Sunday, April 06, 2008

Dancing the song

A while ago I tried a new idea (for me any way) for helping people to learn songs. I taught a fairly simple round (Shalom Chaverim) by ear as usual, but decided to associate a different movement/ gesture with each phrase to see if it helped people learn the song quicker. The movements weren’t traditional in any sense and had no connection with the song’s origins (I made them up myself), but I tried to ensure that the quality of each gesture somehow reflected the quality and lyricism of the phrase it was attached to.

The other effect I wanted was to engage people’s bodies in a natural way so that they would loosen up and not focus technically on the singing part. Also, the extended gestures would (I hoped!) help people sustain the breathing through each phase.

The experiment worked really well, achieving everything that I wanted. I even had people working in groups of four singing the round which meant that their gestures also worked as a round. At one point I even had them stop singing out loud so they were just ‘singing’ with their movements. It was a joy to behold!

When it came to performing the song, I asked people to keep the feeling of the movements within their bodies, but not to do them outwardly. I asked them to imagine actually doing the movements, but in a tiny, tiny version. The effect of this was for everyone to engage their bodies fully and to be very focused. It made a subtle, but tangible difference to the presence of the singers on stage.

Last night at choir we sang Shalom Chaverim for the first time in a very long time. I had completely forgotten that I’d taught movements with it, but several people automatically began the gestures as they sang since the movements and song had been learnt at the same time. I guess it’s a similar effect to the memorising of song lyrics: the words are associated with the melody in the same part of the brain. Scope for further experiments methinks!

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Chris Rowbury


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