if they had not come to my workshop, but just left the festival with their first experience to take away with them.

It also made me think that it’s very important to try and explain exactly what a workshop is going to be. To try and give it an appropriate name and a bit of blurb so that people know what to expect. Sometimes that’s hard as people perhaps don’t have any reference points to the subject you’re going to be covering, but you should at least make the attempt to be clear.

I ran a Beatles workshop a while ago. I advertised it as Beatles acappella and had some blurb explaining that I would be teaching some well-known Beatles songs in three and four part harmony. A couple of young women came along, but only stayed for the morning. They explained that they had quite enjoyed themselves, but it wasn’t really what they had expected! I really don’t know how to be any clearer with that one!!

On another occasion I ran a workshop called The Paul Simon Songbook. Again, explaining that I would be teaching well-known Paul Simon songs in three and four part harmony. During the warm-up I made a joke that Paul Simon was stuck on the M6 and he had phoned me to ask me to carry on with the workshop until he arrived. Everyone laughed. Except – I later realised – for two women who thought I was serious and complained to the box office when Mr. Simon hadn’t arrived by lunchtime! So we can always try to describe what to expect, but we’ll never get it exactly right!

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Chris Rowbury


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